How Attractions Manufacturers and Suppliers Are Finding Success in Challenging Times
In a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has RESTRICTED large gatherings, grounded international travel, and required attractions operators to temporarily close or reduce their capacity to promote social distancing, building a roller coaster for a cruise ship might sound outlandishly bullish. But that’s exactly what Maurer Rides is doing.
The German manufacturer is erecting and testing the 300-meter-long Spike Coaster featuring two closely spaced 90-degree curves and a 360-degree helix for Dream Cruises’ first “theme park at sea.” Once completed, the Spike Coaster will be installed aboard the 2,500-cabin ship Global Dream. Out of an abundance of caution, the shipyard in Germany where Global Dream is docked closed this spring. Instead of bringing the project to a halt, Maurer Rides and Dream Cruises simply adapted.
“We have continued our trial assembly according to plan despite the COVID-19-related shipyard closure,” says Marco Hartwig, project manager for Maurer Rides. “We deliberately did not want to hold back the project. I’m confident that the industry will recover and rebound to its previous strength. It’s just a matter of time.”
Hartwig’s team set up a test site near the MV Werften shipyard to assess the coaster’s installation methodology, which is specially designed for ship assembly, as well as to examine the conductor rail, gear rack, and coordinates of more than 90 support base points. While the shipyard closure affected the overall project timeline, Hartwig expects these additional trials will shorten the commissioning process once the coaster is installed on the ship.
While the realities of COVID-19 have canceled or postponed global projects, Maurer Rides is far from the only attractions industry player to forge ahead with new business, despite discouraging headlines.
“Our factories never stopped,” says Sohret Pakis, Polin Waterparks director of marketing and communications. During the first half of the year, Turkey-based Polin worked with dozens of parks in 26 countries, including major new projects in Greece and Turkey, all the while taking precautions to ensure none of the company’s 1,500 workers contracted COVID-19.
Polin’s crisis management team drafted six scenarios for the pandemic’s impact on the company’s business, and while the company scaled back some plans, it still expects to match 2019 production levels. To address new health and safety requirements, Polin produced a 25-page document detailing how its products may need to be adapted to meet social distancing concerns. Polin also adopted a systematic plan for employees to participate in industry webinars, then shared the learnings with their colleagues.
Company culture has a major role to play in determining success as well. Leaders and workers can choose to complain, Pakis says, or accept that “this is happening” and ask, “So what can we do?”
“Polin chose the second way,” she says. “We’re always talking about crisis management and adapting to change, but this was not an education seminar. This was a real story, and we were in it. We experienced it: how to manage a crisis, how to keep communication open, how to see new opportunities.”
Adapting the Product and the Process
Polin Group subsidiary Futuraform has developed a new range of public health products, including disinfection units that eliminate bacteria and viruses when people walk through them and sterilization boxes for 3D glasses and other items.
Other vendors are modifying their rides to adapt to the new moment.
Zamperla, for example, has introduced plexiglass safety barriers to ensure social distancing on its rides. The Italian ride-maker says installation is “easy, fast, and affordable” and that no major changes to the rides are required. Zamperla is also providing clients with free technical drawings, should they prefer to produce the items themselves.
“This is the time for a change in our industry, for sure, but we’re strong enough to reinvent ourselves and respond to this crisis,” says Alberto Zamperla, the company’s chief executive and president. “Not everything is predictable. Flexibility of adaptation and open-mindedness are essential to respond to situations that break down all our traditional references.”
From ride manufacturers to water slide designers, across the industry this spirit of innovation will have lasting impact.
“COVID-19 has made every business around the world rethink what they do and how their designs can create a better future,” adds ProSlide Chief Commercial Officer Ray Smegal. “These past four to five months have been a master class for us in how to pivot our business to support our clients.”
Flashback to March, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau disclosed that his wife had contracted COVID-19 and that they both would be under quarantine. Ottawa-headquartered ProSlide was undeterred by the headline. Some 15 kilometers upriver from the prime minister’s residence, the company announced exclusive plans to embark on a major new project: the launch of the Jeddah Waterpark in Saudi Arabia.
“We’ve actually had several notable product launches and park openings around the world since the onset of COVID-19,” Smegal says, pointing to two projects with OCT Group (operators of China’s eight Happy Valley theme parks), the opening of Soaky Mountain Waterpark in Sevierville, Tennessee, and a new dueling slide at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana. “Water parks and water rides are really well suited to address social distancing considerations because families are able to enjoy a private experience every time they go down the slide,” Smegal says.
Expansion plans and optimism about the attraction industry’s future are not limited to manufacturers.
Malaysia’s Sim Leisure Group (SLG), for example, has struck deals in China and Sri Lanka to expand the company’s footprint and Escape theme park brand. SLG and the publicly listed company named Elpitiya Plantations are building a theme park in between Sri Lanka’s southern beach resort Galle and Colombo, the commercial capital and largest city in the country. The initial phase, which will include gravity and adventure rides, will be situated on 30 acres and cost US$4 million. SLG has also signed a royalty agreement with Guangzhou Daxin to leverage the SLG brand in China, and successfully raised nearly SG$3 million in a share placement in Singapore.
“The pandemic has not deterred us from moving forward,” says Sim Leisure Founder and Chief Executive Sim Choo Kheng, reflecting on the impact of the 2008 financial crisis and the 2003 SARS epidemic before that. “Every time there is a financial crisis, people become very careful with their investments. We are very confident of securing more Escape projects—whether it’s in partnership with governments or real estate developers—because they will be looking at value for money.”
“We’re not stopping and saying ‘Wow! Let’s think strategically; the world is going to change,’” he continues. “If we look into this whole thing deeper, I think there will be a tendency for people to go outdoors more for fun, so I think we have a business model that has the right product for the future.”
Michael Switow is a Singapore-based writer who covers the Asia-Pacific attractions industry for Funworld.