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Who Are You, Anyway?


You. Yes, you. You like theme parks. Perhaps love them. But have you considered:

You may be somewhat different than others.

Sure, you are probably young.

But you are also more likely than others to:

---Use social media with a mobile phone.

---To rely more heavily on the Internet and use it like a Holy Book when arranging trips or vacations.

---To earn more than $100,000.

Of course, there are all generalizations.

But those were among findings a few years ago when a research company called Scarborough did a survey of who goes to theme parks.

Today, we’re going to look into not only that subject of who is buying Disney tickets and Universal Studios Orlando tickets…and what they want from those tickets not only today…but tomorrow as well.

In other words, what they are looking to see when they get LEGEOLAND tickets or Busch Gardens Tampa tickets or any of the many theme parks that make Orlando the king when it comes to this type of entertainment.

All these studies point to one overwhelming conclusion: more people than ever are going to theme parks.

You are not like everyone else

When the study compared theme park guests to the average person, they found some differences:

Forty one percent, for example, were more likely to earn $100,000.

They were also more likely to national Internet users to use Tweet (43 percent more likely).

And that use of social network on mobile phones?

Forty one percent were more likely to be in that category.

About a third of those in the study were represented by the ages of Generation-X (ages 30-33) or Millennials (ages 18-29).

The study also found, not surprisingly, that park-goers were avid social media users.

Also no surprise:

Families with children two to 18 years old make up a huge chunk of theme park users.

They represent 78 percent of what is known as the “primary target demographic” of parks in North America, according to an IAAPA Amusement Park study.

Theme parks appeal to young adults

Another major group visiting parks is the young adults 18 to 24 who often have no children. But they are often targeted by theme parks because they often are expected to enter the family market.

“Attractions have the opportunity to prepare for their future visits with family by wooing them now. Though their needs and spending patterns may differ from business as usual, millennials hold the key to continued success and survival” of the industry, according to IAAPA, a theme park industry group.

The group added:

“Millennials still want to get married, have kids, and take vacations like the industry’s primary target demographic; they just can’t necessarily afford it right now.”

The study found that a particularly high number of theme park visitors use the internet to plan trips (77 percent). They are more inclined to book at least part of their trip online.

Park-goers are Internet-wise

They also are more likely than the average buyer to get their tickets from the websites of attractions.

Their media preferences also reflect their family orientation, particularly in what magazines they read (family and parenting).

They also get a lot of their theme park information from television shows and television advertising

The family orientation of theme parks is hardly an accident.

It has evolved over time.

“Amusement parks are an outgrowth of carnivals and fairs which

began in England in the late 1800s and came to the United States

shortly thereafter,” pointed out an article in Hospitality Review

Coney Island, which opened in 1895, was among the earliest amusement parks in the United States.

But by 1950, most amusement parks were in disrepair, were suffering from a poor public image, and were in financial difficulty.

Walt Disney revitalized the amusement park industry in 1955

when he opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Entertainment for all ages

“One of the primary reasons for the success of the Disney parks is their use of entertainment for all ages, leading the way in the multi-theme

concept with most of the rides combining a thrill with an entertaining

show,” said the Review article.

It also went on to describe reasons for the park’s popularity.

It said:

Theme parks are what their name implies -- an escape to fantasy. Through careful planning, a specific atmosphere is created through the physical and interior design of the park and its component parts, and the dress and attitude of its personnel. The theme park is more than a set of

amusing experiences in one location; it allows one to escape through

fantasy. Through its rides, exhibits, restaurants, and lodging accommodations. It gives the visitor a total experience.”

You don’t need academic studies to know some elements that future park-goers want: thrill rides.

The latest is still not open.

It’s the 73-mile-an-hour Mako at SeaWorld Orlando.

But The Orlando Sentinel’s “Theme Park Ranger” Dewayne Bevil had a recent preview. He called it “breathtaking.”

He wrote:

“SeaWorld has delivered on its marketing promise with the fastest, tallest, longest coaster in the Orlando market.”

High praise continued:

Coming down that first hill is a more straight-down feeling, more dramatic than I've ever experienced on a thrill ride.”

There are no upside down stretches. So the ride can run without those over-the-shoulder harnesses.

Mako has air time

But the ride includes “air time,” which the reviewer says “enthusiasts covet.”

He also writes:

Some riders will hold on dearly as Mako, inspired by sharks of the same name, goes through its paces. It's not really a spoiler to share that the coaster goes up and down, up and down, relentlessly. There are nine moments of air time, some of which are created by startling shifts from side to side, SeaWorld designers have said.”

Park-goers are expected to embrace the new coaster. But that remains to be seen since it won’t officially open until later this month (June 10).

Actual coasters are still star attractions.

But even more demanding riders can look forward to Skyscraper, hailed as the world’s tallest roller coaster underway at International Drive/ Ot goes almost straight up to more than 500 feet. Then, it flips upside down.

But tech-minded younger theme park goers can also look forward to technology playing an even greater role in future rides.

VR Coaster by a company called Mack Rides is a concept where passengers wear mobile VR headsets that are programmed to present 3D adventures in sync with the action.

Instead of merely riding a coaster, they could take a simulated journey aboard a flying stagecoach, a rocket ship, a dragon, or some other fantasy scenario.

Coasters getting more thrilling

A company called Rilix has developed a similar virtual reality coaster experience without the actual roller coaster. Using a vehicle that remains mostly stationary, Rilix Coaster riders nonetheless experience coaster-like thrills through a motion base that is synced to a virtual reality headset.

Depending on passengers' tolerance levels, the system can be programmed to deliver rides that range from mild to wild.

Like the VR Coaster, a variety of adventures and genres such as horror and science fiction are available.

Will these or similar rides come to Orlando?

Most predictions are they will. Sometime.

Food in the earlier years of theme parks was an afterthought. Hamburgers, hot dots and fried chicken.

But that has also changed as Disney in particular has added gourmet restaurants. That trend is expected also to be ongoing on that will appeal not only to coaster riders but older guests as well.

The competition for even better thrill rides should continue to provide new choices for park-goers.

“When the highest, fastest, or scariest ride is introduced

at one park, a ‘better’ one is opened at another and the race continues,” one theme park study said.

One theme park report more than two decades ago predicted events such as EPCOT.

Fantasy fulfilment

“Food service has become an element of fantasy fulfillment for guests who visit the theme park each year, and many offer special festivals based on ethnic themes. Restaurants can be a showcase for different ethnic cuisines.”

Of course, EPCOT has since become an enduring Disney success.

The report also cited Disney as a particularly important innovator in food festivals, though others have also taken up those themes.

Universal has also been aggressive in marketing higher end restaurants and food festivals.

Theme park-goers have also showed their preferences for clustering by adding more hotels (both Disney and Universal).

These two parks, as well as others, should continue to add new attractions.

This is obviously a sacred commandment for theme parks.

No better example exists than Disney.

“In the theme park business there is no such thing as a finished product; they are continuously changing in response to market trends. Any competitive advantage a park gains is usually short lived. Each year, they add new rides and attractions, relocate and re-theme

restaurants, and rewrite shows,” said one report.

What kind of attractions do park-goers want?

For Central Florida people, one study found that manmade attractions were the most popular. They were followed by natural attractions such as gardens and animals.

A walk in the park

Simply walking around a park was also noted as a major attraction.

So was animal shows, listening to live music and watching exhibits and parades.

A study listed a dozen factors that helped bring park-goers to buy tickets.

“Learning” something new had the greatest appeal.

That was followed by a variety of quality restaurants and animals in their natural habitat.

Millennials now in their 20s and 30s in age are a particular target of theme park owners.

Childless, cash-conscious, and constantly connected, today’s young adults are taking the attractions industry in an entirely new direction—whether we know it or not,” one report said.

“With more than 80 million members in the United States alone, the millennial generation is one of the largest in history,” says Mark Kupferman, vice president, insights and interactive marketing at Six Flags Entertainment Corp. “Most have reached a point where they are starting to think about settling down and having kids. For entertainment venues that serve families, millennials are going to drive the bulk of the business for the next 15 years. That’s a pretty compelling reason to pay attention to them.”

A Viacom International Media Networks study found them in general to be “well-educated, confident, tech-savvy, team-oriented and generally upbeat consumers.”

On the surface, they do not appear to be prime theme park patrons. Why?

Reasons:

Millennials not obvious theme park candidates

Many are finding lower levels of wealth then their parents, are sometimes weighted down by student debt from college, and tend to get married and start families at later ages.

The influence of technology on these guests’ is obvious. They are more reliant than other generations on mobile devices and other technology.

That also makes them both receptive but critical as well of new technology at theme parks.

Their level of sophistication requires them to expect more realistic-looking technology advances in rides and other attractions.

More than one study found that Millennials rely more heavily than most on recommendations from friends and others. Nearly two-third rely on that, according to a study by PGAV, a global planning firm.

The same study found they wanted more control of their waiting time for attractions. They often felt those waits were too long.

Theme parks like Disney have responded by FASTPASSES and other line-cutting means.

Parks have also escalated and added new things to do while guests’ wait in line. Those are also expected to continue in the future.

One thing many Millennials share is a taste for experiences that not only have high levels of payoffs, but also are non-predictable and include some surprises.

And the key to a successful theme park?

What keeps park-goers returning?

Studies cited a simple answer:

Park-goers come back because they want more. ###