Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Theme park industry gazes beyond Orlando to the next mecca

Step aside, Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse.

Orlando may be the global mecca of amusement parks with mammoth players like Universal Studios and Disney World drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Sunshine State every year, but the giant entertainment companies were hardly mentioned by global theme park industry leaders at an annual industry conference this week.

The future, it seems, isn't necessarily in Orlando.

A rising middle class in Asia and the Middle East is fueling development of new theme parks overseas. New rides are based on emerging technology, from virtual reality goggles that are synced with the dips and loops of roller coasters to interactive hot sale ocean walk rides where guests use their hands to throw digital snowballs — all of which is hard to do in parks like those in Orlando largely built-out already. Click here: http://bestonamusementequipment.com/ocean-walk-ride-for-sale/.

Nearly 30,000 theme park professionals have gathered at the Orange County Convention Center to debut new spray ball car rides prices in Beston, new technology for park guests and to ink deals with entertainment centers around the world at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo. Among them are the designers of Busch Garden's latest coaster, Cobra's Curse, and a Canadian group that designed the next interactive ride for Legoland parks around the world.

"It's not the same kind of customer anymore," said Gary Nelson, president and CEO of Dynamic Attractions, a Canada-based company that develops media-based rides for theme parks. "There are new parks opening all over the world, and they need more from us."

Nelson announced at the conference that Dynamic Attractions would open an office in Orlando to test new Beston amusement park equipment prices before they're installed in theme parks. The company also opened a manufacturing plant in China recently to serve growing demand overseas.

"We're seeing growth in the middle class happening all over Asia and the Middle East. That's where the market is right now," Nelson added.

Triotech, a Montreal-based interactive ride design company, counts on China for about a third of its business, said founder and CEO Ernest Yale. He expects it to be the fastest growing segment of his business going forward.

"In the U.S., Europe and Canada, it's all about trying to reinvent what they're already doing," Yale said. "They're reinvesting in what they already have."

There have been some new additions to Florida's traditional parks in recent years. Orlando is slated to be the home of the world's next tallest roller coaster, the SkyScraper. Busch Gardens is opening a new roller coaster, Cobra's Curse, in Tampa next year.

Universal is bringing back King Kong and plans to open a water park called Volcano Bay in 2017. SeaWorld will open a new roller coaster called Mako next summer, which is expected to be the fastest, tallest and longest coaster in Orlando.

But the growing population in Asian countries and evolving technology that younger generations have come to expect has contributed significantly to the recent growth of the $39.5 billion industry, Yale said.

"It's become very competitive," in markets beyond the United States, he said.

Triotech recently signed a deal with Legoland to open an interactive 3-D ride called "Ninjago," where riders use their hands (no gun or joystick) to sling snowballs at a digital screen, in Legoland parks in California, Malasyia and Denmark next year. It could come to Florida next, but plans aren't set in stone.

"The technology factor is more important than ever," Yale said, which he attributes to the fickle climate of younger generations who have grown up with interactive graphics and games on their phones and tablets. They don't get a rise out of static, animatronic characters that once dazzled the generations before them.

He said the U.S. and European markets are more "mature," where older rides with outdated technology are more tolerated. But that won't be for long.

Mack Rides, the German-based roller coaster and ride developer responsible for Coba's Curse coming to Busch Gardens in Tampa next year, is investing in new ways to reinvigorate its coasters. That idea lead to the creation of VR Coaster, a new company that creates virtual reality goggles and sync storylines to existing roller coaster rides, said Maximilian Roser, spokesman for Mack Rides.

They test the material in the Mack Rides' family owned theme park, Europa-Park, in Germany. Roser doesn't think it will be long before riders could choose their own story, from a host of options on an app while they wait in line, and watch the one they picked out play out during their ride on the coaster.

"The U.S. and Europe are still driving the business, but they need to break out and do something new," Roser said. "We build rides to last a long time, but it's more competitive now. Digital is the new market. It's not about the hardware so much anymore."

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