Welcome to the Recovery
While many attractions reopened in 2021 following COVID-19 closures in 2020, several suppliers found themselves waiting for their own recovery to begin. With revenue again being generated on the facility side, orders for products and services has resumed. Several suppliers shared with Funworld that they’re excited about finally seeing demand return. While supply shortages and steep inflation continue to be a concern this autumn, enthusiasm and anticipation have returned.
Four attraction industry suppliers share the challenges they’re still contending with, how they’ve changed their business thinking and approaches, and what’s happening now and in the near future that has them excited.
ThisPlays International in Loosdrecht, Netherlands, works to revolutionize photo booths in the attractions industry, and company founder Mark Van Der Weide says 2022 has been substantially better than 2020 and 2021. He’s seen improved revenue from a “relatively stable” attractions season, with ThisPlays’ per-location revenue back to normal.
But he’s seeing a substantial change from the pre-COVID era: “Before COVID-19, we didn’t see as much of a sense of urgency to make revenue. But this year, attractions now have a stronger budget (than 2021) and are focused on how to make new revenue streams. With some attractions, it took a long time to get contracts signed and now it’s much faster.”
He added that ThisPlays heard from two attractions wanting photo experiences that don’t require staffing, which will allow them to earn the revenue as labor shortages continue.
Weide says he’s gratified that during the pandemic, his team didn’t get dragged down but remained creatively inventive: “We kept pushing during COVID. We didn’t just complain and focus on controlling the damage but remained innovative. The result is that we got 55 new contracts for the 2022 season.”
ThisPlays’ reaction to one change forced by the COVID restrictions actually led to what’s now a popular photo experience. Pre-COVID, the company asked attractions for indoor spaces for its photo stands. But social distancing requirements made this difficult during the pandemic. So ThisPlays responded by creating an outdoor cabin for its photo stand.
“The cabin provides indoor space and guest groups can easily distance from others if needed, and the attraction need only provide us eight square meters,” he says. “We designed it for distancing, but it’s become a popular experiential concept.”
As for what’s coming, Weide says two successful pilots ThisPlays ran with two global players will result in group rollouts: “That came from not just focusing on damage control during COVID but remaining entrepreneurial.”
Aquamarine Projects in Auckland, New Zealand, specializes in the design, construction, management, and operation of entertainment centers, public aquariums, and other new attractions. Managing director Nicholas Traviss says the company has taken time the past two years to reflect inwardly, with research and development becoming key to their innovation process.
“We have managed to develop exciting new concepts and now we’re finding investment for these projects,” Traviss says. “Travel restrictions still hamper our face-to-face meetings, but we all have benefitted from systems like Zoom and other forms of communication.”
He’s pleased that Aquamarine has projects finally under construction that have sat dormant for a while. But he notes one result of such delays is that clients can’t help but “tweak” certain elements, which leads to some major design changes.
When asked what he would like to see happen in Aquamarine’s industry segment or in the attractions industry as a whole, Traviss gives an intriguing response: “Part of the research and development we have brought into our company’s design practices is that we have to consider incorporating natural planting inside all of our projects in some way. As Aquamarine now designs, builds, and operates large, full-scale biomes (botanical gardens combined with aquariums, terrariums and zoological exhibits), to create clean fresh air internally has become of paramount importance to any experience, no matter the location of the project.”
He says after lying dormant for some time, Aquamarine will be announcing many new oceanarium and aquarium projects in Asia and Europe. “Through determination, changing our thinking, and developing new ideas, we are ready for all of these exciting new projects! Out of the blue we’ve had large major projects reach their investment financing targets, and now it looks like 2023 will be a very busy year, with major expansion.”
Creative Works in Mooresville, Indiana, designs, fabricates, installs, and operates immersive attraction experiences. The company says it found that during 2021, many operators started seeing a “huge uptick” in traffic. But because of the losses they incurred while being shut down in 2020, they needed time to recover during 2021 and build up cash reserves before reinvesting in their facilities.
“Towards the end of 2021 and into 2022 the dam ‘broke,’ so to speak,” says Vice President of Marketing Danny Gruening, “and interest in and orders for our products ramped up as operators were once again feeling comfortable to add new attractions and expand their facilities. The biggest challenge for us continues to be the supply chain.”
He adds the company is excited about a new production facility it moved into—a significantly larger space under one roof with new tools and machinery to expand its capabilities. Because the building flow allows it to construct attractions more efficiently, they can combat the supply-chain delays.
“We’re also excited about multiple projects where we’re building attractions with licensed IPs,” he says. “We’re manufacturing a ‘Star Trek’ room for Escapology franchisees named ‘Star Trek: Quantum Filament.’ We’re also working on a project with amazing IP from Mattel, but we can’t yet reveal any details.”
Gruening says one thing Creative Works would “love” to see is a brighter light shone on the generosity of the attractions industry. “Our team is constantly amazed and inspired when we hear the stories of suppliers and operators donating time, knowledge, and money to good causes. This is an industry that cares and gives back, and the more we all acknowledge and celebrate this, the more generous we’ll collectively become. We’ve expanded our own charitable giving and increased involvement with organizations like ‘Make-A-Wish’.”
Sally Dark Rides in Jacksonville, Florida, has delivered indoor themed rides to attractions around the world for more than four decades. The firm’s vice president of marketing and business development, Lauren Weaver, says that although the company has had to endure some challenging years recently and is still contending with “bumps in the road” like supply-chain issues, the market has opened back up.
“There’s pent-up energy and a desire to get back to creating magic,” she says. “Now we have a place to put that energy, and it’s rejuvenating and exciting everyone. If all goes to plan, you should see some groundbreaking projects in the coming years!”
She says 2022 proved exciting: “‘VOLKANU–Quest for the Golden Idol’ debuted as the signature attraction at the all-new Lost Island Themepark in Waterloo, Iowa. Riders experience breathtaking scenery, interactive 3D gameplay, life-like animatronic figures, and immersive special effects. It’s a really unique ride, and honestly, one of my favorites from Sally.”
As for what’s ahead, Weaver doesn’t contain her enthusiasm: “Oh, I’m incredibly excited about the future! We’re currently mid-installation on ‘Treasure Hunt – The Ride!’ having teamed up with the incredible talents at Daniels Wood Land to create a stand alone family attraction along historic Cannery Row in Monterey Bay, California. The interactive, pirate-themed dark ride will have handcrafted set pieces, lifelike animatronics, and some really fun special effects.”