Diluted attendance at Macau conference
After three years in Shanghai, the Avail Corporation took its attractions industry conference to Macau for the first time this summer, where it welcomed delegates at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on July 14 and 15.
Renamed the Asia Tourism & Attractions Summit, the former China Themed Attractions Summit was actually the second conference to take place in as many months following a rival event set up by a former member of Avail’s staff. This, inevitably, diluted attendance, but all those Park World spoke to in Macau said they got something out of it, and it’s noticeable that sponsors such as Action Park, Jack Rouse Associates and Vekoma have stuck with it over the years.
Delegates this time comprised a mix of operators, developers, suppliers and industry consultants, including representatives of organisations as diverse as the American Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong Disneyland, the Macau Tower, Singapore Zoo and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Presiding over the first day as chairman was Gary Goddard (pictured), currently working on a number of projects in Asia, including the Galaxy Casino and Resort on Macau’s Cotai Strip. Casinos are of course big business in Macau.
The first session proper was delivered by Sharam Saber of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). While identifying some impressive growth forecasts for the region, he nevertheless declared that, “the days of build it and they will come are over.” Low cost air travel, in nearly all markets except India, was fuelling demand for tourism within Asia, but rising fuel prices were threatening to curtail it beyond that. Surprisingly, however, natural disasters had less of an effect: “They knock consumer confidence out of the market, but people will return after a few years.” Saber’s predictions for the future were for more integrated destination offerings for time-poor consumers. “If you don’t offer it all in one place, there are plenty of other places that will,” he concluded.
A session about waterpark theming from Alfonso Ribarrocha of Action Park was next, one of several sponsor presentations, before Gary Goddard’s keynote highlighting 10 emerging trends. Perhaps one of the most pertinent points for developers of attractions in Asia was Gary’s observation that, “everyone wants to be Orlando” – Dubailand for example. He also highlighted the increasing amount of synergy between gaming and entertainment. Yet while gaming revenues in Macau are high, the area has so far failed to offer as drivers the kind of family entertainment options available in Las Vegas. For this reason Gary cited the arrival of Cirque du Soleil, opening September at The Venetian, as a pivotal moment.
Branded entertainment was also on the rise as brand owners came to terms with the fact that conventional advertising was no longer working. Gary Goddard Entertainment, for example, has been fortunate enough to work with Hershey’s to develop a number of themed retail stores, the Times Square outlet in New York generating $7 million a year – from chocolate! Gary also noted that the traditional entertainment model for attractions was not working either, but that standing out and being different did not always mean being the biggest. “Bigger isn’t better, better is better.”
Dr John Ap from the School of Hotel & Tourism Management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who spoke after lunch, has been studying parks and attractions for some time, but it was clear that the arrival of Hong Kong Disneyland has been of great fascination to him recently. As Disney marketing executives sat and listened, he presented the results of his survey into perceptions of the park before and since it opened. A few of his findings could have been perceived as flawed, but it was interesting to hear him argue that one of the reasons Disney has found the going tougher in Hong Kong is that, as in Paris, it has had to cater for several different languages and cultures, unlike Tokyo or the US, where the parks boom.
Dr John also made some interesting observations about Asian consumers. Status, he noted, was the most important thing for most citizens, in contrast to self-actualisation, which Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs has always convinced us is key to western desires. And when it came to visiting attractions, the number one activity for most Chinese consumers is taking photographs – as anyone visiting Hong Kong Disneyland is made acutely aware.
The first of several country showcases came from Santichai Euachongprasit, representing the Tourism Authority of Thailand, before a panel discussion with many of the day’s speakers, none of whom, it should be noted, where from Asia, though they all had experience in the field.
Courtesy of Electrosonic, delegates then headed to the Wynn Macau casino for a drinks reception and the opportunity to view the Tree of Prosperity show, which the sponsor played a large part in developing.
A drawn out travel schedule prevented Keith James of Jack Rouse Associates presiding over the second day’s programme as planned. It was therefore left to Chor Li Lin from the Avail Corporation to do the honours and introduce the speakers, kicking off with Peter van Bilsen of Vekoma and his rides of the future.
One of Hong Kong’s most high profile new tourist offerings in recent years has been the Ngong Ping 360 cable car run on Lantau Island. Shortly before the opening last summer, the attraction hit the headlines when an empty gondola broke free. Press scrutiny has been high ever since, revealed the attraction’s Wilson Shao, noting that when a webcam suffered a temporary blip, he was besieged by calls from reporters suspecting something was wrong with the cable car itself. Even when the attraction rebranded as NP360 and was given a more natural-looking colour scheme, the design was accused as being camouflage!
The energetic Aaron Soo of Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur presented a case study next, examining how his team had reinvented their attraction. Built on the site of a former tin mine, Sunway Lagoon now encompasses a waterpark, theme park, 5-star and 3-star hotel, convention centre, university and medical centre. With 67% of visitors coming from within Malaysia, population 25 million, these and newer developments like a surf beach, wildlife park, extreme park and various pop concerts were necessary to conquer a “been there, done that” attitude in the mind of potential guests.
Soo also revealed that he tried to take his key staff to as many parks and attractions trade shows as possible in order to find new inspiration, but produced smiles from most in the room by adding the caveat, “you have to be weird to work in this industry!”
Presentations from tourism representatives of Malaysia and Macau followed, before the final session of the day, from Cynthia R Mamon of Enchanted Kingdom in the Philippines. After many years working for Sun Micro Systems, Cynthia joined her husband Mario last to year to act as the park’s vice-president of sales and marketing. Enchanted Kingdom has faced a number of challenges in recent years, including the ongoing fight of persuading families to make the trip out from Manila, when so many people in this small country live or tend to gravitate towards the capital. Successful promotions for the park in recent times have included a CEO Night, where business executives were sent their own “Chief Enchantment Officer” business cards, and opening at 2 in the morning for call centre staff at the end of their shifts.
And that was pretty much this year’s Summit. If there was a fault with some of the presentations it was that they became simply overviews of a particular attraction or country without any real focus on a problem that had been overcome, an opportunity that lay ahead, or an angle of any kind. In previous years maybe there was better direction from those putting the programme together, which did seem a little more hastily assembled this time around. Yet the quality of delegate remained high, and few could argue that they did not have good access to others in the room.
It would have made perfect sense for the Avail Corporation to partner with IAAPA and market the Asia Tourism & Attractions Summit side by side with Asian Attractions Expo (AAE). It was because of AAE, after all, that Avail chose the dates and location it did for this year’s Summit. Having just announced a new “outboarding” policy, however, IAAPA shows no signs of wanting to enter into such a co-operation, despite Avail’s approaches. A number of locations are therefore being considered for next year’s Summit, including some options in the Middle East. As official media partner, Park World will keep you fully informed.