Saturday, January 20, 2007


By studying the Theme Park industry we can gain valuable insights into the design of our own new amusement park in North Central Massachusetts, created by us, the local residents. There is a lot of food for thought here.


It difficult for a new organization to develop brand recognition, brand identification and product differentiation. We can learn a valuable lesson from Disney, who is the number one theme park operator in the world. Remember, even though a new Whalom Park would not be in the same league as Disney, most of the guidelines will still apply, and others need to be scaled down.

Whalom Park has one BIG ADVANTAGE: it has been around much longer than Disney (107 years vs. 56 years) and already has a solid reputation in the minds of three or four generations. The task will be to reinvent the concept of the park and educate the public on why they should visit the New Whalom Park when it opens, and more importantly RIGHT NOW, why ordinary residents should get involved with the New Whalom Park Ownership Program to make it a reality!

Disney's main strength is in its resources and in the experience in the business. The company clearly has developed a very strong and well-known "brand-name" over many years. Disney has also been able to diversify its operations and products to hedge against decreasing sales in product lines.

In recent years it has diverted into Home Video, Film, merchandise, Radio broadcasting, Network television and of course in theme parks. It has also effectively globally diversified its operations from USA to Japan and Europe. The main strengths in internal resources refer to human resources and financial stability.

Employees in the Disney studios appear to be extremely innovative and in recent years they have produced several box-office productions. A Company without new ideas is doomed in today's competitive business environment. [2]


The relationship of theme parks to tourism is complex and highly dependent on the park’s scale, quality, and uniqueness.

Typically, residents (from within 1.5 to 2 hours) will account for 80 percent of traditional theme park visitation. Even the tourist visitors are often in the area for other reasons (such as visiting friends and relatives). Thus, just having a theme park does not automatically insure an influx of tourism. Rather, to impact destination tourism, a theme park must:

  • Be unique, a “must see” destination. This can be accomplished through character development (Mickey and his friends), architectural form, natural features, special events and programming (Opryland) or a combination thereof.

  • Have large scale and a critical mass of attractions. Investment levels to impact international tourism generally must exceed U.S. $150 million.

  • Combine high technology with human scale and quality service.

  • Investments in the thrill hardware must be combined with a high level of service from the “hosts and hostesses” so that a unique local culture and friendly human contact is balanced to the high technology.

  • Encourage overnight stays. The principal economic benefits of tourism come when overnight stays are generated. Day visitors or tourists who stay with friends and relatives generate only 20 percent of the economic impact of tourists staying in hotels and motels ($50 versus $250 per day).

  • Thus, in designing a theme park for tourism, a multiple attraction destination (with experiences that can occupy two or three days) is more likely to have the desired impact. Tie-ups with the local Chamber of Commerce are very important in creating packages for tourists, networking with travel agents who market your destination to customers nationwide/worldwide, and

  • Have complementary destination activities. Tourist-oriented theme parks should be part of a mix of recreation and leisure activities. A true tourist destination would also have supporting recreation uses such as high quality hotels, convention and conference facilities, resorts, recreational shopping and dining experiences, and sports activities including golf, tennis, and water-related activities, and excursions into nearby local tourism areas.

  • Support media (TV) coverage and exposure. Like most other things in life, future theme parks must be designed for television. The use of theme parks and resorts as backdrops for variety programs, celebrity games, sports competition, and convention/conference broadcasting is increasing rapidly and the resultant TV exposure is very important in creating awareness in tourism markets.

Themed to country/region

New parks will have stronger theming tied to the country or local region. Theme parks are increasingly becoming a symbol and showcase for regional pride, culture, and technological achievement. The danger here, of course, is that by being too serious about “cultural” tourism the parks can cease to be fun. The primary purpose should be first and foremost; entertainment!

Part of larger mixed-use destination projects

In the urban/suburban context, we now see theme parks and large scale attractions being designed into regional and specialty shopping complexes, mixed-use waterfront developments, and even some multi-use office buildings.

In more rural settings, additional components often include destination resorts, bungalow parks, shopping/restaurant villages, and special events centers/trade expositions.

Greater visitor participation and interaction

New attractions are being designed to provide greater participant control and encourage interplay between the visitor and his environment. This is a natural outgrowth of both available technology and the demonstrated appeal of such involvement at places like the San Francisco Exploratorium.

New thrill rides are being offered where the rider can individually control the experience and intensity of the ride. Future thematic concepts will be based more on participative activities (sports, music) that relate to the audience rather than comic book characterizations.

Use of simulation experiences and virtual reality

Perhaps one of the most exciting areas of development is in the area of simulation. Advances in technology have allowed attractions designers to realistically duplicate virtually any natural or special effects experience. By combining extremely high quality visual imagery with seats that are programmed to move with the action, visitors can realistically enjoy experiences that were previously unavailable in a theme park environment.

Greater water orientation

A greater use of water related activities, attractions and landscaping is occurring in theme park design as well as in nearly all forms of real estate development. Several parks (Ocean Park, Hong Kong; Dreamland, Australia; Walibi, Belgium) combine an active water park with more traditional themed rides and amusements.

Performance parks such as Sea World are still popular but future expansion will be limited by restrictions on capturing and displaying aquatic mammals. We see a continuing acceptance of new, high technology aquariums using acrylic tunnel concepts which combine a scuba diver’s view of the undersea world with a ride experience. Some of these will be developed in the open ocean.

Design for all-weather operation/artificial environments

New theme parks are designed to have more covered attractions as well as climate controlled walkways and rest areas. This allows for shorter amortization of high capital investment and fixed cost components. New theme parks are being designed with a greater degree of weather protection in order to enable a longer operating season and longer operating hours per day.

* * * * *

Now let's move on to more specific recommendations, keeping in mind the demographics, local culture, economy and climate of North Central Massachusetts.


Key to a successful theme park is an adequate market within 100 to 200 miles, consisting of a population with adequate disposable income to afford the required expenditures. The bulk of the attendees at theme parks are day-trippers and, in fact, successful theme parks require repeat business, which is most likely to come from day-trippers. Disneyland and Disneyworld are exceptions to this distance requirement in that each has either broad regional or national and in the case of Disneyworld, international--appeal.


An adequate site is critical. A site of 100 acres or more (smaller for a new Whalom) is necessary to provide not only the attraction itself, but also parking, buffer zones and expansion. (If a resort is planned, of course, more land is required.) The land should be rolling to permit attractive landscaping and changes in elevation to mask exhibits and rides, although level sites, with proper inward-looking design, can work as well.


Access to the site is important because of the need to tap markets from which attendees can arrive by express highways, with minimum delay to arrive at the site. Some attractions (e.g., Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta and Opryland, U.S.A.) have been able to acquire direct access from the highway, thus alleviating traffic congestion.


Appropriate zoning of the site is critical. A long drawn-out battle to change zoning classification is highly undesirable. The theme park developer has no interest in becoming involved in a battle for zoning change.


The availability of a large pool of part-time labor is a real asset for a locality hoping to land a destination attraction. College students, spouses of military personnel, and housewives seeking temporary or part-time employment are key sources. Location near a college or a military base is particularly desirable.


Weather has a direct bearing on the number of days a theme park can operate and, hence, on its potential profitability. Initially theme parks were designed to operate year round, but now many can be successful with 140-150 days of operation. Warm, rain-free weather is most desirable, particularly during the period April 1 to November 1.



Jody said...

You know, the last year it was open, when I took my son for what I thought was just one of many trips, I looked around and thought to myself "The way to make this work is to *not* compete with the Six Flags of the world. We are just too close to them to compete. What I would have done is changed the focus so it would be themed and aimed for a specific age group...the 10 and under audience. My model is Santa's Village in NH (Not the Santa's Land in VT). It is flawlessly clean, has rides geared for the 10 and under age group, and attracts fantastic crowds. They can't compete with 6 Flags and they don't even try. When I win the lottery and open my own park, that's the business model I'm going to use.

Marlene said...

That's the future of Theme Park!!!

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