Asia seeks run of fun
LIFE has never been short of excitement for Ted Crowell, who at the age of 65 still enjoys riding the roller coaster. The president of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) predicts that Asia will soon see a proliferation of family entertainment centres (FECs).
Many are sited inside shopping centres, like the world's biggest in Minnesota, the United States, which also houses a roller coaster. FECs are being built in Europe, Brazil, Chile and Japan.
Mr Crowell highlights Tokyo's FEC as a good example of the shape of things to come in Asia.
'It will become a prototype; you can hardly walk around in there; there are just so many people, playing games, doing all kinds of stuff. The kids just love it. FECs are about to become a trend in Asia.' In Hong Kong, for now, Whimseyland is the leader in this field. Its outlets have doubled over the past five years.
FEC operators make up the majority of IAAPA's 45,000 members. The organisation was founded 77 years ago to promote ties among those in the amusement industry.
Mr Crowell was in Hong Kong for an annual meeting to review issues facing the industry. Safety is a common concern and is due to be addressed at annual workshops.
'Operators have to look into improving the facilities, such as rest rooms capable of handling handicapped people,' said Mr Crowell.
China is trying to develop its amusement industry. Improved services are on the agenda of the little-known Chinese Amusement Parks Association, he added.
A delegation from the association is to visit IAAPA's headquarters in Virginia before inspecting a number of tourist attractions in Washington DC and Walt Disney World.
Mr Crowell, meanwhile, gives the thumbs up to one of China's latest attractions, Window on the World, a 48.5-hectare parkland located in Shenzhen comprising miniatures of world sightseeing spots.
Tokyo Disneyland has been the most successful of all, attracting more than 16 million visitors last year. In a highly competitive society like Japan, amusement activities are of tremendous benefit, helping obtain relief from stress, he said. They would benefit Hong Kong in this way, too, he predicted.
Ocean Park could serve a wider clientele by developing into a resort area, offering hotel accommodation, he suggests: 'We have 20 hotels in Walt Disney World. Even people living close-by come and stay there. People come, for example, on their wedding anniversary.' Ocean Park has launched a feasibility study to build a three-star hotel on its site or adjacent areas.
FECs will never take the place of amusement parks, said Mr Crowell. They catered for different age groups.
'Amusement parks are geared towards the family; our demographics show that it's usually two adults and two children visiting our parks together,' he said.
'Whereas the FECs are more popular with teenagers, young adults.' The former EuroDisneyland, located outside Paris, however, has been in the red since its opening three years ago. But to Mr Crowell, there are still rays of hope. He thinks its recent name change to Paris Disneyland should help draw more visitors.
'Euro is not a good word to use. It does not have a positive connotation. The Euroeconomy is struggling, the Eurotunnel is going broke.'