Amusement parks have come a long way since Coney Island’s Switchback Railway roller coaster ushered in the “gravity pleasure ride” industry in 1884. Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates is now the world’s fastest coaster, accelerating to 149 mph in just 4.5 seconds, and the world’s tallest is the 570 foot Skyscraper in Orlando, Florida, set to open to the public in 2017.
For the Future issue of Funworld, the official magazine of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), editors asked 75 industry leaders from around the world to predict how parks will change by 2020. Not surprisingly, many of the answers revolved around advancements in technology, the need to place a greater weight on visitor reviews, the impact of the economy on patron spending patterns, and ways to minimize what are now considered necessary evils.
So what should you expect? Here are five ways your theme park experience might change within the next five years.
1. Personal Devices and Self Service Will help eliminate lines.
Ask any amusement park goer, and they’ll tell you that the lines are one of the worst parts of the experience. Parks like SixFlags have the FLASH Pass, which speeds up your wait time for an additional cost of at least $40 per person, and Disney World has employed means to entertain their waiting guests—like sending over performers, setting up video games alongside the queue, or even launching a “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate It!” parade to reroute visitors to less populated areas—but those strategies only do so much. In 2010, Disney launched the underground Operational Command Center to monitor line lengths and population density and then take action when necessary; they were able to decrease the amount of time visitors spent in waiting, upping the average number of rides they were able to enjoy from nine to 10.
But what if no one had to wait in line at all? Peter Rodbro, the Co-CEO of Entertainment Booking Concepts in Denmark, likens his vision to the process of making an airline reservation.
"By 2020, attractions will need very little IT hardware,” he said, because “the patrons will have it themselves on more devices.” They'll be able to book a ride in advance using their devices, which will then communicate the transaction to the ride. “Think of the parallel: When you book an airline ticket (or hotel room, etc.)," he said, "you ensure you have a seat at a day and time convenient for you and then you pay digitally (via Google Wallet, Apple Pay, PayPal, etc.).”
Buddy Wilkes, the General Manager of Shipwreck Island Waterpark in Florida, agrees that amusement parks can learn from airports. “Front entrance operations will begin to integrate self-service kiosks like the airlines are doing, combined with a significant increase in online admission sales,” he said. “Most parks will make the transition to computerized POS systems, and paper and coin currency in water parks will go the way of the dinosaur.”
2. Everything will be more interactive and multisensory.
In order to create meaningful and memorable trips, amusement parks will be transforming their attractions from passive amusements into full-on participatory adventures. “Several of our projects are leveraging novel approaches and technology to guest engagement, really sinking the guest into the story,” Cynthia Sharpe, the senior director of Cultural Attractions & Research at the Thinkwell Group, told FunWorld. “We’re already seeing the rise of boutique experiences, like small-group escape games, Ollivander’s Wand Shop at Universal, and highly interactive meet-and-greets like ‘Enchanted Tales with Belle’ at Disney."
Rich Hill, the senior designer at Sally Corporation, adds that “in the future, once guests pass through the turnstiles, they should have a nonstop flood of experiences that all relate to one another. Guests will no longer wait in long lines because the attractions will flow into one another seamlessly.”
3. Rides and themes will be darker.
To make the experience more adult-friendly, Scott Simmons, the founder and creative director of The ScareHouse in Pennsylvania, also wants to “to explore options for nonlinear and interactive experiences where guests don’t necessarily need to follow the same path as everyone else.” But unlike The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Enchanted Tales with Belle, Simmons wants his attraction to explore darker psychological subjects and inspire fear while still giving his guests control over their destiny. “There’s nothing as impactful or as terrifying as entering a room with multiple doorways and thus multiple possibilities,” he said.
Right now, scary rides often tend to be seasonal, emerging in time for Halloween, then disappearing soon after. However, Bill Bunting, the manager of business development at Oceaneering Entertainment Systems, is planning for engineers and designers to “embrace the concept of dark rides that can recognize guests individually, and adapt the show experience for them in ways we have only begun to understand.” He hopes that “multiple ride paths, interactive game engines, and on-demand variable media will allow us to create rides that are constantly changing and morphing, encouraging repeat ridership like never before.”
4. They’ll be greener.
It’s a fair assumption that by 2020, global warming is only going to get worse, and amusement parks will need to adapt in order to conserve resources and comply with government regulations. LEGOLAND in Florida is already using renewable energy to power part of the park, and due to the drought in California, Raging Waters in San Jose has cut back on landscaping efforts to reduce water consumption. Over the next five years, many parks will be attempting to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, become more energy efficient, and decrease material waste.
“A big portion of a water park’s expenses are on energy,” Patrick Patoka, the director of Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark in Michigan, said. “Between the electricity costs to run the pumps and filters constantly, to the gas costs to heat indoor facilities, there is some real potential for savings for these facilities if there were more efficient methods to operate them.”
5. The Food Will Be Held to a higher standard.
Ken Whiting, President of Whiting’s Food Concessions and a partner with North Star Food & Beverage Associates, anticipates a greater demand for high quality, customizable, more creative, and healthier food. “Other trends will include use of brands that will drive spending, craft beer and wine selections, and programs targeted to season passholders,” he said. “Beverages will move away from sugar-based to flavor-based, with unique and customized options being the norm.”
Others predict that food will no longer be a stop along the way from point A to point B, but part of an attraction itself. “Imagine food being gathered during an interactive quest and eaten in a celebration of victory instead of being paid for and wolfed down in a cheaply themed cafeteria,” Hill said.