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2 Unavoidable Reasons Why Amusement Parks Will Become Extinct

2. Immersion brings home the bucks

Yes, it may cost more to theme every surface, light source, and audio signal in a given environment, but the more it can transport guests to another time and place, the more the guest will want to retain those memories of being there (like we just talked about). Ride photographs, t-shirts, shot glasses, and other generic forms of merchandise that are strewn about the average amusement park don’t sell particularly well, but it’s no secret that Universal has been making a killing with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter souvenirs, from robes to chocolates to, particularly, wands.

(Yes, being based off of a pre-existing intellectual property certainly doesn’t hurt, but you’d better believe that the company would still be enjoying higher-than-average sales even if Hogsmeade were an original creation.)

And then there’s Butterbeer or LeFou’s Brew, which takes the stakes of the game and raises it one step further by introducing world-exclusive culinary options. Even just 10 years ago, there’s no possible way that dining would be seen as a make-or-break element of a ride experience, but we’ve quickly gotten to the point where the Springfield, USA expansion at Universal Studios Florida was entirely driven by the likes of Flaming Moe’s and Krusty Burgers.

The biggest money-making machine of them all:  Butterbeer. Image © NBCUniversal.The biggest money-making machine of them all: Butterbeer. Image © NBCUniversal.

Doubt that food and beverages are the wave of the themed future? Consider this: NBCUniversal was able to pay off the approximately $260 million price tag of the first Wizarding World, which it initially thought would take five years, in just four months, and that was primarily due to the sales of $3 Butterbeers (it sells, on average, several hundred thousand a month).

In other words: the more unique experiences you can offer guests, the more unique items you can sell them. And seeing as how park tickets don’t do much in the way of actual profit, you better believe Cedar Fair and all the other operators are eyeing the themed entertainment industry very, very enviously.

The name of the game

The Themed Entertainment Association just recently released its annual report of global attractions attendance, and the numbers aren’t that surprising: Disney theme parks dominate the top ten rankings with the sole exception of Universal Studios Japan, which came in in the number-nine slot (and was just behind Walt Disney World Resort’s Hollywood Studios).

The Non-Disney Boy Who Lived: Universal Studios Japan. Image © NBCUniversal.The Non-Disney Boy Who Lived: Universal Studios Japan. Image © NBCUniversal.

You would have to drop down to the next ten spots, numbers 11 through 20, in order to find any amusement park, and though there are five of them that managed to break into this secondary tier, their numbers are woefully lagging behind their theme park brethren, and not one of them is in North America (sorry, Cedar Point). Indeed, the top amusement park (Hong Kong’s Ocean Park...which offers many attractions besides its more basic amusement park-style rides) is one million guests behind the number-ten theme park (Disneyland Resort’s California Adventure) and a whopping 11 million behind the number-one theme park (Disney World’s Magic Kingdom).

Clearly, there is something about themed destinations that make them so much more globally appealing than their “standard” counterparts, and there just as clearly is an insurmountable lead they enjoy – meaning no matter how many more rollercoasters Cedar Point can install or thrill rides it can titillate with, as long as it doesn’t envelope its visitors within a story, it is doomed to be the Neanderthal to Disney and Universal’s Homo sapien.

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