The 10-step process to help you better judge theme park rumors

April 18, 2017, 11:47 AM · Have you heard the latest rumor? Disney/Universal/Six Flags/etc. is building a new hotel/ride/coaster/land themed to Star Wars/Marvel/Harry Potter/etc. It's BREAKING NEWS!!!

But... is it? Whenever I hear about a supposed new project coming to a theme park, I find it helpful to ask where that project stands within the development process. Put somewhat simplistically, here are the 10 steps to a new theme park development:

1. Spitballed it in a meeting
2. Surveyed fans/visitors about it
3. Worked up some plans
4. Filed a patent application
5. Created blueprints
6. Filed a trademark application
7. Hired contractors
8. Pulled permits
9. Started construction
10. Announced it

Before I go further, allow me to reassure people who work in the industry who might be reading this post that I know this is a really simplistic list. But I'm trying to summarize a complex process for a wide audience of readers, to help all of us become better-informed consumers of theme park news. (And if you have suggestions on how to present a better, more insightful 10-step list, please let me know and I'll modify this one.)

Okay? Good. Now steps four and six sometimes aren't necessary in the development process, especially if the project isn't employing any new tech or isn't using a new IP. And some steps can be flipped, especially steps nine and 10.

Why is it important for fans to understand this process? It helps when you're trying to evaluate the theme park news you read online. Some sites like to announce attractions as done deals at steps one or two. At Theme Park Insider, I tend to wait until I see a project get to steps seven or eight before reporting it as a real, upcoming development. At that point, a park is sending significant amounts of cash outside the company, so ideas that aren't going to become real typically don't make it to those steps.

Now, it's fun to think about projects that are kicking around in the spitball or survey stages. But I think it's important for readers to have the context to understand that such ideas are a long, long way from becoming real projects that they will be able to visit one day.

Yet the traffic and money a website can make when it gets a scoop in this business is huge. So that creates an incentive to slap "BREAKING" on a post and report a step one or two project as a step 10 deal.

At this stage, the public doesn't seem to have developed enough collective memory to ignore or otherwise punish sources that consistently break news about future projects that never actually make it into a park. Maybe that will happen at some point. Maybe it won't. I covered politics and government for years before hitting the theme park beat, and I saw major newspapers and television stations that consistently reported crap never get punished by the public for that, so I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to happen on the theme park beat, either.

So it's up to you to read skeptically. Developing a project from blue-sky spitball to opening is a long, long haul, and many people who work in this industry rarely see a project all the way from step one to construction. I hope that this context will help you tell the difference between "news" that should be consumed for entertainment purposes only and news that you can use in helping you plan the best possible time for your future theme park visits.

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Replies (10)

April 18, 2017 at 12:24 PM · Great list Robert.
I always really like "4. Filed a patent application".
I can imagine creative people are in a room coming up with the most outrages ideas. There is a value in patenting those ideas even if it 'll not see the light of day for the ride they are working on but maybe for something later on. I love the potential of it.
April 18, 2017 at 12:53 PM · "Outrages?"
April 18, 2017 at 2:07 PM · If I a nickel for every time announced that Disney was building a new land or attraction and it never materialized...
April 18, 2017 at 2:10 PM · Breaking: I've stopped saving for the vacation I started saving for earlier today.
April 18, 2017 at 2:11 PM · Thank you for the context, Robert. Though, it sure would be FANTASTIC to see the latest WDW/DHS/Star Wars rumor come true!
April 18, 2017 at 2:58 PM · My only suggestion would be number 11- it gets built and guests are using it. There are many examples where Disney has announced something and even build some stuff without finishing the job. Ex. Pop century the early years. Otherwise I like this list concept
April 18, 2017 at 3:55 PM · Even number 10 is no guarantee so the theme park fans need to relax if any project halts in midstream. Never blame the messenger.
April 18, 2017 at 8:22 PM · Saw the rumors that prompted this, immediately came here, and was not disappointed by the added context. :)
April 18, 2017 at 8:29 PM · Thank you, Robert, for having such rigorous standards for Theme Park Insider!
April 18, 2017 at 9:55 PM · This is a really good list, and hopefully a reminder that a step one project is not something to be discussed as anything more than speculation. I usually wait until a project reaches step five or so before I start to consider it a serious possibility, but nothing is definite until step ten (and even then, there's always a small chance it may change).

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