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April 18, 2022

A Convergence of Trends

We’ll review the most important new attractions openings and break down why they’re all continuations of ongoing trends.


We’ll review the most important new attractions openings and break down why they’re all continuations of ongoing trends. 

Stories:

Transcript

Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, I'm Philip. This is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm joined by my co-host, Mr. Tampa, Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development.

Scott: That's now going in my business cards. Mr. Tampa makes me sound so much more important. 

Philip: Well, you are very important Mr. Tampa. Well, Mr. Tampa, we're going to jump right into the first story here.

Scott: Which, by the way, has nothing to do with Tampa, but we're just going to dive in anyway.

Philip: No, but that's OK, that's OK. Mr. Tampa can travel, and this time he'll be traveling to Las Vegas. Because in Las Vegas there's an all-new "IT" themed multi-room escape experience. Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment and Egan Escape Productions join forces to bring fans the newest escape room experience, Escape IT, inspired by the horror film franchise, "IT," launching in Las Vegas this fall. It's located in Las Vegas, It's 30,000 square feet, and it's a revolutionary new take on the traditional escape room experiences. Offering two different multi-room escape adventures based on the “IT,” the highest-grossing horror film ever, and “IT Chapter Two.” It includes more than 20 interactive rooms, state-of-the-art, special effects, lighting, animatronics, and live actors.

A few other notes here I thought it was really interesting, they did name some of the locations that are to be featured, including the Neibolt House, the Loser's Clubhouse, the Dairy Canal Days Festival, the sewers below Dairy, and of course Pennywise will be featured in there. The other thing I think is also interesting is that it's including a full scale "IT" themed retail store, that's key.

Scott: Of course.

Philip: Of course, with photo OPs, exclusive merchandise, and carnival midway-style games. Of course, in this case, the carnival-style midway games are also an upsell, but it does tie in, because those are part of the storyline, there are Midway games in the franchise, so it fits in very well. There's also going to be VIP experience tickets as well as packages for birthdays, team building, et cetera, et cetera, when those go on sale. What do you think?

Scott: Well, again it's kind of what we've been talking about all along. I think it's where Vegas is going more and more and more, and that is becoming something that you don't just go and watch, you go and do. For years we've been trying to define what is immersive, or what is interactive? I think that's the easiest, most succinct version I've found to describe the difference between a piece of theater that is traditional, we'll use that term--even though immersive theater has been around for centuries--but something that is more traditionally thought of as theater, and something that is immersive. It's do I watch it, or do I do it? Do I participate in it? And are my actions somehow affecting the experience overall? I mean, that's escape rooms, that's exactly what this is all about.

I think it is very wise. I am a little... it's Penny Wise I would say, and I think it's interesting that... I just lost Philip. he was like, "oh Dad, joke alert." I think it's interesting too that, if I'm not mistaken, it is less than five minutes from the strip.

Philip: Yeah.

Scott: So, it's they're saving money by not being on the strip, but they're staying close to it. I think it's exciting. I think it shows exactly where entertainment is going now, and especially Vegas-style entertainment. This is something that, only because I have been in preliminary work with some other projects that never opened in Vegas because they didn't feel they were ready to be this immersive, this is something they've been trying to do for at least three or four years. So, I'm glad to see that they feel confident that the "IT" franchise is going to have enough draw to put anyone's mind at ease who hasn't necessarily done an immersive experience.

If you think about it, did you say 20 room escape experience?

Philip: Yes, yes, yes.

Scott: 20 room escape experiences?

Philip: Like, two different tracks, and there are 20 rooms, I guess, in total but two different tracks, yeah. 

Scott: So, that's 10 rooms per track-ish. There's an evening's worth of entertainment. I'll be very curious to see how that turns out, because what we're looking at here is not an escape room, it's not even an adventure room like 5 Wits and that sort of thing, this is a full walkthrough experience...

Philip: Correct, done in escape room style.

Scott: Done in escape room style. Which, again, I've had a little bit of experience with as well and I love it. I think it's a lot of fun, and I'm hoping that this kind of entertainment picks up and is very popular with guests because it's what I enjoy writing and I think it is the next step. And they're not the first ones or the only ones to do it. They're certainly one of the largest experiences. To me, looking at the whole Vegas vibe, they're building off of the wave of Meow Wolf, they're building off of that sort of immersive experience, and making it more accessible to people who may not be quite so esoteric. They're going after a franchise that everybody knows, and everybody feels comfortable with, or is terrified of, one the other. So, it sounds like it's the next building block in a more global immersive experience realm. I like it. I think it's fun.

Philip: What I would say, I agree to that, I think the reason this is important is because it is the convergence of a lot of trends that we know are already taking place and then shape in other ways. I would push back on what the press release says in terms of it being revolutionary. I wouldn't quite go to say that it's revolutionary. I would more say that it is, again, the standard of entertainment, or the new standard, where we are now. But I think you look at it and you see that it is the convergence of a lot of other trends that are developing. Like the popularity of IP, pop-up IP experiences, people engaging with the brands outside of the screen, et cetera, et cetera. 

Also, this idea of horror not just being a Halloween thing, but if you can move it into it being about horror and it not being about Halloween, horror is year-round, so bring that in. We see that overseas, in the UK especially, they have a lot of year-round horror experiences that are tied IPs, so you're seeing that. Also, to your point about Meow Wolf, essentially this is very close to a haunted attraction, and I do want to do a shout-out to this story was sent to us directly by one of the producers

Scott: Thank you, we appreciate you.

Philip: Yes, thank you, we appreciate that. Everybody covered this, but I'm glad that you sent it. Also, he is from the haunted attraction space, he is a haunted attraction producer. So, this is essentially very close to a haunted attraction. But, to me, it's the same kind of model and takes the same operational guide as Meow Wolf. So basically, Meow Wolf is like a proof of concept, and now we have this person who is essentially creating something very close to a haunted attraction, but it's able to operate year-round, and it's operating with less of a need for an intensive amount of staff, but still involves actors. Since it's timed ticketing, essentially, then you can plan out your staffing capacity and you can have this consistent experience, but year-round operating, and just let people walk through each room slower.

Scott: The reason I'm so excited to see how this turns out is for a lot of the same reasons that you just mentioned, but I think all too often when people think of a haunted experience, or a haunted walk through, a haunted house, or whatever you want to call it, I think there are some biases and some limitations that are put on it, not only from the guest standpoint but also from the operator standpoint. I don't want to think about this like a haunted attraction. I don't. I love haunted attractions, I love the Halloween industry, but I don't want to think about this as that. I want to think about this as an attraction. This is an attraction. Yes, it has scary elements, but it is an attraction that can easily support itself year-round, that can easily support itself based on the popularity of the IP, and I think that's really important to recognize. I don't want to, and I'm not going to use diminish, but I don't want to pigeonhole it as a haunted attraction. It is not. It is an attraction that will operate year-round that has haunted content. You're probably going to ask yourself, well, what's the difference? And I think that's an excellent question because I don't think there is any. So, stop putting yourselves in boxes, that's my real point.

Philip: Yeah, now that's an excellent point. I think if they had said a year-round haunted attraction based on "IT" opens, it would have been not nearly as impactful as just saying there's a year-round attraction coming to Las Vegas, and it features Pennywise from "IT". That's a much better frame for something that is, essentially, very similar to exactly the same thing. But it also is showing you that's where the industry is trying to get to. We see haunted attractions all over the world that are trying to get into the space where they're operating kind of year-round in different ways. Maybe for October you have your 20-room haunt, and you have a line that goes through it in pulses, but then outside of Halloween your 20-room haunt becomes a slower timed experience where they go through one room at a time.

Scott: Or, since you've got two paths, make one a ten-room haunt, keep the other one as the upcharge, more in-depth experience, that is an escape room. Again, I don't want to think of this as a haunt. That's the most important thing. I can't drive that home enough. Because I think the moment people start to think of it as a haunt it puts limitations on it that are unnecessary.

Philip: Well, our next story here, I can't think of a good segue, so we'll just go on, is Universal Beijing Resort debuts new Chinese-made game themed parade. 

QUOTE: Universal Beijing Resort launched a new parade on Friday, inviting characters of the popular Chinese-made mobile game Honor of Kings. Eleven game characters performed on four floats, stirring the fervor of tourists with traditional Chinese cultural elements. The game, developed by the Chinese tech giant Tencent, ranked first on the list of global top-grossing mobile games in February, with approximately 225 million U.S. dollars in player spending, according to mobile app data analysis firm Sensor Tower."

Philip: So, again, I kind of like this because it's like taking the little elements of like the cavalcades that Disney first started with a lower amount of floats, but kind of calling it a parade, but it's kind of a character experience. Essentially this is a mobile game character experience, which is really popular with the locals. Again, the same idea of IP extension, but you're partnering with other people to create that IP extension. I think in this case it benefits both Tencent and the attraction here at Universal, because I guarantee you there will be people who will go there just to see those characters in person, and vice versa. So brilliant. I think this is a kind of like a masterstroke. Also, it is one of those things where we're going to be seeing more of, because this is a trend.

Scott: Yeah, I think it's important to recognize this is kind of set up to be a win-win-win scenario, because as you say Philip, there are going to be people who will go just to see these characters because of the popularity of this unique IP. I think there will also be people who have never heard of these characters before who will experience them as part of their Universal experience and all of a sudden be, "oh, I need to look into this." And it just basically ramps up the whole guest experience across the board, even if you don't latch onto these characters and love them. It's, hopefully, a quality addition to the entertainment package at Universal Beijing.

The thing that I find most interesting about this, for me, and again I think it's probably because of my age, but I love the fact that in China they are recognizing the financial power of IPs that aren't film, that aren't television. They're recognizing, and embracing wholeheartedly, these kinds of intellectual properties. We're doing that to a certain extent here in the US, but I have not seen it quite to the level that is happening in China. It'll get here, I mean it'll get here.

Philip: It will.

Scott: I think that the idea of this is important for all of you listening to kind of open up your eyes, attractions folks, if you're looking at planning stuff down the road. If you can look into your crystal ball and figure out, "OK, what's going to coming up?" You might be able to find some intellectual property deals that are not tied to the big movie studios yet, or find some ideas of intellectual property. This is where years ago I used to say, "go to local mythology, legend, or whatever and try to capture that and start to own. That this is that same sort of Wild West, you know? Find those games that are coming up find, find those podcasts, find those TikTok stars, all of the things that are going to be the next wave. 

You know, film is still going to be there, I think. I think there's still going to be production of things that people watch that they then want to experience. I think that's great. But I don't think it's the only place that intellectual property is going to come from, and I think this is a perfect example. I think your cavalcades that you were mentioning earlier, Philip, another great example. But I would like to see people not be afraid to reach out, because I think, as I just said, this will not only bring in the died in the wool fans of Honor of Kings, it will also introduce Honor of kings to a different audience.

So again, these are the kinds of things that, if you're creative in what you're looking at, and you're trying to invest in some IP for the future, don't put blinders on. Keep looking, talk to your friends, talk to your friend's kids, find out what they're hot about.

On an almost unrelated note, my financial advisor looked at me and she said, "so what do you want to invest in?" I said, "I'm not the expert." She goes, "I know, but things are... It's the Wild West out there right now, and if there are things that you in your industry are passionate about, let's look at those stocks and see how they're performing." So, you can't go down a wrong path if you're just asking questions. Continue to ask questions, continue to poke out and find what are those next exciting new intellectual properties, and don't just rely on film and television.

Philip: Well, our next story is not about IP per say, but it is a trend one, and I think it is about definitely the park has asked some questions, and hopefully they got answers that they use to develop these. So, Busch Gardens has some new enhancements that are coming this year. This is the Orlando Park, Busch Gardens in Orlando. Sorry in Tampa. Just kidding.

Scott: Yes, because I am Mr. Tampa. I have to protect my city.

Philip: So, they announced a slew of things. The ones that we'll be focusing on, I think, are the ones I think are most interesting. Which is they're going to debut a new event called Summer Celebration. There will also be new shows at Gwazi Plaza, Dragon Fire Grill, and Pantopia Theater. The park will also roll out new perks for its pass members, including a new exclusive lounge on the top floor of the Overlook and Special Rewards, depending on pass tier. 

Those two things are the key. One, that they're going to be developing a velvet rope for their passholders, this velvet rope concept which Scott talks about a lot. Two, that there's this Summer Celebrate... Now we're just calling it Summer Celebration, we're giving up with even other themes. When that's OK, the seasons of fun, right? This is Summer, we're just going to call it Summer Celebration, that's fine. It is, although, a continuation of this trend to find ways to celebrate all the different seasons in your attraction, to get people to come in multiple times, and you bring entertainment in, great. Eventually, that's going to max out, of course, as we've seen with Disney, and then you're going to have to think about going vertical, which is where the IP piece comes in; this is a more going vertical piece. But this is a good kind of first step in terms of developing back their seasons of fun.

Scott: Again, you know, I want to be completely transparent, this was my home park, I worked for the I worked in this park for over 20 years. The reason I am so excited to see this story is because, to me, this brings back absolutely everything that somehow had to be taken away during the pandemic. This shows that Busch Gardens Tampa is back, and it is back without question, it is back with full purpose. The entertainment is becoming as robust as it was years ago. I don't want to underplay and say, "well, it's about time they brought all this stuff back." No, I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is they have persevered, they found a way to make it back, they found a way to make it new and fresh and wonderful. 

The whole idea behind Summer Celebration is really quite simple, and one of the reasons I know this is I was part of the VIP party for Iron Gwazi, which is the new roller coaster, and they did a whole discussion about the change between summer nights moving into summer celebration because they basically said, "it's not just about being here at night now, it's about being here the entire summer." There will be, I'm going to call them chapters for lack of a better description, but there will be chapters within the summer celebration, some of them will focus on the Hispanic community with Viva La Música and bringing in concerts from Latin American artists. Some of them will bring in a beer festival, some of it will bring in a food and wine element, but it all falls under the giant summer celebration umbrella. Which is kind of an interesting approach than the fact that they are creating this mega event with lots of, in essence, pop-up events within the overarching umbrella, which I think is interesting. I'm curious to see how it plays out, but I love the idea that they are going all in. Bringing back shows to Gwazi Plaza, to Dragon Fire Grill, Pantopia Theater, these are all theaters that were, unfortunately, casualties of the pandemic, and they are back, and they are back full out. 

The reason I keep using the word full out is one of the things that impressed me the most when I was at the Iron Gwazi VIP party was, during the last few years, the openings, the press parties, or the VIP parties that they had were fine, but they weren't robust. Well, when I went to the Iron Gwazi party, it was robust. It was a full-out celebration, kick butt party. I was really proud to see the park jumping back. While I was there, actually, shortly after the party, I had a chance to talk to Neil who is the park President. I said, "you know, this is amazing, and it's clear that you guys are back," and he said, "yeah, we are, and that's what we want to make sure everybody understands. The park is back and ready to go." 

So, there should be no hesitation in at least visiting Busch Gardens, and I'm assuming the other parks are going through the same sort of tsunami of entertainment returning. But there should be no hesitancy to make your plans to come to Busch Gardens Tampa, because it is not what people have been talking about, myself included; that, you know, a lot of things had had to be closed for reasons. But it's back, and it looks like it's more polished than ever, so kudos to them. I think that's great, and I think it's important to recognize they're back with a vengeance. They're back with a great deal of power.

Philip: I should mention there are a lot of other opening announcements, of course, for parks all over, but we picked this one specifically just because of the expansion, and Scott mentioned the festival, and also little things like the velvet rope, just because those are trends that we talk about in other stories. But, to Scott's point, there are tons of other opening announcements, we just kind of highlight the ones that we think are important based on what we've talked about in the show previously.

 OK, our next story is, Cityneon has revealed the debut of Avatar: The Experience at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay. Avatar: The Experience will debut at Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay, welcoming guests later this year. The quote here from the team is, “The opening of Avatar: The Experience in Singapore is a unique opportunity to continue expanding the global reach and impact of AVATAR, the highest-grossing film of all time. As the first of our four AVATAR sequels comes to theaters this December, this is the perfect time – and the perfect place – to explore and celebrate the wonders of Pandora in an all-new way.”

This is fine. I mean, this is one of those stories where I'm like, it's not huge news, but it is just another data point in seeing, you know, the extensions of the IPs utilizing the assets that they currently have in this place, because the place looks like Avatar already. They don't need to build anything, it just already looks like Avatar because it's a national landmark there in Singapore. Then, of course, you know, again this old hat trick of boosting recognition for something before a sequel comes out to theaters kind of the thing. So, I think for me this is more like a data point. I don't see anything they're doing here that is revolutionary, but it's a data point of best practices.

Scott: I also think though it is important to recognize that this is one of those other things that was not pandemic related, but actually was planned years and years ago. I'll let you do your own research and go into you know all the online discussions, but the Avatar sequels were supposed to have come out prior to the opening of Pandora in Orlando. But then there were challenges, issues whatever, and so all of the Pandora that was built for Orlando was actually based on, not the original film, but the upcoming sequels. So, unfortunately, that did not necessarily pan out the way that they had hoped. What they're now doing is taking full advantage of this, in a different location, but taking full advantage of this so that now they can ramp up for these films. I think the multiple ways of experiencing the world of Avatar, or the world of Pandora, is pretty exciting and it gives them the opportunity to take some stuff that's been either sitting on the shelves from a design standpoint, or they've just been waiting to pull the trigger on it. They're ready to go, and I think now it's going to actually benefit them because there'll be a 2-3-4 punch of the following sequels that will be coming out as well.

Philip: One more quick story here to wrap up this section, and this kind of harkens back to some of the things we've already talked about in terms of different ways to engage with guests, and kind of everything old is new again. Cirque du Soleil meets New York’s nightclub scene in ‘Mad Apple’. In New York, it's a new experience coming in, I'm going to be here from the article.

QUOTE: "What sets the production apart is the recreation of a New York nightclub bar as part of the stage, encouraging audience members to show up early, grab a boozy libation, and get an up-close look at astonishing pre-show magic while the band plays hits inspired by famous NYC musicians and composers."

Scott: Well, and this is immersive, this is something that you. This is not just happening in New York. If you've been watching what's been going on in the London theater scene, the Olivier's happened not too long ago, and if you look at the revival of the musical cabaret, which was they basically gutted a West End theatre and turned it into a club. They then did the production of Cabaret, starring Eddie Redmayne and they swept the Olivier's, which is the equivalent of the Tonys here in the US, and they took seven, which is a record for the most number of Olivier's one in a single year. There's a talk about it coming to this production coming to New York, and it sounds like this is just opening the door and priming the audiences. 

I know it's not intentional, but the idea of a club that is hyper-show-driven is perfect, you know? It is immersive. It is a term that we used for a while there, it's retail-tainment, even though it's alcohol-based as opposed to souvenir based--although I'm sure you can get a souvenir if you want one, because it's Cirque du Soleil, or it's Cabaret, it's a Broadway show. So, it's definitely a trend, and it looks like it's starting to hit London with a great deal of fervor, it's starting to hit New York with a great deal of enthusiasm and attention. So, just keep your eyes open for new and different ways to make it so that guests don't have to sit in rows, in seats to enjoy entertainment in your attraction.

Philip: OK, our last section here, for the last few minutes, speaking of things you need to keep your eyes open on. These are very quick stories of things we don't want to dwell on, but things that you just need to be aware of and pay attention to.

The first is that Philadelphia is to reinstate the indoor mask mandate with the new coronavirus cases low but rising sharply. In recent days, the city of Philadelphia announced On Monday that it will be reinstating an indoor mask mandate a little more than a month after lifting it, becoming the first major US city to do so. Not time to panic, but just sort of be aware, Kind of just like file it away, and don't throw away your indoor mask policy plan. 

Scott: Hang onto the signs.

Philip: Hang onto the signs. Don't throw them away, hang onto it, but don't panic. There's no reason, so far, to believe that attractions would be shut down for it, just hang on to your mask signs, that's all we're saying.

Scott: Yeah, it's important to keep in mind, and we've said this too, we said we're not out of the woods yet, and there was going to probably be some setbacks along the way. These setbacks probably will not be as massive or as sweeping as they once were, but they're going to be pop-ups, and they're going to be situations where cities decide we need to go back and take a half step back in order to take three steps forward, and that sounds like that's what Philadelphia is doing.

Philip: The next quick hit here is a few weeks ago, of course, the Amazon workers on Staten Island voted to unionize in a landmark win for labor. This really is one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation, it truly is. So, how does this impact you guys? This impacts you guys just because this is starting to become a big piece of the conversation. When we're looking at staffing, we're looking at is there a need for a third-party voice in here to advocate for staff? So, basically, you want to get ahead of this by just understanding that this is going to be a question that will be on the minds of a lot of your workers in terms of, "is the company doing the best for us? What are they doing and how are they supporting us?" Keep that in mind, just because when you're hiring 1500 new people coming in, they're going to be thinking that this is the context they're coming in from: seeing this as the kind of potential revitalization of unions.

Scott: Workers only vote to unionize when they feel that they are not being listened to by their employer. If you think about it, if they unionize, they have to pay someone else to make decisions for them, and to speak on their behalf. If they feel that they are listened to they are less likely, significantly less likely, to invest that extra money out of their paycheck to hire someone else to speak on their behalf. They have to recognize, or they have to feel as though, that unionization is going to more than make up for the money they have to pay in union dues. 

So, listen to your employees. As Philip said when you're bringing on a ton new, make sure that you know their names, make sure that you hear them, make sure that you, as management, are out and about, visible, transparent, and open door so that they don't feel as though they have to hire someone--because in essence that's what you're doing when you unionize--to speak on their behalf. 

At the same time, if you are in a situation, obviously unionization does happen. I think it's unfortunate that it's necessary because you're paying a middleman. But if it's necessary, it's necessary. What I'm saying to all of you leaders out there in the industry is, make sure it's not necessary. Make sure that you are listening to your employees, make sure that you are being responsive to their needs, and providing them with a workplace that is safe and gives them what they need while still meeting your business needs and following your business plan.

Philip: Our last shout-out here is that Hal McEvoy, the president, CEO of IAAPA announced today, this was a few days ago, that he will retire from his position in a year. So, April 1st of 2023. Just a quick shout out to Hal, I was actually, right before in March of the year that shall not be named, I was with Hal at a leadership summit right as we were starting to see all the lockdowns come across. I have always thought that Hal was a great leader, and I think he did a lot to really hold attractions and hold IAAPA together through the past several years. So, he's great, I think he'll be missed. Just shout out to him on kind of like the legacy that he left behind with guiding everybody.

Scott: It's a perfect connection, actually, to our last story. Hal is a perfect example of someone who was always accessible, who was always interested, and always willing to listen. So, thank you all for your dedication. We've got another year to get everything we possibly can out of you, because what you bring to the table is so valuable to all of us and thank you. Thank you, that's all I can say.

And, well, not quite all I can say, because now I'm going to say we're out of time, because we are. So, on behalf of Philip and myself, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. Again, tell your friends, come back next week, we will see you then with a whole bunch more information on the attractions industry.

 

Scott Swenson Profile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.