travel the world in search of new theme parks. But it really is a lot less expensive when big new theme parks come to you, isn't it?Sure, you could
Everyone wants "the next Disneyland" in their community. Local governments want the money from tourism taxes, while contractors long for big construction deals, flippers dream of soaring real estate prices, and fans just wish for the convenience of a world-class park they can visit whenever they'd like. But finding the right concept for a suitable location can be elusive.
Why not duplicate a successful project from somewhere far away, then? How many Disneyland fans would like to see DisneySea built in its original proposed location in Long Beach now? How many DC Comics fans would like to see another installation of Abu Dhabi's new Warner Bros. World park somewhere in the United States?
If only it were that easy. In my Orange County Register column this week, I ask When will Disneyland build another theme park in Anaheim? In it, I quote Thinkwell Group's Dave Cobb from our "Building the World's Best Theme Parks" podcast episode this week. Here's an extended quote on why we are seeing so much theme park development shift from the United States to Asia over the past generation:
"It's not just for creative reasons. These are business ventures. In order to spend this inordinate amount of money on a development, you have to [some] certainty that you are going to get a return on it," Cobb said. "Feasibility studies look at a region and they look at the demographics. They look at the past 50 years of economic development. With financial people, they look at the next 50 years of economic development in that region. They look at, culturally, what other things are there that are similar to theme parks."
"Theme parks get built where there is a burgeoning middle class with money to spend and nothing to spend it on. That's it. That's the simple answer. So when you look at places like China and the Middle East, which have in the past 20 to 30 years a burgeoning middle class that's allowed to have their money and need to spend it, and in the cases of many places in the Middle East and China are not able to leave because it's a complicated visa process, they are incentivizing the building of these tourist destinations to develop and thrive in that specific environment.
"If you look at North America, we have a shrinking middle class and an embarrassment of riches when it comes to theme parks. The regionals take up the slack for the people who can't afford to the coasts for the big parks, and the big parks have enough capacity to handle not just North America but Japan and South America and Europe.
"I would love to say that we will see Warner Bros. open one of these in North America some time, but it's unlikely."
In case you've missed it, here is the entire 51 minute interview with Cobb, in which he talks about the creative design and development of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, in addition to theme park economics:
Getting back to future parks in the U.S., though, we do have two new parks on the horizon: a new Legoland, coming to New York in 2020, and whatever Universal Orlando is doing with those hundreds of acres near the Orange County Convention Center.
A Legoland is hardly a major park, though, and — as I wrote in my Register column — what Universal is doing in Orlando has less to do taking advantage of a growing, captive market as it does trying to reach a critical mass to better attack rival Disney. Universal needs another gate to help it become a more viable primary, week-long destination for Orlando visitors, instead of settling for being an add-on to a Walt Disney World vacation, as it is now for many fans. That desire changes the standard for feasibility for Universal's rumored fourth gate (or third, if you don't count Volcano Bay).
With that shrinking middle class and crowded marketplace in the U.S., new park developments are far more likely to cannibalize existing parks' attendance and revenue than they are to grow the overall market. But Universal is trying to cannibalize other parks. It just wants them to be Disney's rather than its own — though it more likely will be SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay that take the biggest hits.
That's a highly unusual reason to build a new theme park. But it's pretty much the only scenario under which anyone is going to build a major new park in America's mature theme park market. So get used to what you have, U.S. theme park fans. The parks surely will continue to expand and change their attraction line-ups. New lands will open, perhaps as others close. But it's going to be very rare to see any major new parks opening near us anytime soon.
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