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More to Learn - November 2016

With more education sessions than ever before, EAS 2016 provided plenty of food for thought

Spotlight on the Middle East

The Middle East is home to a booming number of attractions. EAS 2016 gathered representatives from a wide range of facilities, from a family entertainment center in Iran to one of the oldest amusement parks in the region, to discuss the area’s challenges and opportunities. Here are some of the highlights:

Politics and the Economy

Hakan Abbas, senior adviser at Albright Stone Bridge Group, assured attendees that political instability will remain local in the Middle East and individual states are able to contain conflicts. However, states that base their economy on oil are adjusting to a new route for income as the reserves become increasingly depleted. Some countries are faring better because they’ve diversified their assets while others have fared well because of fiscal restraint.

Ahmad Hussain Bin Essa, CEO of Global Village in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), says investment in tourism will increase as a result of diversification. The government in the UAE has built the infrastructure to welcome tourism, including hotels, theme parks, retail, and transportation.


The Middle East/ North Africa region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and one of the youngest populations, with very few citizens older than 65. Ali Behnam, senior consultant at A&B Consulting Group in Iran, sees the younger demographic as an opportunity for his country. Young parents are more educated than previous generations, he said, and the family structure has shifted away from having numerous children. Parents are better able to concentrate on finding quality learning and entertainment opportunities for the family with fewer children, and this benefits the family entertainment centers growing in Iran.


Attractions in the Middle East face different obstacles than their Western brethren. Bin Essa highlighted cultural sensitivity as an important element to consider in the UAE. According to him, more than 300 different cultures live in the UAE and you must know your audience to ensure a good time for all guests.

Training is also a challenge. Unemployment is high in the region and operators have to set aside enough time to train staff from scratch. Yves Delhommeau, general director of Grevin et Cie in France, sets aside three months to train incoming staff. “It’s a journey,” he said.

Think Outside the Box with Entertainment

Special events and entertainment are big draws for attractions, but taking them to the next level involves attention to detail and the ability to spot opportunities to amplify the best qualities of the event. Here are a few ways attractions have found in-depth ways to boost the power of their entertainment:

  • Holidays: KidZania Kuwait can’t celebrate Halloween or Christmas like attractions in other parts of the world. Instead, to draw guests in a similar fashion, the location holds special events throughout the year. The location even holds parades outside the facility to help draw guests.
  • Shows: Cinecitta World in Italy extends its engagement with guests beyond the park through a mentalist show with a social media twist. A selfie taken at the beginning of the show, with the mentalist and important secret information, is posted on Facebook after the show. The audience is encouraged to check the Facebook page after the show to verify the information—increasing engagement and giving the show a second life beyond the park.
  • Haunts: Del Draco Entertainment, an experience design company, was faced with building a haunt in a small footprint. The company decided to combine elements of a haunted house and escape room to maximize the space. 85 percent of guests preferred the escape room hybrid experience.
  • Special Events: Jora Entertainment, an experience design company, approaches creating special events with this credo: “No story, no glory.” Everything the company does connects to an in-depth, detailed backstory for the elements of the event—that can also be communicated in less than five lines. When planning EDC Vegas, an electronic dance music festival, the company created a story that played out over the event’s three stages and beyond. It was used in marketing and lived on after the event. The story provided the framework for everything related to the event.

CEOs Speak on Economy, Ownership, and More

Taking advantage of Spain’s wide variety of attractions, EAS 2016 gathered the CEOs of two theme parks, a small amusement park, and a water park to share their thoughts on pressing topics of the day. Here’s what they had to say about Brexit, ownership, and more:

How will Brexit impact your park and the industry globally?

Diego Garcia Lovaco, general director of Parque Warner in Madrid, believes the British exit from the European Union will have an impact on tourism, as one-fourth of visitors to Spain are from the United Kingdom. Though Spain may not see a drop in visitors, he can foresee a shortening in length of stay. Fernando Aldecoa, general manager, operations and finance at PortAventura World, agreed with Lovaco and added that the region will not likely see an impact until after 2017, as most visitors have already planned their stays for next year. Local attractions, like Tibidabo, won’t likely see an impact, according to Rosa Ortiz, CEO of Tibidabo in Barcelona.

All parks have different ownership structures. What are the differences you see that make it easier for some parks?

Illa Fantasia is a family-owned business and CEO Joan Cama said he is happy to work with family, despite the small budget. Fernando Aldecoa of PortAventura World works with a different ownership structure and explained that shareholders have given the park opportunities, which might not be the case with all boards, it all depends on the type of shareholders involved. Rosa Ortiz of Tibidabo faces a very different challenge from the other two structures: her park is owned by the city and needs to show the public sustainable results over time.

What are the key trends to be aware of in the next 10 years?

Diego Garcia Lovaco of Parque Warner acknowledged that technology has had a big impact on parks in recent years, but he sees the trend peaking soon. The industry is about creating memories and those opportunities are lost with technology, he explained. Cama and Ortiz also credited technology with recent developments, but believe customer service and the personal touch will become more and more important as the industry continues to digitize.

Experience Economy: The Next Frontier

With physical retail outlets struggling to compete with their online counterparts, attractions are increasingly replacing flagship stores as the anchors in real estate development. According to Michael Collins of Leisure Development Partners, retail is turning to the attractions industry in three ways:

  • Entertainment as anchors: More deconstructed theme parks are popping up in malls and retail outlets every year. These attractions focus on creating experiences you can’t have at home, like KidZania. They are also adding value to the retail experience and getting people to stay in the shopping environment longer, like American Girl Place, which offers both retail and experiences. “When we look at the retail experience in parks, [we must ask] are we making an experience people want to spend on?” Collins said.
  • Retail showcases: Customers are no longer expected to buy in the same visit, so retail has become more about illustrating the product than making the immediate sale, like American Girl Place.
  • Dining and lodging as experience: It’s not enough to provide guests with food and a place to stay—dining and lodging are opportunities to create memorable experiences.

Collins advises treating attraction projects like mixed-use developments and viewing each element (retail, entertainment, dining, etc.) as something to nurture and grow.