Florida Land - Orlando Firms Help Create Theme Parks Overseas
"It's been a bit of a gold rush," said Bob Allen, who recently spent 10 days in six Chinese cities to meet with potential clients for his Orlando-based IDEAS branding and design firm. IDEAS is now developing proposals for an amusement park and indoor snow-skiing attraction in China. Orlando theme park designer ITEC Entertainment has about 20 contractors and full-time employees working in China. And Accesso Technology Group, which has its North American operations based in Lake Mary, hopes to snag South Korean business for its ride reservation systems.
As its middle class grows, Asia leads the world in amusement park attendance growth. Visitation rose by 7.5 percent last year compared with a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in the Americas, according to the Themed Entertainment Association. Eight of the most-attended parks in last year were in Japan, Hong Kong or South Korea.
American theme parks companies are busy with expansion. Shanghai Disneyland is currently under way, Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. recently signed agreements to expand into in Asia. This summer, Twentieth Century Fox announced plans to build a South Korean theme park and Six Flags Entertainment Corp. said it will open multiple parks in China over the next decade. Also, companies that are not household names in America are planning many other projects.
ITEC Entertainment has been working with the Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate, on a mixed-use development in the city of Wuhan. It will include a movie theme park that will open later this year. ITEC Entertainment’s projects include a simulator filled with scenes of earthquakes and tsunamis, and a live theater production called Ultimate Energy. It also recently worked on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Studios in Japan.
It's not just in Asia, however, as ITEC Entertainment also is providing work for a future Viking-themed amusement park in Norway. "International projects are primarily driving our short-term growth," vice president Jerry Pierson said. The U.S. market is still recovering from the economic downturn and "is just now starting to come back to life," he said. Over the past few years, that created a shift in where ITEC has won contracts.
In the past few years, international projects have grown from about 35 percent of ITEC's business to more than 75 percent. That new source of revenue creates different demands. "The foreign markets, they want something really fast and right now," Pierson said. "There's no patience for the clock." Clients often want something elaborate. One project ITEC is now designing wraps a roller coaster around a motion-simulator ride.
Language barriers, different currencies, and time differences are other challenges. To navigate an unfamiliar landscape, Accesso signed a recent deal with South Korean consultant Vision Works Global to help broker deals with attractions. It wanted somebody in the country with whom operators could have a day-to-day relationship.
Allen's IDEAS recently signed a similar deal with a Chinese partner who will help market projects there. "Ultimately we will have a team in China, probably comprised of both westerners and Chinese," said Allen.
"We've been watching what happens in the Mideast and overseas. We kind of chose China as our point of opportunity to venture abroad and see what we could do," Allen said. "There's about 900 million people in China moving over the next decade into the middle class. There's a natural market in China to create immersive opportunities for people."
Source: Sandra Pedicini / Orlando Sentinel / 28 September 2014