The magnificent 10

The magnificent 10

18 October 2019 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

The construction of a theme park requires creativity, but also considerable rigour. Valerio Mazzoli focuses on the latter aspect, summarising the steps in the creation of a successful park.

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

Now 64 years after the inauguration of the very first theme park, Disneyland in California, many are still not clear about the process that needs to be followed to create a successful theme park. The entertainment business today offers an incredible variety of recreational facilities – theme parks, waterparks, FECs, edutainment centres etc. – spread all over the globe. There are Disney and Universal parks, inimitable in terms of contents and budget, followed by large companies such as Merlin/Lego, Parques Reunidos, Compagnie Des Alpes, Cedar Fair and others, with highly successful theme parks all over the planet. Despite these great achievements, there are often also ‘unprepared’ companies that want to create a theme park without being sufficiently informed about the precise procedures to follow to successfully complete the project. Many of us in fact have heard of projects that were successful on paper, but that after just a few months or one season collapsed due to poor attendance! 

Parc Asterix, France. © Parc Asterix/S.Cambon

But do you know why? Because a successful project has to follow precise procedures, which can be summarised in 10 fundamental points:

  1. Location
  2. Land
  3. Accessibility
  4. Concept
  5. Budget
  6. What is offered to guests
  7. How are guests’ needs met 
  8. What experiences are offered
  9. Implementation of the final project
  10. Construction and inauguration

Let’s then analyse each point in detail.

1.  Location. This is the first, fundamental step, as this is where the project commences, the general idea according to the available budget. Unfortunately, locations that may seem ideal are often chosen – a wonderful climate, enchanting views, smooth terrain, woods, etc. – but in reality they are lacking in other aspects, above all due to a poor road system and a surrounding population that is not sufficient to sustain an entertainment structure such as a theme park. If the forecasts are too optimistic and the existing problems are not fully analysed, the project will die just a few months after inauguration. Unfortunately, I have recently witnessed the closure of some parks of a certain quality that were based on an overly-optimistic business plan. These structures, if not immediately reclaimed, soon become unreliable and lose all value.

2. Land. The choice of the land where the theme park will be built is always one of the most delicate stages. These are large areas that ideally should not have any piling or other land development structures and should be located near large cities. These ideal conditions are in reality hard to find; most of the time there is the need to adapt to land with different topology, gradients, etc. In this case, the designer will need to have the skill to overcome these obstacles and achieve the best results. 

3. Accessibility. The project may be good, the land suitable for a theme park, however there are no major roads leading to the location and none are planned in the short term. In this case, to be successful the project would need to be very exclusive with such innovative themes and attractions as to bring such large numbers of people to allow the owners to generate profits. Too complicated and too risky!

4. Concept. This is perhaps the most important and delicate stage of all: a good concept is the key to the success of a theme park, naturally underpinned by land with ideal characteristics, an important location close to major cities and major roads for easy access to the location. The study of a concept is also the most difficult creative stage, as there is always the need to stand out from other existing parks and not fall into the trap of creating an ugly and poor copy of large theme parks. Conceiving and developing the main theme is therefore a complex stage for the designers, but also a stimulating challenge. In this stage, continuous research and in-depth analysis of various themes inspired by history, legends, the future etc. or arising from one’s own imagination can make the difference. If well designed, this will determine the park’s success.

5. Budget. After the development of the concept, the next step is to work on the budget. These 2 stages, creative and economic, should merge to create a project that gives the most contents for the financial resources allocated during the development stage of the project, while taking into account the expected number of guests and the costs of operation, maintenance and future development.

6. What is offered to guests. The ideal theme park guest is increasingly demanding, informed and critical. A day spent at a theme park must be exciting, adventurous, carefree and even relaxing. The guest must be guided without being aware of it, and the experience offered will be like seeing an adventure film, but also with moments of relaxation. It is very important to make the guest feel like the star of the story for a day.

7. How are guests’ needs met. Every guest should feel like they are in a unique environment, where everything is built around them and their needs. They must be able to have fun and relax, while dining in welcoming environments with good food, go shopping, watch shows, etc. The primary objective will be to make guests spend a special day in a special place dedicated to them.

8. What experiences are offered. A theme park must meet the needs of a wide audience: children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. The magic that comes from a good project must be suitable for all ages. The choice of attractions, themes, shows, catering, access to services and getting around are fundamental to the success of a theme park. Often we find structures based on outdated concepts, making it complicated and difficult to get around.

9. Implementation of the final project.  After having analysed all the planning phases according to the budget, the final project will be completed. This is a magical moment, after so much design work, budget planning and purchase of attractions: the project is ready to be developed.        

10. Construction and inauguration. At this stage, a dream begins to take shape that day after day turns into a magical city, ready to host and entertain millions of people. When construction has finished, everything will be ready for the magical opening day. The very first opening day at a theme park is like the start of a Formula 1 race: everything is ready for the race, the engines are running and hot, and expectations are high.

Taken from Games&Parks Industry October 2019, page 92

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer /