Well before the recent economic downturn, or adjustment, or whatever your stockbroker chooses to call it, themed entertainment veterans were wringing their hands over slow times for their industry. I can remember several people telling me that after Universal Studios Islands of Adventure opened, the market would grind to a slow halt. I even recall speaking to one concerned designer not too long ago who told me that he was thinking of getting out of the business entirely because the writing was on the wall — big-ticket projects were trailing off stateside, overseas projects were scaling back or being cancelled entirely, and checks were seemingly getting lost in the mail.
So why am I sitting here looking over a veritable flood of new themed projects scheduled to open in the next two years from all around the world? True, there still aren't any major new stateside projects set to open in the near future, now that Disney's California Adventure has opened its doors (We'll be covering that next month, by the way). And the Asian Pacific region still has not returned to the heady boom times of a few years ago. But by my count, I see well over a dozen quality projects, ranging from attractions to resorts to museums to environments, set to open their doors in spots ranging from Texas to South Africa.
And why is this issue so stuffed with themed projects? This month we feature both Hannah Kinnersley's look at Ghosts and Legends of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, on page 19, and John Calhoun's exhaustive piece on the new Madame Tussaud's in New York's Times Square on page 26, not to mention Judy Rubin's online exclusive on Volkswagen Autostadt at www.entertainmentdesignmag.com. If times are so bad for the themed entertainment industry, why are there so many projects of all shapes and sizes?
I think the key word here is “sizes.” With the exception of Universal Studios Japan, set to open this spring (and tentatively set for coverage in our August issue), the majority of new projects are on the medium-to-small side. No over-the-top casinos, no new gates with famous cartoon characters, no giant domes designed to herald a new age. Instead, this is the present and future of themed entertainment: envelope-pushing attractions at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, a corporate branding center in Germany, and a new live show at Sea World San Diego, and, of course, a highly controversial religious theme park in Orlando.
This doesn't look like a downturn to me. So why the worry? Perhaps the situation here is one of perception. We tend to have this problem in the entertainment technology industry — and I'm including myself here — in which the quality of the project is too often determined by the pricetag. Size matters, it would seem, when it comes to gauging how well we are doing. When times are good, of course, the projects tend to be roughly the size of Steve Wynn's ego. But when there is no golden goose on the horizon, hands start wringing. No $200 million projects, what to do? Guess I'll have to settle for these four measly $50 million projects.
My advice to that concerned designer: Relax. Granted, there may not be quite as many projects on the far horizon as in years past, but that just might be because the budgets are smaller, and therefore the lead times are shorter. The work will come. It just may not always be Super Size.
And speaking of our website, we've changed it. It's simpler to follow, with more breaking news, more online exclusives, plus much more from each issue of the magazine. We're hoping to add more graphics capability to it soon, and there should be a number of other improvements in the months to come. It's now part of our company-wide VOC, IndustryClick, so you're also linked to many of our sister publications, including Mix, S&VC, and Video Systems. Let us know what you think. I'd love to get some input. That address again: entertainmentdesignmag.com.