article balancing the creation of successful attractions

Tightrope walking: the reality of creating a successful attraction

Originally published at Blooloop
Silhouette of young man balancing on slackline, sun and clouds behind. Slackliner balancing on tightrope between two rocks, highline silhouette.

Picture: Working in the location-based entertainment business often requires a balancing act

When friends ask me what my profession really entails, I often tend to say that I am a tightrope walker. Working in the high-end attractions industry for more than 25 years, I feel this is not only the best metaphor for my daily work, but also for being successful in this business.

Joe Rohde Disne yparks blooloop 50 theme park influencer list 2018
Joe Rohde

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. In Disney’s brilliant documentary The Imagineering Story, Joe Rohde says the following:

“Like a tightrope dancer, successful attractions have everything under control. They are a perfect balance between elements.”

For me, this one sentence captures why being successful in location-based entertainment is so difficult. But it also illustrates why working in this industry is so much fun.

We created a difficult business environment

Creating a successful attraction is a balance that depends on many factors. Nowadays, audiences are critical. They will let you know if one of the many factors is below their expectation level. But unfortunately, they often won’t tell youthis, as the operator or owner of an attraction. Instead, they will tell the rest of the world first, via websites such as Tripadvisor, Google or Yelp.

An interesting detail is that we have created this critical guest ourselves. By balancing on the tightrope of setting the many factors right, we are automatically raising the bar in our industry all the time.

Fjord Rafting Europa Park

This, in my opinion, is great: it gives a reason for our guests to come back, find out what the next new thing is or experience new emotional souvenirs. These emotional souvenirs keep our business alive and relevant. This is what guests share with friends or on socials and makes them feel that they need to come back after visiting the park once. The better the emotional souvenir, the more repeat visits.

For parks that create highly emotional souvenirs, such as Efteling, Europa-Park and Puy du Fou, around 80% of their visitors are return visitors. Creating these emotional souvenirs is, among other things, the result of a perfect balance on the tightrope.

Balancing four main elements when creating a successful attraction

Creating a successful attraction is concentrated around a balancing act between four main elements: hospitality, creativity, finance and technology, all of which are closely linked. If you give a little more weight to one factor, it affects the other four. This makes it very complex.

But how do you work to balance those four? It all starts with focusing on the core of your business. In our business, the focus should not be on EBITDA, or the newest, the fastest, etc. There is only one focus that makes you successful: the guest. The guest holds your rope, the guest can tighten or loosen your rope. The more the guest gets into a positive emotion, the more they are willing to spend, and by that putting more weight on your financial side of the balance.

family-on-dodgems smaller attractions Balance in creating attractions

More weight on the financial side of the balance means that you can create new opportunities on the other side, allowing you to invest in a better guest experience. The better the guest experience in general means a higher positive emotion with the guest…resulting in an upward spiral.

So, it’s all about the guest experience. How do I transfer that into my business plans?

As in every business you need to set clear goals. However, unlike most businesses, your first goal would not be to set efficiency, EBITDA or any other financial goals. Your first goal should be defining the feeling you want to provide to the guest. This feeling should be understandable and fitting with your target audience.

The defined guest feeling will become equivalent to the mission statement and lead the decision-making in your company. Any investment decision and all your daily operations decisions should support the defined guest feeling. If you are consistent in executing this you will have a fair chance that you created the perfect atmosphere, connecting the guest emotionally to your business, which yes, in the end, will be reflected in your EBITDA results.

Walking the tightrope

By defining the guest feeling at the beginning of your project, you have determined your goal at the end of the tightrope. The next step is balancing along the tightrope toward this goal as you are creating a successful attraction. How much do we invest in technology, how much of our revenue do we spend on staff, how far do we go with theming? Wait…it seems like all these considerations are based on money, like in any other business!

That’s right, most of the considerations have to do with finances. Ultimately, our business is based on money. But there’s a big difference: putting too much emphasis on finances in our business will cause you to fall off your soft rope in the long run.

Glrl-at-zoo-with-goats Balance in creating attractions

Walking the tightrope in our industry involves much more than finance. An important part of this balancing act is identifying the right emotion within the parameters you have. For the financially oriented readers: unfortunately, you can’t work with benchmark numbers here. From our work with several successful parks, we know that how you build the right emotions varies per location and culture.

Building the right emotion is based on a combination of gut feeling, experience and trust. It is a true team effort where creatives, operations specialists, technicians and finance people work together, respect each other’s roles and all have the same goal in mind: the guest experience defined by the company they work for.

Together, they walk a tightrope, balancing each other as they are creating a successful attraction. The creatives may be kept in balance by the technical advice, the operations specialists may have to step out of their comfort zone a bit, and the finance people sometimes must be willing to accept a higher budget, all to keep the company or project in balance to reach the end of the tightrope, which is the perfect guest experience as defined in the begin of the project.

Our business is teamwork

As Rohde said: “Success is having all elements in balance.”

After more than 25 years in this industry, I can only agree. Balanced projects lead to success. Achieving balanced projects is really teamwork: getting things balanced in our industry relies on a great team, respecting each other and being able to think with emotion in a rational business environment.

Is it easy? No…but what a great business to be a part of!

Like to learn more how we as leisure consultants can help you in creating a successful attraction? Please check here.

Report: The effect of waterparks on European resorts

The TDAC team includes only senior consultants, but we love and support young professionals and support education in the Local Based Entertainment world. Our managing partner Bart Dohmen is part of the IAAPA education committee and all TDAC consultants provide speeches at conferences worldwide.  

We provide guest lectures at Breda University of Applied Sciences and provide possibilities for graduation studies. A great example is a study on the effect of waterparks at resorts. 

Breda University student Tijn Roovers  graduated with an average score of 8.4 by researching the effect of waterparks on European resorts.

Based on many interviews, desktop research and literature Tijn explains through clear models and analytical thinking in more than 50 pages comprehensive report the effect of waterparks on European holiday resorts. The report includes data, pros and cons and of course conclusions. 

An abstract of the report you can download here. Please contact us for receiving the full report.

End product – Influence of water parks on European holiday resorts – Tijn Roovers

At TDAC we spend a large time on research, we strongly believe in the combination of (academic) research with practical experience. All our consultants have more than 25 years of practical experience in the field. If you like to learn more how you can benefit from our knowledge, please check a link about our services here.

Shopping mall 2.0: forget the latest architecture and start focusing on the guest experience

Previously published on Blooloop

After writing a previous post about shopping mall experience, How to boost shopping malls: It’s about engagement, not entertainment, I received several invitations to visit new malls and got involved in many discussions, including the last digital MAPIC conference. This led to new insights, but also to a kind of disappointment. Especially after I got invited to visit a few so-called “mall 2.0.”

Sorry to the friendly hosts that invited me, but I still didn’t feel a real difference in the shopping mall guest experience.

Continue reading
Mall entertainment shopping

The Shopping Cart Model

I love to go to food shopping. At a butcher I take time to select a nice piece of meat, at my local farmer shop I select the freshest vegetables and at my favourite specialty shop I buy my favourite spices and ingredients. With a trunk full of really nice ingredients I get back home and start to cook. At the internet I seek some assistance for ideas and off I go. This will become a success! Dinner is served and I am hopeful that my family will appreciate all my efforts. And yes, to be polite they smile and say it is great, but the real truth is that they appreciated yesterday’s dinner at the restaurant way more…

There is a reason why I am not a great cook: I not only miss the creativity, but more important, I miss the knowledge of the individual components and how to combine them in the right way to touch the senses of my dinner guests to the max. Only a few people have the experience, feeling and knowledge to become a great cook. This is exactly why we as amateur chefs appreciate a dinner at a great restaurant. The better the chef, the more we are willing to pay for their dishes.


With this in mind it is interesting to see what happens at a the IAAPA Expo.

For who never have been at an IAAPA Expo: Visitors get spoiled by hundreds of booths with products varying from plush animals of a few cents to roller coasters costing tens of millions. From franchise models of selling Dippin’ Dot’s to feasibility study companies helping you with investing hundreds of millions into our industry. It is an interesting mix of all kind of products and services necessary inthe Themepark and Attractions industry. You can almost compare it with what Walmart or Carrefour XL is for a family household.

Interesting to see that not only new people in our industry, but surprisingly also existing operators treat the IAAPA Expo as a supermarket. It works a bit this way: The first day they select rides, the second day they will select their Point of Sales and ticket supplier, the last day they spend on midway games and F&B ideas. With a shopping cart full of expensive equipment, they return home and start to fill in their empty plot or building and start their adventure to operate their mix of new purchases.

The Industry chefs

Like in the restaurant scene also our industry has a few great chefs available. Chefs that understand how to combine the ingredients you can buy at an IAAPA Expo show floor in the right way. Chefs that know what guests like and know how to touch their senses optimal. In the Theme Park and Attraction world these great chefs are named consultants, design companies and feasibility companies, all containing an enormous experience. They will bring the knowledge on how to treat all the items in your IAAPA shopping cart in a way that your guests will appreciate your end product better and willing to pay more for it, exactly as the star chefs in Michelin star restaurants.

What I really cannot understand is that investors and operators in the Themepark and Attraction industry still think that they can be the perfect chef and create the same success as the star chef. Why investing so much in the ingredients without hiring a specialized chef?

Maybe I should invite operators and investors that still don’t believe me, to taste myself prepared dinner….


At TDAC we guide investors to find the right cook and the right ingredients. For more information please look here article about the development of attraction design companies

Disney leaving LA: The next step in the shift of the theme park design industry?


As Disney announces it will move 2000 jobs from LA to Orlando, will there be changes ahead for the theme park design industry or the total  themed entertainment ecosystem?

by Bart DohmenTDAC International

Previously published on Blooloop

It was recently announced that The Walt Disney Company is planning to build a new campus in central Florida, relocating around 2,000 positions from Los Angeles. In a comment on LinkedIn, I responded to the news, saying that I was wondering how this would affect the attraction and theme park design industry in LA in the future.

My comment was picked up by the LinkedIn news team. It generated many comments and profile views, making me aware I wasn’t the only one wondering this. It also made me realize that a shift in the attraction and theme park design industry may have already started, many years ago.

Cinderella-castle-at-50-disney-world themed entertainment ecosystem
Walt Disney World

When I started in the attraction business over 25 years ago, all the serious attraction and theme park design firms were based in the US (and one in Canada). The credo in those days was: buy technology in Europe and for design services, go to US-based companies. There were only a few design companies anyway, serving a small market.

Markets like the Middle East, Asia, etc. were not yet open to themed entertainment. Meanwhile, in Europe, storytelling and themed attractions were new, with some exceptions like Efteling, which designed everything in-house. Back then, for a family outing, you could basically choose between an amusement park, a zoo or a museum. Real experiences were rare in Europe.

The themed entertainment ecosystem evolves

disneyland paris cast member castle
Disneyland Paris

However, with the arrival of Disney in Europe, the attraction landscape began to change.

At TILE, a conference that was very popular at the time, Disney legends like Tony Baxter, Joe Rohde and Tom Morris and other American designers like Bob Rogers, Craig Hanna and Jack Rouse were passionately advocating storytelling and the creation of themed environments. And with results; slowly some museums turned into experiences and the first branded experiences opened their doors.

The move to more thematic and narrative attractions slowly changed the landscape in Europe. Scenic companies, such as P&P, Farmer and Jora Vision were founded and started creating their business. Interactive companies like DaPinxi and Alterface took off and even some special effect companies opened their doors.

Then, some attraction and theme park design companies from the US opened their offices in Europe. For instance, names like BRC, ITEC and Landmark Entertainment making the move. This was followed by the arrival of the Themed Entertainment Association to the region. So, the first themed entertainment ecosystem outside Los Angeles was born.

Following the US model

The European-based scenic companies were eager to learn. And with every project they were executing for the US design companies, they learned more. European employees and freelancers, initially hired by the US designers, then left these companies again and started to work for European based companies. Storytelling attractions and highly themed attractions were not only the specialism of overseas companies anymore.

Now, a few decades later, Europe has its own strong themed entertainment ecosystem. It has several respectable names in experience design, such as Jora Vision, P&P, Tinker and Chris Lange – Creative Studio Berlin. It also has highly skilled interactive and technology companies, like Kiss The Frog, Kraftwerk and DJW.

Europa Park Wodan

The availability of this ecosystem enabled the European attraction and theme park design companies to expand and shrink per project by hiring freelancers and/or supporting companies. This allowed them to accept larger design and master planning jobs.

This is exactly as the typical LA film studios work, a model I discovered when I started working for a US-based design and production company more than 15 years ago. It’s the perfect model method for our industry. As a studio, you only needed a core team. You get all the other specialists you needed from the circle of freelance and support companies, so you can take on larger projects as a company than you can handle with your own team.

Talent on tap

The ecosystem was immense and fantastic in LA. Many freelance specialists were available due to the large amount of themed entertainment work in LA. In addition, the two ultimate companies in the industry, Disney and Universal, trained them. This meant that the freelancers in LA had experience in the highest possible level of storytelling, technology and quality.

universal studios hollywood krustyland themed entertainment ecosystem
Universal Studios Hollywood

The attraction and theme park design and production studio I used to work for was, with every project, expanding their team with highly trained freelancers.

Changes to come

With Universal having already moved to Florida, now Disney plans to leave LA too. The main training school for freelancers will be gone. So, an important part of the unique themed entertainment ecosystem in Los Angeles will drop away. This must have an effect on the position as Los Angeles being the themed entertainment capital in the world.

Will Orlando ever take over this role? Time will tell. But I am afraid that Orlando is missing a few essential items. Firstly, the film industry, which is closely connected to the themed entertainment industry, and secondly, the vibrant city life which many creatives love.

fantawild oriental legend themed entertainment ecosystem
Fantawild Oriental Legend

Plus, there is another important factor, which I touched on earlier. The themed entertainment design industry is not that focused around the US anymore. And it is getting even more fragmentized at the moment. After Europe, now China is the one building up its own themed entertainment ecosystem. This is a region that is still a big market for many US (and European) design companies.

Shifting to a more global market

Although the industry is changing, there still will be a large market for US based attraction and theme park design companies in our industry. But compared to when I started, the market has certainly made a shift from US-based to a global market. And this is not finished yet.

The move of WDI leaving LA will cause further erosion of the themed entertainment ecosystem. This will not help the many LA-based US attraction and theme park design companies. However, on some fronts, they still have benefits above designers in the rest of the world. They have a way longer track-list, which is very important by designing attractions. In every project, you get more experience which you can and will use again in your next projects.

disneyland main street under construction themed entertainment ecosystem
Disneyland under construction

They also have the US culture, which provides a big benefit in storytelling attractions. Maybe 13 years working for a US company means I am biased. But I truly think that the US culture inherited storytelling way more.

For decades, every US child has taken drama classes through the country’s school system. In Europe and other parts of the world, this is less common; it is either just starting or completely not part of the education system.

Understanding how to create and translate stories to broad audiences requires a perfect understanding of drama. For me, US-based attraction and theme park design companies are still far ahead of this, not only in LBE projects but also in movies. There is a reason why the most successful movies, in general, are still created in the US.

The future of the themed entertainment ecosystem

The shift in the design industry is an interesting fact. It opens a lot of opportunities and will create more diversity in design. But as a consultant, I recognize that for developers it didn’t become easier. Instead of choosing between about five companies, the market now has hundreds of design companies, based on three continents.


Without really understanding the ins and outs of this market and the (sometimes small) differences in skills between the designers it can be almost impossible to choose the right attraction and theme park designer for your project.

For us at TDAC, it is an interesting process to guide developers through today’s designers’ landscape and advise them who might be the best fit for their specific project.

With Disney leaving LA, the designers’ landscape for storytelling and themed attractions continues to shift. The next question is where the organisers will hold the THEA Awards gala in the future. Will it still be in Los Angeles? Or is it time to rotate to other themed entertainment ecosystems like Amsterdam, London or maybe even Beijing?

For more information how TDAC can assist you in theme park, attraction, brand center or museumdesign, please check for our services here.