Theming because…

Theming because…

5 August 2019 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

Theming as a decisive element in transforming a visit to a park, shop or restaurant into an engaging and exciting experience.

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

In the last issue I talked about the importance of theming, as part of a project with an all-round well-defined concept. Here I would like to explore this topic by extending it to different concepts. Today, in many parts of the world there are new “theming” developments not only involving amusement parks, but also hotels, restaurants, shops etc. 

Unfortunately, this aspect is often overlooked, in the belief that there is no need to invest in embellishments and decorations for rides that are already high quality and have been themed by the manufacturer. However, if installed in a themed context, surely those rides would become even more attractive. 

Another trend today is for travelling fun fairs to look for new opportunities, creating permanent amusement parks, often near major cities. Theming then comes into play, so as to transform an amusement park into a small theme park. 

But what does this mean and what needs to be done? I will explain with a simple example from my own career. Some years ago I was asked to design 2 Italian outlet villages: Valmontone Outlet and Molfetta Outlet. The work was different from what I traditionally did, but my extensive experience in contact with the public in the field of theme parks allowed me to identify the final goal, that is, to create a framework around the big brands. The theming of the architecture inspired by American Art Deco for Valmontone and Mediterranean architecture for Molfetta, enhanced the final objective, i.e. the shops with their brands. The result was highly-themed villages, capable of attracting the public by offering a new shopping experience and a dream-like destination.

This philosophy can also be applied to fun fairs. Therefore, a beautiful carousel, a mini coaster, a bumper car ride, if framed by good theming that highlights them even more, will surely become a desired destination. Naturally, in this case too a general concept needs to be developed in order to create harmony and continuity between the different rides. This also applies to older, existing structures, which for moderate investments can surely attract higher attendance and increase profits. The public is increasingly demanding, prepared, informed and critical; their feedback and suggestions must be taken into account. 

In Moscow I saw wonderful examples of theming in various types of restaurants. In an old palace, for example, a high-quality establishment had opened where the theme was the reconstruction of a writer’s ancient home. The feeling was that of going back in time to the late 1800s. Every detail was perfect, the magical atmosphere and the restaurant (despite the exorbitant prices) was always fully booked, with dinner reservations required several months beforehand.

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio (Como), one of the 50 most prestigious hotels in the world, is another great example of the importance of theming. In an area overlooking the lake, I created a luxurious restaurant, themed after the dining room of an early 20th century cruise ship. A high quality project involving the use of prestigious materials.  

In the entertainment world – I will never get tired of repeating – theming is very important and should not be overlooked, as it makes the difference between success and failure! But beware: it does not necessarily have to be expensive, striking or impressive, it can also be discreet, without losing its effectiveness. The important thing is for it to be done with taste and quality, and to be consistent with the target audience and the desired final goal. 

Gardaland, the 1980s.

Today, unfortunately, we see many theme parks that close or go bankrupt due to mismanagement or a bad location, but most of the time because they do not convey any emotions to guests. Great attractions are not enough to be successful. The emotional impact that occurs immediately at the entrance to the theme park is very important! The guest, for a day, must feel like they are in a new world. 

In this sense, Gardaland’s success began on the day of its inauguration, on 19 July 1975. It was a small theme park with modest attractions, but the atmosphere was perfect, the fantastic greenery, the friendly staff, the attractions located in the right places, the simple but high-quality food and beverage service. That year I had just returned to Italy from the USA after acquiring experience at Disney. I was invited to Gardaland and my impression was very positive. There was potential to turn that little park into a giant! And so it came about, so much so that Gardaland is today one of the 10 most visited parks in Europe. 

Taken from Games&Parks Industry July 2019, page 86

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer /