Lunch and Learn Explores the Power of Authenticity
by Keith Miller
As attractions continue to integrate more and more cutting-edge technologies into experiences, it’s paramount that authenticity be a cornerstone of their creative philosophy. That was the recurring theme of the “Lunch and Learn: The Emergence of Authentic Reality” event Monday by George Walker, creative director at Universal Creative Studio.
Walker is a life-long creator of amusement experiences. As a child, he fashioned what he called a sandbox theme park in his backyard. A few years later, he convinced his parents to help him build Holiday Hollow in Pembroke, New York, a small family entertainment center. Later, he worked for several creative firms as a writer, art director, and creative director. At Dynamic Attractions, he was creative director for a massive expansion of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.
Walker defined authenticity as being something that is genuine. He noted that over time, the most developed countries have moved from a commodity economy to a service economy and now to an experience economy. He then quoted a popular saying in recent years: “When experience is the commodity, authenticity is the currency.”
He explained that in amusement parks, heightened reality was brought about by the introduction of rides, like Ferris wheels, that provided an experience but no story. Then, the advent of theme parks brought an artificial reality with real physical properties. Now, virtual reality is using mass media to create a visual and audio reality that’s digital.
“There has recently been a decline of brands, as people now care more about substance than brand,” he observed. He suggested this goes hand in hand with authenticity. As an example, he talked about how, just as the giant beer companies experienced a 14% decline in sales a few years ago, microbreweries enjoyed a 17% rise because they were perceived as local, authentic, and unique.
Walker said that though the Chicago Tribune ran a story saying, “Millennials are ruining everything,” they’re a big driver of this move towards authenticity. “Millennials place more value on experience than products,” he concluded. “We are poised to take better advantage of this societal shift than any other industry because we create experiences, and themed experiences.” He mentioned “Flying Aces” at Ferrari World as a ride whose creation he was proud to be associated with because it’s a unique and authentic experience with a great story.
As for what smaller facilities can do to create authentic experiences, Walker highlighted the Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler in Tennessee, which lets people sample different flavors of moonshine made for more than 100 years by the group of families that created the attraction. He said the experience perfectly satisfies authenticity because it’s locally based, hands-on, and genuine.