Lessons on Asian Theme Parks from the IAAPA’s Annual Asian Attraction Expo

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Monday, July 14th, 2014

 IAAPA Asian Expo

Asia has one of the fastest growing theme park markets in the world. We’ve previously explored the explosion of China’s theme park industry and profiled a studio that’s thriving in the country’s complex environment. Today, we’d like to share some exciting takeaways on trends, obstacles, and visitor experience priorities based on field reports from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA’s) annual Asian Attraction Expo held in Shanghai this June.

A look at the numbers quickly illustrates both the growth and the interest in the Asian markets. More than 9000 participants from 70 countries registered for the IAAPA show, covering the gamut of buyers, vendors, designers, and other players across the entertainment space. 325 vendors hit the trade show floor. This amazing growth over the previous year’s show attendance is underscored by the Theme and Museum Index Report’s numbers of growth in attendance at attractions across Asia.

Asia Park Theming

Growth is occurring across the continent. According to the Theme and Museum Index Report, Asia’s top 20 theme parks are spread out across the continent. In Japan, 5 major parks include Disney properties. China dominates with 9 diverse parks. Other important countries with at least one park in the top 20 include South Korea (3), Hong Kong (2), and Singapore (1). Theme parks in the region saw attendance that grew at a rate of 7.5% last year, while water parks attendance grew at a healthy 6%. The report also noted a number of behind the scenes signals that the industry there is growing and formalizing, including the IAAPA routinely selling out exhibit space at its annual show and the TEA having a growing presence in the region.

Floor at IAAPA Expo

The show highlighted both operational and theming interests. The IAAPA show hosted a number of educational events, tours, and panels that attracted significant attendance. In addition to the growth of the sheer number of parks, including varied formats and a diversity of brands, there’s also a dichotomy that was discussed in terms of theming approaches. Some Asian parks are joining the ranks of US and European theme parks, and looking for deals to license popular global IP to serve as the foundation of attraction development.

In other cases, parks are really focusing on opportunities to promote Chinese Culture and Stories. Where parks in the US push toward one cohesive experience, right now parks in Asia are offering more of a blended experience. In forming brands and identities, many parks are still at the stage of experimenting and really formulating their voice in the market.

The Asian economic context is also important. A simultaneous focus at the show was helping attendees to understand the broader economic and sociological trends that are driving the Asian leisure market’s growth. The rising tide of a middle class is having a big impact on the numbers of people able to attend theme parks. One figure given by a post-event analyst noted that China has doubled its per capita income in just twelve years, which from an economic standpoint is staggering. Disposable funds are opening up a wide range of entertainment and cultural growth opportunities.

A number of sessions at the event also focused on the openings of specific attractions, such as 4D experiences, complex coasters, and other interesting attractions that are coming on the Asia theme park scene. Many of these attractions are being developed by the hottest names in the theme park world, from North America and Europe.   There was also a significant amount of focus spent on training employees, creating the internal context for a winning visitor experience, and finding a balance of themes for different audiences among those that attended.

We’re excited at all the development occurring on this next frontier of entertainment design, and are looking forward to seeing what is on the horizon in the Asian themed entertainment market. The future is bright, both for international brands moving into Asia and for homegrown theme parks finding their unique voice on bringing traditional cultural themes to the theme park venue. Ultimately, Asia’s  innovation stands to make a huge impact on themed entertainment and we expect that in the years ahead, we’ll be discussing how these  approaches to entertainment there have influenced global theme park development.

Image credits: IAAPA, In Park Magazine, IndieTravel

 

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