FRANK STANEK, THEME PARK INDUSTRY EXPERT, URGES INDUSTRY TO “KEEP MOVING FORWARD”

BY GABRIELLE

Frank Stanek, executive advisor with The Producers Group (TPG) and TEA Lifetime Achievement Award winner, is urging the attractions industry to “keep moving forward.”

In a recently released white paper, Stanek encouraged entertainment and attraction developers to continue planning and design projects in anticipation of an eventual recovery.

In an open letter to clients and partners of TPD, including the likes of Universal and Disney, Stanek noted: “Now is not the time to regress or ‘pull back’ from moving forward with projects that are tourism, entertainment or visitor-related. In fact, this is an ideal time to continue the development of well thought out projects, having attractive, market appealing concepts, sound business plans, and execution strategy.”

Stanek went on to remind that following a significant disruption or downturn, that higher growth within 6 to 24 months historically occurs.

Citing the “certain positive advantages to keep ‘moving forward’”, Stanek forecasts: “The current health and financial uncertainty will run through its cycle and in most cases, it will be of short duration but certainly, the situation will improve, financial markets will return to positive growth, health issues will be managed and solutions found and tourism and attraction visitation will return to normal dynamics.”

As we wait during these difficult times, the award-winning TPG executive advisor recommends that: “In these uncertain times those who move forward with their projects will gain the initiative over those who wait and be positioned to capture more than their market share when the cycle of uncertainty ends and tourism and visitor growth returns.”

Our experiences in China

As an increasing number of manufacturers and suppliers enter the parks and attractions market in China, InterPark talks to a number of companies about their experiences in working in the country and some of the projects the have been involved with

Vekoma – Charlotte van Etten, account manager sales and marketing

‘Every year millions of people across the globe are delighted and thrilled by the coasters and attractions of Vekoma Rides Manufacturing. China (and Asia in general) is a very important market for Vekoma, with the company having already opened numerous projects in Chinese theme parks with many more due over the next few years. Having production facilities and offices in China is therefore considered a great advantage for Vekoma.

In China, more and more investors are stepping into this market and you see a growing number of Chinese companies ranking in top the 10 of amusement parks. New parks are being built while existing parks continue to expand and we anticipate seeing more park openings in the next couple of years. It is noticeable that China parks select to buy high quality coasters and attractions from renowned manufacturers while in addition to the ride selection, parks now also focus on the total guest experience.

Peter van Bilsen, executive VP sales and marketing at Vekoma, discusses yet another project in China

A park investment requires a substantial investment so park owners will choose those attractions that have a long lifetime, while at the same time being innovative and attractive to the guests. China is implementing more and high value IP, which considerably enhances the total experience. The story line and an immersive experience are very popular trends in the Chinese market right now.

We have seen that Asian consumers like thrill rides. However, the large population in Asia is also very family oriented and therefore rides that the entire family can enjoy are very popular. To the Asian consumer it does not really matter whether it is a thrill or family coaster. They care more about their experience being fun. Park owners realise this and you can see they buy a mix of family and thrill coasters.

When buying and operating a coaster, new operators should not only consider the ride experience. Safety is the first priority, so good and easy maintenance is very important for the park operator.’

Alterface – Benoit Cornet, founder and CEO

‘Alterface in China is a now a long love story, with moments of intense devotion and moments of misunderstandings. We introduced our first interactive theatres some 13 years ago and since then have been quite active in the market. More recently, we decided to invest more to be close to our Chinese customers, both on a personal level and on the commercial side.

Alterface – Benoit Cornet, founder and CEO

In order to better understand how people think, you need to spend quite some time learning their way of thinking and it is fascinating. The common mistake most western companies are making, in my opinion, is that they consider China as an emerging market that will ultimately evolve to resemble the market in Europe or the US. I think this is not completely correct; the country evolves very fast but this evolution will lead to something else, intensely Chinese and not a copy of other cultures. So we need to project ourselves in what China wants to become and adapt our products and way of working to fit this evolution. A product has to be designed with the target population in mind and it is up to us to adjust, not the other way around.’

Simtec Systems – Andreas Stickel, director business development

‘The EXPO 2010 in Shanghai opened the door for Simtec to the Chinese market. The Shanghai Pavilion was one of the special highlights at the EXPO 2010. In a record time of less than four months Simtec Systems has developed, built, installed and programmed the motion platform for a new entertainment simulator based on a 6DOF motion base driving on a track with additional rotation of the open guest platform. Visitors experience, together with the simulator and by means of a movie, a journey through the story of Shanghai.

Compared to projects in other areas, our experience is that Chinese customers are willing to take risks to order prototype systems if these systems are unique and if you are able to convince them of the technical capabilities of your company and provide solutions. This was also the success of the motion simulator of the Shanghai Pavilion in 2010 and our HEXaFLITE® flying theatres all over China which at the end has been the foundation for the growth of Simtec in recent years. The company developed from a 15 people organisation in 2010 to nearly 100 employees in Germany and China in 2019.

We have learned a lot about cultural conditions and different operational methods, i.e. milestone orientated working. This was one of our first challenges which we mastered well. Simtec is glad to have started the “adventure in China” in 2010 and we are looking forward to the coming years.’

Lagotronics Projects – Carlo Görtjes, president

‘Lagotronics Projects has realised many projects in China; for example the GameChanger at Shimao’s Skyscrapers City, the Moon Bunny Rescue dark ride at EonTime World and some media dark rides for Wanda. I have done a lot of business in China over the years and got to know the people very well. One of the most important things is trust. In China, people will always want to help you, as long as you don’t betray their trust. They work extremely hard and don’t mind to work overtime in the evenings or during the weekends. This is why they can deliver huge projects in a short period of time, for example the high-speed rail network.

Doing business in China often takes more time than in Europe. We were not used to this long-term contract settlement in the past. Now we know that it’s part of the deal and things will work out well in the end. Chinese people are very friendly and helpful. Furthermore, China is a land full of traditions. These traditions need to be respected at all times. You can’t learn them in short period of time; it takes years to understand.

Carlo-Gortjes-right-second-with-his-Chinese-colleagues-at-the-ChinaBeijing-Attractions-Expo-2019

Over the years, Lagotronics Projects has become very familiar with this beautiful country. Last year we opened our own office in Shanghai. This works very well and makes it even easier and more pleasant to do business there. We’re closer to the Chinese market and are proud to say we have plenty of projects on the way in China.’

Martin & Vleminckx – Chuck Bingham, senior vice-president of marketing and sales

‘The past 10 years have been an exciting journey for Martin & Vleminckx. In 2009, the company delivered the very first wooden roller coaster to China. Over the years, Martin & Vleminckx has delivered a total of 11 wooden roller coasters. We are thrilled to say that the coming years also look very promising.

Some of our most recent projects, the Jungle Trailblazer Ningbo and Jungle Trailblazer Jinan, which offer the new 360 degree barrel roll and the mega high five element for OCT Wuhan, have all been highly acclaimed and serve as a testament to our design process.

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Martin & Vleminckx coasters undergo a thorough design process by our engineering partners. In addition to a rigorous design review process from the Chinese Special Equipment Inspection and Research Institute the end result always provides an experience unlike steel coasters.  

With a China-based group of technicians that are readily available, Martin & Vleminckx offers after sales services, maintenance and training to ensure that our customers operate their roller coaster equipment in a safe and efficient manner. 

Our experience working on projects in China has been extremely rewarding. In 2017, Martin & Vleminckx set up two wholly-owned subsidiaries in Shenzhen and Wuhan. The mission of the two new China companies is to build and maintain long-term business partnerships with Chinese customers, provide the highest quality spare parts and offer quick and excellent after-sale services, including maintenance and consulting services.’

Concept 1900 – Baixuan Wang, business manager

‘2019 marks the third year since Concept 1900 officially entered China. Our company has always been surprised by the potential of this promising land. The same feelings always come to me as I travel a lot between China and France. In addition, Chinese customers are no less complex than the stock market and a full comprehension would be the key. Here I stand in the perspective of ‘Wai Guo Ren’ and share some feelings after having contact with Chinese customers. Here are a few key words:

Hospitality: At an exhibition, whether or not there is any purchase intention, they come forward to have a talk. Sometimes they invite me to their company, to have dinner together and I needn’t call any taxi from the airport; they even book the hotel for me! And I think ‘I can do this myself’ but I go with it in order not to break the harmony.

Collectivism: Chinese customers will always come in a group to an exhibition. If there are more than three people wearing uniforms, we should pay extreme attention to them. They are prospective customers. Generally we’ll have the manager of products, purchase or operation for the site and even vice-presidents will be present. At this time, all sorts of questions will be asked. However, the man to the side who is quietly listening will be the real decision maker. And I can only judge if it is a positive discussion from his expression during his conversation with his assistant.

Taste exclusive: In order to seize the hearts of consumers, many clients want to customise our carousel in a creative way. Our carousel is actually a pure European vintage style, with a lively, bright colour as the keynote. However, in China, you need to nationalise it. They will push hard a mixed plan to confirm their theme, or choose boldly the pure red as the colour of the canopy instead of two-colour stripes. Red is their favourite colour that fits almost everything and everywhere!’

The Producers Group – Edward Marks, founder and co-CEO

‘As specialists serving clients in the international themed entertainment market, The Producers Group (TPG) has extended its successful track record building creative relationships and vital communication tools to fulfill unique client needs in China.

The communication and cultural differences between us and our partners certainly increased the challenge of forging these valuable relationships, but TPG developed valuable new tool sets and procedures to increase understanding and productivity.

TPG forged these tools out of necessity when we were engaged to simultaneously create and produce three live shows debuting at one client’s Chinese theme park. Clarity of production scope with our partner was of upmost importance from the kick-off to ensure we both began work on these shows with the same goals in mind.

To that end, TPG’s team and our specialist consultant ensured that design and production choices created culturally relevant results for Chinese audiences. Within parallel production phases, our consultant facilitated TPG’s presentation of key project milestones at face-to-face meetings that ensured a meaningful dialogue with our client.

Establishing this customized communication pipeline also helped TPG overcome the challenge of sustaining long-term momentum across three simultaneous projects. Efficiency in face-to-face and long-distance communication grew steadily as partners adapted to and expanded upon this mutually beneficial feedback exchange.

TPG incorporated many time-saving tools, including use of storyboard animatics with dual-language audio tracks to demonstrate each show’s intent to the client quickly and in context without ambiguity. A crucial, continuous dialogue of ideas was established. These and other tools enabled immediate, detailed client feedback that influenced design, staging and pacing of all three live shows while emphasising their unique themes.’

Doppelmayr/Garaventa Group – Sissi Wu, marketing manager

‘Vietnam is home to an amazing density of ropeways with Guinness World Records. The Doppelmayr Group co-operated with the Sun Group to build those impressive installations.

The Doppelmayr ropeway tour group in Vietnam

In order to present Doppelmayr’s quality and innovation, its participation in this increasingly dynamic ropeway market and state-of-the-art ropeway products to Chinese customers, Doppelmayr China invited a number of leaders from well-known scenic spots and snow resorts and ropeway experts to Vietnam for a week-long ropeway tour through Vietnam. Doppelmayr now has 122 ropeways in China. In June 2018, members of the delegation personally experienced the world-famous 3S ropeway Hon Thom, the Fansipan Legend 3S ropeway climbing the highest peak in Vietnam, the reversible aerial tramway Ha Long Queen Cable Car, the longest mono-cable gondola lift Bana Big Ropeway and two D-Line installations in the scenic Bana Hills. They conducted in-depth discussions and exchanged operational experiences with the owners and operators.

And seeing is believing! Many representatives have expressed their intention to co-operate with Doppelmayr in the future and we look forward to introducing Doppelmayr equipment to China!’

Kraftwerk Living Technologies – Kevin Murphy, director of sales and marketing

‘Known for its porcelain craftsmanship from the Tang Dynasty, the Tonguan Kiln International Cultural and Tourism Centre portrays the 1,200-year heritage of Changsha city in Hunan Province on a total area of 1.1 million sq.m, featuring eight museums, five performing centres, three luxury hotels and 18 cultural attractions. Celebrating the region’s craftsmanship, the cultural centre creatively brings its history and stories about this ancient past to life – with state-of-the-art media-based experiences.

Members of the Kraftwerk team exploring during one of their visits to China

Back in 2016, Austrian audio visual system integrator Kraftwerk Living Technologies received the order for the largest contract in its 26-year company history. Now, roughly 30 months later, both attractions – Beautiful Hunan, a 72-seater flying theatre attraction and the 800-seater Magic Glaze 5D theatre – are completed. Whilst the flying theater, for which Kraftwerk LT provided the screen and high-end AV system on behalf of CAVU Designwerks, has been open since October 2018, (featuring a stunning flight over Hunan region) the first park guests entered the theatre during a soft opening at the end of March 2019 to experience the highly immersive 5D experience.

To better serve the Chinese market, Kraftwerk Living Technologies has invested in setting up a new company in Shanghai as part of the group, with the backing and experience of Global Kraftwerk LT behind it.’

ProSlide Technology – Steve Avery, manager of customer success

‘The China waterpark market is growing rapidly, with many projecting it will lead the world by 2025. During my time at ProSlide, I’ve had the great pleasure to travel throughout China spending quality time with our regional clients.

The ProSlide team with the Adventure Island Water World team in Lishui

Recently, our ProSlide team landed in Wenzhou and headed north west through scenic countryside along the Ou River to Lishui, home of the exciting Adventure Island Water World. This magnificent waterpark hosts some of ProSlide’s most iconic attractions, including a massive TORNADO® 60, a giant BehemothBOWL® 60 and a thrilling TornadoWAVE® 45, among others.

We walked through Adventure Island Water World examining and verifying each ride complex powered by high-performance ProSlide innovation to ensure that they were operating at peak performance. After being in service for nearly seven years, we were pleased to find that all of them were in great condition, a testament to Adventure Island’s meticulous maintenance and our ultra-durable attractions.

Throughout our stay, the Adventure Island maintenance team were actively performing their annual top-to-bottom maintenance on all of their ProSlide attractions before the winter. Together, we discussed the ProSlide rides in great detail, finding optimal solutions and follow-up actions for each specific attraction.