Dispelling Myths About Master Planning Entertainment

Planning

Here are some common myths we hear when working on projects wherever out-of-home entertainment experiences (like theme parks, water parks and other visitor attractions) are being planned as a stand-alone land use or integrated with other uses.

MYTH #1

Entertainment will be successful in any condition or location because people seek it out.

REALITY

In fact, entertainment is no different than other commercial consumer offerings. Just like a retail or dining experience, if it is hard to find or difficult to comprehend, it will not be able to reach the targets that market research suggests, no matter how good the marketing is. A strong address with good visibility and accessibility is always key. After that, integration with experiential retail and dining will help optimize cross-over traffic within the mix of other attractions.

MYTH #2

By adding themed entertainment to a project, overall success of the development will improve.

REALITY

Entertainment cannot be the solution to poorly conceived or badly planned developments that are struggling to be sustainable. While entertainment can attract and contribute its own footfall to a project development, it does not ensure that the previous uses on property will enjoy greater success. Always keep in mind the target audience(s) and the kinds of experiences that will attract and hold their attention. Then make certain that the project is properly funded to deliver on that promise. First impressions are essential to repeat visitation.

MYTH #3

Programming a theme park with the right attractions, food, retail and other guest services to deliver a great guest experience is a precise empirical exercise.

REALITY

Programming is more an art than science. 40% of the process is matching the attraction mix to the profile of the guests – what kind of experiences will the target audience pay for first? Another 40% is knowing what assumptions to make about the length of stay, how many people will be there during the busiest time of the average busy day and what amount of experiences will have guests saying they had a great day. The last 20% is having a good database of metrics from other projects to compare and help to validate those assumptions. Add a pinch of ingenuity and now you have a recipe for the planning.

That is evidenced by the fact that the best owner operators in the world do not have identical programs. Even multi-park owners have different programmes between parks in order to respond to varying market conditions.

MYTH #4

If I re-work my project with an international IP or brand, the project will overcome any challenges I’m faced with in my market.

REALITY

Branded entertainment projects do not defy market conditions and do not change the economics model. If there is a market to be had, the brand will likely penetrate the market more effectively, but there are costs related to branded projects that may create a financial scenario this is even less likely to stand up in a difficult market. Finding that balance between ongoing premium costs and greater market penetration is key. Make sure your economist/market analyst has relevant experience to compare the pros and cons of a branded and non-branded project.

MYTH #5

Our plan is to build for less than half the cost that our competitors have spent, and we intend to see three quarters of the success they have.

REALITY

This approach falls into the same category as, ‘If you build it, they will come’. There is only one way to address these half-baked economics…run! The entertainment industry is a serious business that adheres to all the same principles as any other. As myth #2 reveals, delivering on the promise of a better experience than the local market has seen before is key to repeat visitation and loyal, happy guests. There are no shortcuts!

MYTH #6

We can build the same kind of high-quality experiences without investing the same in hardware and environments. This is often said in reference to the major parks in Orlando.

REALITY

This is a slippery slope of misaligned expectations. As P.T. Barnum pointed out, the guest will only pay the same ticket price once. When they realize the value isn’t there, it will take a long time to get them back. Be honest with your planning and financial goals. Spend as if you are investing, not as if you are negotiating with your guest. Remember that you want them to come back time and again.

August 2019 • Written by Steven C. Rhys