Can The London Resort win over theme park fans?

December 8, 2019, 5:18 PM · Last week at the Blooloop conference in the United Kingdom, The London Resort revealed the line-up of its theme lands. Now that I am back from Disney World's Rise of the Resistance media event and have had some time to process this announcement, let's dive into The London Resort's plans.

The line-up announced this week was for the park's first planned gate, which is scheduled now to open in 2024. The resort plans to open a second gate on its 535-acre site by 2029. If the resort proceeds as planned, it would become Europe's third multi-gate theme resort, following Disneyland Paris and PortAventura World.

"We have three guidelines we work to when it comes to developing attractions," the Chief Executive of London Resort Company Holdings, PY Gerbeau, said. "Number one is innovation. We’re not here to copy what's been done before even if it has been successful. Number two is relevance. We need to consider that the customers of today will not be the customers of 2024. And the third is flexibility. We need to create a park that can evolve and adapt easily."

Let's see what the park has to say about its lands:

The entrance to The London Resort will be via a grand plaza that leads visitors and hotel guests through The High Street. Full of shops, restaurants, hotels, a Convention Centre and a first-class waterpark.

Visitors can start their journey in The Studios, a gritty, modern-day warehouse district that practically roars with the exhilarating thrills of big, blockbuster features. A winning combination of explosive action, high-octane car chases and high-stakes espionage.

Just to the north lies The Woods, an enchanted realm where springtime reigns eternal and the boundary between reality and fantasy dissolves. Here, the young and young-at-heart will be invited to step through the pages of a storybook and embark on adventures that put a fresh spin on beloved bedtime stories, fables and fairy tales.

From the Woods, the journey continues through the ages into The Kingdom, an immersive realm of swords, sorcery, dragons & legend. This is England as a dark and ancient land, a place of threatening and imposing castles and mystical Arthurian legends.

To the north lay The Isles, a land of giant creatures, mythical beasts and adventures at the crossroads of imagination and reality. Fantastic jaw dropping architecture will combine with magnificent rides and 21st century technology.

The past begins to blend with the future in The Jungle. Ancient ruins of a mysterious long-lost Mesoamerican civilisation are seen pushing up through treetops. Here, an overgrown environment, brimming with ancient secrets, surprising discoveries and strange mystical artefacts will be transported to the present by inquisitive explorers – young and old.

The final land, dedicated to futuristic experiences, alien encounters and big thrill rides, The Starport is a bustling 23rd century landing zone. It will launch visitors into thrilling science-fiction adventures that are out of this world, leaving them mesmerised at things that should be impossible but are not.

And here are the park map and new concept images, courtesy The London Resort:

Map of The London Resort

Aerial view of The London Resort

The London Resort entrance gate

The London Resort castle

Let's start with that entrance gate, shall we? Paramount withdrew from this project in 2017, but returned earlier this year. Originally slated to be open by now, this park initially was branded to Paramount, before years of delays and Paramount's exit. When the studio returned to the project earlier this year, I assumed that it was simply to provide IP for planned attractions, but the use of its iconic Melrose Avenue studio gate at the entrance to the park suggests a more substantial role. Remember that no one seems to have announced what the names for either of these proposes theme parks would be. They - and the resort overall - can't all be called "The London Resort."

Developers promised this week that 70 percent of the park's attractions would be under cover, as suggested by the Union Jack-screened dome over the entrance and abundant use of roofs in the aerial concept image. While London's average temperature would not demand an Abu Dhabi-style indoor park, England's persistent precipitation does call for cover. (My apologies for that sentence, BTW. It's been a long week.)

The uncertainty of global climate change hangs over the themed entertainment design industry as it does over every industry on this planet. To that end, developers promised that The London Resort will pursue a Net Zero emissions goal.

"We won’t just be creating a world class leisure destination," Gerbeau said in referencing the resort's partnership with EDF Energy. "It will also be one of the most sustainable theme parks on the planet."

But one park's zero emission goal, while laudable, does not excuse designers from having to find a way to create a comfortable environment in world filled with ever more crappy and unpredictable weather. The aggressive use of cover demonstrates a nice start toward that, but let's not forget that The London Resort's location on the Swanscombe Peninsula is on the "wrong" side of the Thames Barrier when it comes to flooding.

As for the lands themselves, ultimately - of course - they will succeed or fail on the quality of the attractions within. But context remains important. A theme park designer's first task must be to create a space in which people will want to spend time. Great attractions in an uncomfortable space do not sell tickets.

To that point, the resort's use of "gritty" to describe its Studios land concerns me. We've drilled down on the studio theme problem before, and after watching industry leaders Disney and Universal throw billions of dollars to get away from parks that look like studio backlots, I am amazed that anyone would be spending money to go in that direction.

I cannot imagine that anyone wants to spend money to visit a "gritty" space. The "explosive action, high-octane car chases and high-stakes espionage" are great, but the location that houses them must be aspirational, not someplace we are conditioned to avoid.

The rest of the park seems a bit like it could be called "London's British Empire Adventure," though I suppose that theme falls down on developers' choice of Mesoamerica for The Jungle land, rather than India or Africa. Beyond the "gritty" misstep, the land descriptions are fine, though the lands' names seem so generic as to make me question whether they are placeholders. Surely "The Starport" would be better branded as a Star Trek land, given that is Paramount's big SciFi franchise, right? The description even sets the land in the 23rd century, for goodness' sake.

The resort's other IP partners are ITV Studios and the BBC, so I will leave to readers to play connect the dots and assign appropriate franchises to these lands. (So where does Coronation Street fit in all this, again?)

Given the delays so far with this project, I think it understandable that many readers would come to this announcement with a fair bit of skepticism. But there's Kuwaiti money behind this project, and Middle Eastern-funded projects have developed most of the new parks we've seen outside of China over the past decade. Brexit throws uncertainty over all British tourism at this moment, as well, but if The London Resort delivers any world-class attractions, I imagine that a large audience from both Britain and beyond will find their way to visit and experience them.

The bones look good here. With this thematic foundation, this project could work for theme park fans — in the UK, Europe and even a few from America. Construction is supposed to begin next year. If it does, then I am eager to hear more details from this park as they become available.

What do you think?

Replies (15)

December 8, 2019 at 6:16 PM

"We’re not here to copy what's been done before even if it has been successful."... and the first land they announce is themed to a movie studio?

December 9, 2019 at 12:23 AM

While i'm all for a new theme park I think this park is going to have be pretty spectacular to go toe-to-toe with what Disneyland Paris has planned. London is not a city that people visit to go to a theme park, and while Paris wasn't that way either, Marne-La-Vallee has a 30 year head start on all of the infrastructure and the Disney brand (which of course is more powerful than ever and has stronger financial capacity to invest to bury this place).

London already has Thrope Park for a regular park, Alton Towers for the "weekend getaway" crowd, and Disneyland Paris for the theme park destination crowd. I hope this new resort studies Parque Warner Madrid closely and doesn't suffer the same fate.

Also these announced theme lands are extremely stupid IMO. "The London Resort" which is supposed to reflect ... British pride or something?...(basically a British alternative to Disneyland Paris) is going to have a Star Port land (Star Wars Land), Jungle land (Adventureland). Studio Land (the failed park), the Kingdom (Fantasyland)...I have a really hard time believing a bunch of developers with no experience and probably hired some design company that just cheaply replicates what WDI does, are going to be making a park nearly as good and well thought out/executed as Disney. I think a lot of British people are going to resent that their big resort destination is basically a knockoff of the one in France just a few hours away. Also "the woods"...Alton Towers already has that (where Thirteen and Rita are).

December 9, 2019 at 12:58 AM

Yes. Star trek and Dr who- walk through theater style interactive adventures with actors please. The Star trek experience in las vegas was one of the best themed adventures I have ever done before. Watching a you tube video of ROTR it seems like disney has copied some of those elements for the ROTR pre ride experience. Gritty can be done badly, but it can also be done well. ROTR has gritty role playing elements. So. Does Merlin's early san francisco role playing adventure in san fran. It can be fun, if done correctly. Tokyo disneyland also had one for a long time with a villians role playing walk through. And continues to do similar things for the halloween season. Robert. You forgot Europa for a two gate park. You even wrote an article about their enclosed big water park. Doesn't a water park count as a second gate. Universal calls volcano bay their third gate very expressly.

December 9, 2019 at 3:14 AM

By now it's hard to get excited by this park. The initial concept art for this park was stunning and didn't look nothing like this.
In the end the proof is in the pudding so I await the opening and the reviews before considering to go. But I hope it is good because I love to visit London.

December 9, 2019 at 10:18 AM

I'm most interested in what they do with Doctor Who, which is MOST CERTAINLY going to have a big attraction in the sci-fi area (together with Star Trek). Such a popular show demands a well done attraction.

December 9, 2019 at 10:58 AM

"We’re not here to copy what's been done before even if it has been successful."

That is the statement that I have a HUGE issue with. Theme parks have been around for decades, and designers, developers, and operators have gone through countless millions of hours of trial and error to see what works and what doesn't. To simply dismiss established, successful ideas because they are not "innovative" suggests to me that this project is going to waste money trying things that simply won't work. It's one thing to try to be innovative in an attempt to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, it's another to cast aside successful concepts and conventions just to be innovative.

I do think this project has one thing going for it, and it's the location that is linked by mass transit to one of the most densely populated areas of financially stable people in the world. London is very much like Tokyo in terms of demographics and size, so a park situated proximal to such an affluent population center could see success similar to what Disney and OLC have achieved in Tokyo. However, it will inevitably come down to whether they can establish something that people WANT to visit. Like the Tokyo parks, this complex is likely to draw heavily from the local market with a modest percentage of attendance from foreign visitors. Considering how expensive it's likely to be to build a park under BREXIT (more expensive raw materials) and UK safety/labor laws (more expensive construction costs), I don't see the developers getting much quality from the rumored $3 billion price tag, certainly if they build everything mentioned here under that budget (water park, hotel, and 7 themed lands under cover).

December 9, 2019 at 12:34 PM

I think a lot of this depends on how Thursday's election plays out. Brexit is obviously going to be a key factor, but so is governmental approach to spending on this kind of infrastructure. Which could vary massively depending on what kind of parliament we return.

The mixture of stated approaches - innovative yet cautious, nationalistic yet internationally-minded - feels like a response to that. Gerbeau's a savvy guy who's encountered the challenges of the London market before (overseeing the Millennium Dome project) and I think the project stands a better chance of actually getting made under his watch.

Russell, FWIW - although you're right about price increases after Brexit, it's likely that safety regulations will be relaxed if the previous government gets back in and sees their proposed plan through.

December 9, 2019 at 2:51 PM

Don't be too skeptic folks. You are forgetting a very important factor - it is British - and we Brits have a pretty good record at doing things well. Look no further than Potter. All British design and detail. And was there ever an Olympic opening ceremony to come close to Danny Boyle's in 2012?

There will be a plethora of IPs which are quintessentially British which are not exported or not that well known outside of the mother country. Partners BBC and ITV will have enough IPs to build several parks which Brits will lap up, even though they may not be familiar elsewhere.

The park will be primarily aimed at the British population with a secondary emphasis on western Europe and Japan. Most of Japan visits London on an annual basis. It's location in the SE will give easy access from western Europe.

I am really excited as we may be getting our first fully immersive theme park. Merlin have done a great job over the years expanding and updating their parks but they are ostensibly ride dominated in a loose thematic setting, but very disjointed. They are glorified amusement parks.

Nothing wrong with promoting the British Empire. It was the largest empire in land mass and population in the whole of human existence and something, most of us Brits, are hugely proud of. We even had 13 colonies until Georgie Boy started taxing the tea. Although I can't see a Paul Revere ride being included.

The key will be the budget for the attractions as this will determine the level of innovation, detail and theming. If this is not set to a level to "woo" and "wow" then it may struggle for return visits.

We also do not know the gate price or what their attendance expectations are. This will not rival Disneyland Paris but it sure can be the jewel in the UK's theme park industry........if done right.

Let's watch the story unfold.

December 9, 2019 at 2:53 PM

Russell, you make two very good points:

1. Brexit
2. UK labour costs

I don't believe Brexit will have any influence as it will also be tendered to non-UK companies and there is every likelihood that some of the packages will be EU sub-contractors based on a fixed price tender so they will front the risk. Brexit won't change this because......

Secondly, when this is purported to be built London will have major infrastructure projects with Crossrail 2 and Heathrow Runway 3, then there is HS2 and the project in SW England which I have been on for over 2 years, and likely another 8 years, Hinkley Point C Nuclear New Build. With these projects carrying greater kudos and hourly rates I am certain that that this park won't be built with all-UK labour.

December 9, 2019 at 6:52 PM

All this nonsense and worry that brexit is going to cause prices to jump (for very long) is laughable. Assuming, the rest of Europe is economically rational and their leaders and not idiots. Not having a free trade agreement similar to what the united states has with mexico would be crazy for the rest of Europe not to sign. The current British empire is still a large market. As long as Labor does not get into power or socialists in Germany, the EU will sign a free trade agreement with the Brits within 1-2 years or sooner once Brexit actually happens. It would increase unemployment in their countries to not do so.

December 10, 2019 at 4:56 AM

Show me that Kuwaiti money, black on white, deposited on some Brittish account...
There is none.
The fake story goes on..

Do you know that the foremost & best indicator of falsehood, is that Merlin, 2nd biggest amusement park operator in the world AND Brittish with 2 theme parks at the southern outshirts of London (Chessington and Thorpe), has never been alarmed by all the opera around Swanscombe. They professionally reason not fearing existence of competition, nor have they ever felt interested to join-invest in the project. (Something they financially COULD do, seen the most powerfull investment backing of the Blackstone Group. But is it feasible ? Their own silence means : NO.)

Other "detail"... No-one ever, could show up a full feasibility study report, until now. The documents that showed up in the past, were marketing "Carnival Barker" style pamphlets.
I like to see the full market and economic research report (which does not exist) from reputed firms like AECOM or Petersham Group or Leisure Development Partners (LDP) ...all top notch, all Brittish anchored. None involved, all questioning the Swanscombe story. (From LDP and Petersham Group, I know this personally at first hand..)

December 10, 2019 at 10:26 AM

Herwig, fair points. The one key difference for me is that EDF Energy are now being quoted for the sustainable carbon-neutral electricity provision. They would not allow to be referenced unless significant progress had been made and a contract was signed or agreed. This doesn't rubber-stamp the building of the project but significantly increases its credibility and likelihood.

Fingers-crossed!

December 10, 2019 at 3:44 PM

Well, that was uninspiring. A studio world, followed by Generic Fantasy IP land, followed by another Generic Fantasy IP land, and another generic fantasy IP land, then the Jungle, and then generic Sci Fi land.

I do like the idea of the Fantasy IP lands kinda stepping from Urban through to the Isles.. But at this point I think the park needs that certain headliner to actually show us this isn't vapour and actually get people excited about the project, and I just don't see it.

>>(So where does Coronation Street fit in all this, again?)

In the past, at Granadaland...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granada_Studios_Tour

>>Gerbeau's a savvy guy who's encountered the challenges of the London market before (overseeing the Millennium Dome project) and I think the project stands a better chance of actually getting made under his watch.

With that kind of Pedegree, we can expect the park to last about a year before being repurposed to something else.

December 10, 2019 at 6:04 PM

Do you want to go to the London resort?
No. I want to go to The London Resort.

Gotta come up with a better name than that.
This is going to be a huge fail, and the naming issue is the least of their problems.

December 12, 2019 at 4:33 PM

As someone who lives literally a 10 minute drive away from the proposed location, I can assure you now that there is no chance at all that this park will ever be built.

The area is gridlocked on a daily basis thanks to the QE2 bridge and it simply cannot handle any more traffic. There is no logical route in to the park, and no logical route out. It's been met with utter rejection from the whole of the south east of England.

The news is just from newspapers in the country wanting a story and will cling on to the smallest bit of news to gain another reader. I wouldn't waste your time worrying about it :)

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