The Art of Attractions- January 2019

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FROM LEFT: Bob Rogers, Roland Mack, Tom Mehrmann

In a Divided World, Parks Build a Bridge

I hope your holidays were wonderful. Like me, however, I suspect that at least part of the time you spent celebrating together with family and friends, you had to navigate some political minefields. Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world these days. Even the eggnog can get spiked with a dash of divisiveness.

Fortunately, there are places where the things that divide us get relegated to the sidelines: parks and attractions. That’s one of the many reasons I cherish the times I spend at parks. Whatever might be happening outside the gates fades away.

When I’m barreling down a roller coaster or getting whisked away on an otherworldly adventure courtesy of cutting-edge themed design, the sheer exhilaration and sensory engagement impel me to be in the moment. And you know what? Other guests in the park, regardless of where they fall on the political divide, experience the same joy and share the same focus. The best rides and attractions cultivate yoga-like mindfulness without the warrior poses.

That’s not to say that visitors stow their identities in parks’ lockers. Instead, parks are melting pots that cut across classes, cultures, and political persuasions and engage guests in the singular pursuit of happiness.

In fact, Tom Mehrmann, speaking at the “Legends 2018: Charming the World” panel at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018, said, “A park must be culturally relevant to the public it serves.” Mehrmann, who hails from the United States, knows a thing or two about cultural relevancy. After stints at Warner Bros. Movie World in Spain and Ocean Park Hong Kong in China, he is now serving as president and general manager for the new Universal Beijing Theme Park and Resort, currently under construction.

The “Legends” presentation focused on the ways that parks can unite us, despite our increasing proclivity to choose sides. “Your work can reach across a divide,” moderator Bob Rogers, founder of BRC Imagination Arts, told audience members. “It can touch the hearts of guests who come from another culture or another way of thinking from our own.”

As in other parts of the globe, Europe is plagued by rising nationalism. Germany’s Europa-Park, however, is the polar opposite of nationalism. It not only welcomes all people, it embraces and celebrates their differences with lands representing 15 European countries. Panel member Roland Mack, IAAPA Hall of Fame member and Europa-Park managing director, offered a simple explanation for its success. “We speak one language all over the world: fun and laughter.”

Recognize the important roles you play in bridging divides. Strive to be culturally relevant, but be careful, as the “Legends” panel members emphasized, to honor cultural archetypes without succumbing to cultural stereotypes.

I’ll see you at the parks. I’ll be the one barreling down a roller coaster in a state of yoga-like bliss.


A lifelong park fanatic, Arthur Levine has been writing newspaper and magazine travel features about the industry he loves since 1992. He’s been the Theme Parks Expert at TripSavvy.com (formerly About.com) since 2002, and is a regular contributor for USA Today.