Top 15 trends to watch in the visitor attractions industry in 2023
The visitor attractions sector is making a strong post-pandemic recovery, with operators spending on innovative and trend-setting experiences to entice guests. In 2023, visitors expect more than an Instagrammable moment. They want to be immersed and active in any experience.
Some of the biggest technology crazes to watch in the year ahead include the metaverse, robots and NFTs. And when it comes to ethical trends, the industry is focusing heavily on sustainability, repatriation, accessibility and animal welfare. Read on to find out more about this year’s most exciting offerings, from horror LBE experiences and competitive socialising to artainment and ‘namjooning’.
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Gamification, or interactivity, is a major trend in the visitor attractions industry. Theme parks and other location-based entertainment (LBE) experiences are rapidly developing new technologies to add an extra layer to their offerings. Leading the way is Super Nintendo World, which made its debut at Universal Studios Japan in 2021. The land is also launching as part of Epic Universe at Universal Orlando Resort, and in Hollywood and Singapore.
Gamification features across much of Super Nintendo World. State-of-the-art technology merges the real world and video games. Guests enjoy interactive experiences using wearable wristbands, linked to smartphones via an app. Visitors can physically hit the land’s Question Blocks to collect coins, as if they are competing in a video game.
“Think of Super Nintendo World as a life-size, living video game where you become one of the characters. You’re not just playing the game. You’re living the game, you’re living the adventure,” said Thierry Coup, senior VP and CCO, Universal Creative.
Real world and video games collide
“We have developed some state-of-the-art technology to create the perfect fusion of the physical world with the world of video games,” he added. “I think the seamless integration of the gameplay is one of the most innovative experiences we have ever created at Universal Studios.”
Additionally, Universal has filed a patent titled ‘interactive Pepper’s Ghost effect system’. Pepper’s Ghost is a special effects technique for creating holograms or transparent ghostly visuals. It features in Disney’s Haunted Mansion dark ride. Visitors would be able to interact with the company’s new Pepper’s Ghost effect using a handheld device.
“While well-established effects, such as a traditional Pepper’s Ghost effect, are effective illusions, it is now recognized that these traditional effects lack meaningful audience interaction,” the patent says. “In today’s environment, in which guests are accustomed to more interaction (e.g., via video games), such passive interaction can cause a loss of interest.”
Elsewhere, an interactive experience based on Netflix’s Squid Game is available at Immersive Gamebox venues in the US and UK. Based on the Korean survival drama TV series, the trend-setting adults-only visitor attraction challenges players with games such as ‘Red Light, Green Light’, ‘Marbles’, ‘Dalgona’, ‘Tug of War’, and ‘Glass Bridge’.
2. Horror experiences
Eerie attractions and horror IP are another massive trend in the visitor attractions industry. Myriad innovative and horrifying offerings have popped up of late. These include an official Saw immersive experience and a Halloween Ends attraction in London, as well as an It-themed escape room and an escape experience based on the Blair Witch franchise in Las Vegas.
Universal is even launching a new year-round horror experience at AREA15 in Las Vegas. Page Thompson, president of new ventures at Universal Parks & Resorts, told blooloop the decision to open the attraction is due to a “huge and growing demand for immersive experiences”, particularly horror-themed ones. Fans of Halloween Horror Nights can expect to see many similar offerings to those at Universal’s parks during Halloween, as well as new and innovative experiences.
AREA15’s CEO Winston Fisher told blooloop the venue is going to be “incredible and standout”. Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is a “30-year concept that has incredible brand awareness”, he added. “It’s edgy, it’s cool, it’s fun. It’s the right concept to be part of the AREA15 district.”
Haunted houses and eerie IP continue to be key visitor attractions trend
In California, Universal Studios Hollywood has added a horror movie set to its Studio Tour. Jupiter’s Claim, the fictional theme park featured in Jordan Peele‘s sci-fi horror film Nope, is now a permanent feature at the park. “I remember visiting Universal Studios when I was 12 years old and being mesmerized,” said Peele.
On Vegas’ Escape Blair Witch, Ryan Gallego, director of global live, interactive and LBE for Lionsgate, told blooloop: “It’s not just about being an escape room. And it’s not just about being a horror attraction like you might see in a seasonal space. Instead, we want you to feel like you are part of the film, part of the game, part of the franchise. We’re going to pull out all the stops to allow you to have fun, but also to scare you.”
Netflix’s biggest brand, Stranger Things, is also inspiring LBE experiences. An immersive attraction in the ǝpᴉsdn uʍop has been in London, New York and San Francisco. Stranger Things: The Experience brings to life iconic locations in Hawkins. Netflix also launched Stranger Things retail pop-ups in New York City and Los Angeles. These came after Stranger Things: The Drive Into Experience in LA.
As for classic haunted house attractions, parks including Alton Towers and Efteling are refurbishing their offerings. The latter has closed its iconic ‘Spookslot’ haunted house to make room for a new eerie area and indoor attraction called Danse Macabre. Alton Towers is revamping its haunted house dark ride to be more like the original, which opened in 1992.
In the 2020s, visitors want to play an active role in an experience. Layered Reality’s immersive Gunpowder Plot experience is an example of this visitor attractions trend. Taking place at the Tower of London, it brings the story of the 1605 plotters to life and fully immerses the audience as participants. The Layered Reality technique combines digital technology, live theatre and real physical sensations to create a uniquely captivating and memorable experience.
“You step back into 1605. Rather than viewing or reading about history, you become part of that history. The technology and the layered reality tools allow us to tell that story in a way that otherwise couldn’t be done,” Andrew McGuinness, CEO and founder of Layered Reality, told blooloop.
“If you can suspend your disbelief, and believe you’ve genuinely travelled back in time, then we’ve done our job correctly. You feel that thrill, that excitement, that peril. At one point, you have to escape and hide in priest holes whilst a manor is being raided. If you feel that viscerally, not just as something you’re consuming, or that is entertaining you, but you feel that fear, we have achieved our goal.”
Captivating and memorable experiences
Beyond King Tut, an immersive exhibition travelling across North America, brings to life the archives of the National Geographic Society. Visitors go on a journey to ancient Egypt. There, they meet gods such as Ra and Anubis, and find themselves inside King Tut’s burial chamber.
“New technologies are making it possible to fully immerse people like never before in important stories from our past, allowing us to develop connections and understand history’s influence on our present and future generations,” said Kathryn Keane, VP of public programming and National Geographic Museum director for the National Geographic Society.
Swamp Motel is a trendsetter in the visitor attractions business. The company has now opened an AI experience called Saint Jude in London in January 2023. During Saint Jude, audiences engage with innovative technology created by Charisma. They communicate with the brainwaves of coma patients and interact with AI-powered characters and live performers.
Clem Garritty and Ollie Jones are the founders of Swamp Motel. They said that the company aims to create “genre-bending, technologically advanced theatre” as well as “exhilarating, interactive experiences that blur the lines between fantasy and reality”.
Two Bit Circus is expanding to include immersive hotels known as Revelers Resorts in Denver, Colorado and Stamford, Connecticut. “Revelers Resorts are more of a family destination,” Andy Levey, marketing director at Two Bit Circus, told blooloop. “So, the aim was to create a world that kids from six to 12 years old could be a part of and immerse themselves in and that their parents could genuinely enjoy with their children.”
The hotels will be magical circus grounds, featuring state-of-the-art modern entertainment and offering interactive gameplay. “Because we have an entire resort, it’s effectively one big story room,” added Kim Schaefer, CEO of Two Bit Circus. “You will go on adventures throughout your stay.”
The term ‘namjooning’ refers to visiting museums and appreciating architecture and art. This trend in the world of visitor attractions takes inspiration from BTS musician and art enthusiast RM (Kim Namjoon). The South Korean rapper, singer-songwriter and record producer shares his trips to museums with more than 40 million followers on Instagram. His fans follow suit, visiting the same cultural institutions and sharing their discoveries on social media.
RM first became interested in art after a trip to the Chicago Art Institute in 2018. He spoke about his passion for art museums in an episode of Intersections: The Art Basel Podcast.
“When people come to Korea… we cannot see the great Korean artists because there are not many museums right now, there are not many galleries right now,” RM told the podcast’s host and global director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler. “So I want to make my own sometime.”
RM’s fans follow suit
Last year, Namjoon donated 100 million Korean won to the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation (OKCHF) to fund the restoration of a traditional Korean bridal gown held by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). After restoration, the royal hwarot robe will go on view at Korea’s National Palace Museum in 2023. It will be exhibited at LACMA in 2024.
The BTS star plans to give another 100m Korean won to OKCHF to support the production of a catalogue of Korean paintings owned by overseas museums. In 2020, he gifted 100m Korean won to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. RM also provided comments on some of the artworks for a LACMA exhibition’s audio guide. It is one of the first major exhibitions of modern Korean art in a Western museum.
5. The metaverse
In the virtual world of the metaverse, users can play, build and own digital experiences, often via virtual reality (VR) headsets. The metaverse is one of the fastest growing trends for visitor attractions of late. Disney appointed an executive to lead its theme park metaverse plans early last year. It later recruited a former creative and gaming executive for Apple to help oversee the project.
In September, the entertainment conglomerate revealed plans to turn Disney+ into an “experiential lifestyle platform” that would let users experience its theme parks “from a virtual standpoint”. Bob Chapek, the former CEO of Disney, discussed the development in an interview with Deadline at D23 Expo.
“We call it next-gen storytelling,” Chapek said. “We tend not to use the M word [metaverse] too often, because it has a lot of hair on it.” He also said the Disney+ streaming service “will not just be a movie service platform”. It will serve as a platform “for the whole company to embody both the physical things that you might be able to experience in a theme park, but also the digital experiences that you can get through media”.
Build and own digital experiences
The metaverse-style platform is for “the 90 percent of people that will never ever be able to get to a Disney park”, said Chapek. It would, for example, allow users to enjoy attractions such as the Haunted Mansion “from a virtual standpoint” and “see how it works, see how those ghost dancers move”. “We are in the very embryonic beginnings of this,” he confirmed.
Elsewhere, Yas Island in Abu Dhabi is entering the virtual world. The whole physical destination is being recreated across various immersive 3D platforms. Guests will be able to build and buy digital homes and explore Yas Island’s cultural attractions and theme parks. Mohammed Abdalla Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral, said people “from every corner of the globe will soon be able to enjoy captivating and immersive experiences across Yas Island in the digital world“.
Thatgamecompany is also working to turn its video games into virtual theme park experiences in a “connected metaverse”. In an interview with VentureBeat, the gaming studio’s co-founder and CEO Jenova Chen said: “We are hoping to build a game like a Disney or Pixar movie, where husbands can play with wives and parents can play with children.”
“Disney World is a collective of theme parks that are next to each other, and with a lot of infrastructure,” he added. “I really feel like there isn’t that equivalent of a kind of Disneyland experience or a Pixar movie experience in the game industry even today.”
Robots are another big trend in the visitor attractions industry. Disney has plans to take “untethered” robots into the sky with “hybrid air and water power”, according to a new patent. This new technology would use air and water to make robots fly, reports Orlando Business Journal. An animatronic Spider-Man is already flying above the rooftops of Avengers Campus.
Disney has also filed a patent for a ‘robotic sherpa’, or mobile locker, that could bring theme park visitors’ belongings to them during their visit. This could save them a walk across the park to retrieve any items they have left at static locker stations. Dubai’s Museum of the Future has hired its first robotic staff member. Ameca, the humanoid robot, is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and can interact with visitors. The museum is also home to the robodog.
Humanoid bots and robodogs
Robot security guards are also in use at theme parks across the US. In the UK, Blenheim Palace has joined forces with the Oxford Robotics Institute (ORI) and Oxford Biology. Together, they are testing a robot dog monitoring the impact of climate change. The pet robot, named Spot, will gather data about the health and biodiversity of Blenheim Palace’s estate.
7. Gaming LBE
Gone are the days of simply gaming at home. Video game IP is rapidly being transformed into LBE experiences. Japanese game company Nintendo is at the forefront of this visitor attractions trend. Universal Studios Japan is already expanding its Super Nintendo World to include a Donkey Kong-themed area. Universal’s first Nintendo-themed land in the US is opening in February.
“We are proceeding to utilize our IP in areas that are new to Nintendo,” Shuntaro Furukawa, president of Nintendo, said in November 2021. “By bringing Nintendo IP to new areas, we can continually generate touchpoints with consumers who have stopped playing Nintendo games as well as with those who first encounter Nintendo IP in a context outside of games.”
Video game IP is a hot trend in visitor attractions
In the UK, Little Lion Entertainment has joined forces with video game companies Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics. Together, they have created an immersive Tomb Raider experience at Camden’s Stables Market. The attraction takes inspiration from both the video game series and films. Guests are challenged to escape a sinking ship, explore the jungles of Costa Rica and find an ancient tomb.
“Despite the promise of the metaverse, I hope, and am convinced that, the real world will always be the most interesting place that we operate,” Tom Lionetti-Maguire, Little Lion Entertainment founder and CEO, told blooloop. “Taking the world of video games, taking the world of TV and films, then installing it into the world of theatre; you’re there doing it with your friends in real-time, right in front of you. That’s super interesting for me.”
Ubisoft has also been turning its games into LBE experiences, first with a Raving Rabbids 4D dark ride at Futuroscope. This was followed by the first Rabbids family entertainment centre (FEC). Ubisoft and Storyland Studios, the three-dimensional storytelling firm, are now developing the first-ever Ubisoft Entertainment Center. “Video games and theme parks have a lot more in common than we think,” said Mathilde Bresson, location-based entertainment manager at Ubisoft.
Additionally, Ubisoft resurrected its classic video game Prince of Persia as a VR escape room. Its third VR escape room came after two Assasin’s Creed-themed offerings. “Ubisoft’s Escape Games are tapping into two popular and growing entertainment trends – combining escape rooms and location-based VR in highly immersive, one-of-a-kind experiences,” said Cyril Voiron, executive producer for Ubisoft’s Escape Games.
Artainment refers to the fusion of art and technology, or art and entertainment. Leading the way for this trend are visitor attractions such as Meow Wolf, teamLab and Culturespaces. Their venues are home to attractions such as technology-driven artworks, mixed reality (MR) playgrounds and secret passageways. Essentially, art is displayed in new ways, often digitally.
Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is an innovative ‘fun-house’ in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Omega Mart at AREA15 in Las Vegas, the group’s second permanent location, features portals to other worlds and a labyrinth-style maze. Meow Wolf’s third attraction, Convergence Station, is in Denver. Its newest installations are due to open in Texas.
teamLab’s collection of museums project art onto the walls. These works evolve and interact with each other, and with the guests. teamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island will be complete in 2024. Superblue, which opened in Miami in 2021, allows guests to enjoy art outside of traditional museums and galleries. Last year, it launched an innovative mixed reality (MR) art and gastronomy experience. Dishes included a “mousse of roasted hopes”.
Immersive art experiences
Some artainment locations bring to life famous artworks. These are digitised and displayed using visualisation techniques. Culturespaces’ Atelier des Lumières surrounds visitors with projected masterpieces by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Egon Schiele. Its first venue for immersive digital art in North America, Hall des Lumières, launched last year.
Elsewhere, AREA15 has announced its first licensed pop-up experience at Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Season, an annual art and culture festival running. “With AREA15, we established a new paradigm demonstrating how irresistible an art-filled destination built entirely to inspire, amaze and entertain could be,” said Fisher.
Frameless, London’s first permanent digital art experience, is a space for immersive interpretations of iconic artworks. Elsewhere, Chicago’s WNDR Museum is expanding across the US and Ohio’s Otherworld is heading to Philadelphia. Guests will experience “iridescent creatures and primordial monsters, crawlable tubes and infinite expanses of light, and alluring art with depth and a captivating narrative”.
Wake The Tiger, a new attraction in Bristol, UK, is billed as an experiential art gallery, interactive theme park and detailed film set. “You have to see it to believe it,” said Lak Mitchell, Wake The Tiger’s creative director. “Wake The Tiger is an abandoned time capsule of fantastical experiences just waiting to be discovered.”
Luna Luna, the world’s first travelling art amusement park, is currently under restoration ahead of a worldwide tour starting in North America this year. It debuted in 1987 with rides, games and fairground attractions designed by artists including Salvador Dalí, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hockney, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein.
Canadian rapper Drake has invested $100 million to restore the art park. “When I first heard about Luna Luna I was blown away,” he said in a statement. “It’s such a unique and special way to experience art. This is a big idea and opportunity that centres around what we love most – bringing people together.”
9. Climate action
According to research from Force of Nature, a youth non-profit organisation, 70 percent of young people are worried about climate change. And, 56 percent believe that humanity is doomed. “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” UN secretary general António Guterres said at the Cop27 climate change summit in November (via the Guardian).
Last year, climate activists targetted a host of famous artworks in museums. At the National Museum of Art in Oslo, protestors tried to glue themselves to Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Activists also glued their hands to two paintings by Goya in the Prado Museum and threw soup on Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ at the National Gallery. Elsewhere, protestors threw pea soup over Van Gogh’s ‘The Sower’ in Rome and attempted to glue themselves to Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ at the Mauritshuis.
Museums, theme parks, zoos and aquariums need to show the public what they are doing to tackle climate change. To become more sustainable, operators are turning to solutions and policies such as measuring carbon emissions, going solar, capping attendance, recycling, electric transport and ditching plastic. As part of this trend, visitor attractions are also attempting to promote climate action through various initiatives.
London’s Natural History Museum was home to a climate café for eco-anxious guests during COP27. The Forces of Nature team was there to answer questions and help visitors who wanted to take action. “As world leaders come together to pledge their climate commitments against such a bleak outlook for our planet, young people worldwide are left feeling powerless and locked out of decisions that affect their future,” said NHM creative producer Conor O’Keeffe.
The Climate Museum, the first-ever US museum dedicated to the climate crisis, opened as a pop-up in New York in November. The goal of the museum, which hopes to set up a permanent space, is to promote learning and climate action through public programming and exhibitions. It was founded in 2015 by the former civil rights lawyer Miranda Massie.
She told blooloop: “The way people embrace that invitation to become a climate protagonist has just blown us away. It’s profound. It exceeds our wildest hopes and dreams.”
Arcadia Earth, an environmental art exhibit in New York and Las Vegas, highlights global challenges through immersive worlds and art installations. In Vegas, one room feels like it’s breathing, representing the planet’s lungs. The NYC venue has a cave made from 44,000 discarded plastic bags. “We need to do as much as we can,” founder Valentino Vettori told blooloop. “It doesn’t matter how we feel. It doesn’t matter if people say we don’t have a chance; we just have to try.”
Archeoplastica, a virtual museum created by naturalist Enzo Suma, is raising awareness of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. It achieves this by exhibiting digital 3D models of plastic objects from the 1960s, 70s and 80s found on Italian beaches. More than 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year, at least 14 million tonnes of which ends up in the oceans.
NFTs have been around for a while now. Last year, however, the environmental impact of non-fungible tokens made headlines. After the British Museum was criticised for the carbon cost of its NFT project, Australia Zoo launched its own green initiative. Created on Algorand, touted as the world’s greenest blockchain, the zoo’s project was designed to help protect wildlife and wild places.
greenloop 22, blooloop’s conference on sustainability in visitor attractions, also explored how to create a green NFT.
Alistair Hudson, the former director of the Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery, spoke about the ‘Ancient of Days’ NFT. This was a pioneering project that used Tezos, an energy-efficient blockchain. “Already the world of NFTs has surpassed the traditional art market,” Hudson told blooloop. “As a museum with a social purpose, I wanted our take on this to be ethical.”
Green and multimedia NFTs
The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA Miami) also became the first museum in the US to launch its own NFT platform. It uses Palm, an Ethereum-compatible sidechain that is reportedly 99 percent more energy-efficient than other proof-of-work systems. NFT collections have also been launched to support Ukrainian cultural heritage and collect donations amid the Russian invasion.
In addition to art, films are now being released as multimedia NFTs. Warner Bros. is selling limited-edition multimedia NFT versions of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in partnership with blockchain company Eluvio. Per a press release, fans of the film franchise will rediscover Middle-earth as “a living movie experience”.
“Fans of The Lord of the Rings can now acquire, participate, and trade in an epic living media experience that will undoubtedly surprise and delight them,” said Michelle Munson, CEO and co-founder of Eluvio. “It’s truly designed for a mass consumer audience, not just Web3 enthusiasts, which is why it should, and does, feel so remarkable and engaging.”
11. Animal rights and welfare
The rights and welfare of animals is not a trend as such, but it is becoming increasingly important in the visitor attractions business. Animal welfare relates to the emotional and physical wellbeing of animals. It refers to animals who are kept in captivity and under human control. Animals are the main attraction at zoos, and are often used for entertainment purposes in theme parks and other experiences.
Last year, Universal Studios Florida freed its Hedwig animatronic from her cage, showing fans of the Harry Potter franchise that birds should not be kept in captivity. Before that, Warner Bros. stopped using live owls at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter locations in Orlando, Hollywood, Osaka and Beijing.
Captive cetaceans and liberated owls
Wildlife conservation charity Born Free released a report in 2022 that calls for a ban on keeping elephants in captivity. The report revealed the impact of captivity on their physical and psychological health. Paignton Zoo in Devon has confirmed that it will no longer keep elephants, and Belfast Zoo is phasing out the animals. However, Happy the elephant must remain at the Bronx Zoo in New York after a court ruled she is not legally a person.
As for ageing and disabled animals, Chester Zoo is now home to an extremely rare three-legged ploughshare tortoise named Hope. Following his rescue from illegal wildlife smugglers, Hope now has three support rollers under his lower shell. Brevard Zoo in Florida is making retirement homes for some of its older animal residents. These are designed “with their geriatric needs in mind”.
In more welcome news, captive cetaceans are no longer drawing a crowd. The Miami Seaquarium has agreed to end shows featuring 56-year-old killer whale Lolita. Parc Astérix in France has closed its dolphinarium permanently. SeaWorld started phasing out shows where trainers rode on dolphins’ faces and backs in 2020.
In China, Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park has unveiled the world’s first robotic whale shark. The robot could potentially replace live cetaceans in captivity in aquariums and theme parks across the country.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, a circus that ended its 146-year-run in January 2017 due to dwindling ticket sales, is making a comeback without animal performers. For many years, animal welfare groups criticised the circus for its use of animal acts. PETA said it is “delighted that Ringling Bros. circus is coming back fully animal-free”. The group added: “This move should serve as inspiration to other circuses to ditch all animal acts.”
12. Space tourism
Space tourism is an extremely expensive trend in the visitor attractions industry. For half a million dollars, passengers can take a suborbital trip. For $50 million, orbital expeditions are available. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are providing the former. SpaceX and Axiom are taking customers on orbital journeys. China has also revealed plans to open the country’s Tiangong space station to tourists within 10 years.
Orbital Assembly Corporation’s space hotels could open to customers as early as 2025. Described as a “sci-fi dream”, the hotels feature 3D holograms, digital wall art and robots. Tim Alatorre is Orbital Assembly’s chief operating officer. He told CNN Travel that the company is “doing everything we can to make space accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy”.
World View has unveiled its designs for a capsule to fly passengers to “the edge of space”. Space Perspective is also preparing to lift passengers to the border of space via its Spaceship Neptune capsule and a giant balloon. The capsule is home to the world’s first ‘space lounge’. Star Harbor is even creating the world’s first private spaceflight training facility.
Here on this planet, Moon World Resorts is planning a $5 billion space tourism attraction and resort in Dubai. Moon Dubai will have a lunar surface as part of an Earth-based experience. It will include a visit to an “authentic working lunar colony”, co-founder Michael R. Henderson told Forbes. “It’s aimed at those who wish to participate in authentic space tourism at an affordable price point.”
Making sure that visitor attractions and experiences are accessible is now a very important trend. Many have gone above and beyond when it comes to providing a facility for everyone, including visitors in wheelchairs, those with sight or hearing impairments, and neurodivergent guests.
Spirit of Discovery Park, an inclusive and accessible theme park for visitors with “mental, physical or intellectual disabilities”, is under development in Missouri. The 60-acre attraction will be the second fully accessible theme park in the US. Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas is the world’s first theme park designed and built for people with special needs.
Last year, Legoland Florida Resort became the first theme park resort to earn a Certified Autism Center (CAC) designation. The designation includes the resort’s hotels, as well as the Legoland theme park, Legoland Water Park and Peppa Pig Theme Park. The latter features accessible ride vehicles and attractions. In August, Ocean Park’s Water World was the first water park in Asia to be a Certified Autism Center.
Visitor attractions embrace trend for inclusive rides
Disneyland Paris has introduced audio description content across the resort, offering a more magical experience for visually impaired and blind guests. And, for the first time in Disneyland‘s history, the US park has added characters in wheelchairs to an attraction. The dolls feature in the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride.
“I feel seen. I feel represented. It’s a monumental moment to have my community be in an attraction and represented,” said Erin Quintanilla, manager of accessibility for Disneyland Resort.
Merlin is also giving vision-enhancing medical devices to people with visual impairments at its visitor attractions across North America. Elsewhere, Six Flags has become the first theme park company in the world to design a specialised restraint harness to allow guests with physical disabilities to access more of the company’s thrill rides and coasters.
Museums are increasing their accessibility offerings, too. The Centre Pompidou and Australia’s Chau Chak Wing Museum are offering special glasses for colour blindness. The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven recently opened a multi-sensory exhibition with texts in Braille. The Van Gogh Museum introduced a touchable scale model of the building for blind and partially-sighted visitors.
In the UK, See Monster – a decommissioned North Sea offshore platform – has opened as an accessible art installation.
“You have to have the conversation right at the beginning,” said Dr Amit Patel, an accessibility consultant. “If you think about it too late you forget about the foundations of inclusivity and accessibility. Have that conversation right from the beginning and it’s weaved into your design.” He added: “If we can make See Monster accessible, there is no excuse for any attraction not to be accessible.”
Last year, institutions across the globe began to return looted artefacts to their places of origin. The trend for repatriating objects was led by visitor attractions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, London’s Horniman Museum and the Vatican Museums. The Horniman is returning a total of 72 artefacts, including 12 Benin bronzes, to Nigeria.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art has also returned 29 Benin bronzes. The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Germany has handed over ownership of 92 Benin bronzes.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis has announced plans to return the 2,500-year-old Parthenon marbles held at the Vatican Museums to Greece. The move has put pressure on the British Museum to follow suit. Egyptians are also calling on the British Museum to return the 2,200-year-old Rosetta Stone. The institution is also under pressure to return the Benin bronzes in its collection.
Returning artefacts to places of origin
Nick Merriman, chief executive of the Horniman, said (via Sky News): “Journalists who ask me about the Benin return always want to ask me about the British Museum. I would rather talk about what an excellent example the Horniman is, rather than answer questions about the British Museum.”
After the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned two sculptures to the Nepalese government, the Manhattan district attorney’s office seized 27 artefacts from the institution. “It should be no secret to collectors, art museums and auction houses that they may be in possession of pieces from known traffickers that were illegally looted,” a spokesperson for district attorney Alvin Bragg told CNN.
15. Competitive socialising
Competitive socialising is a burgeoning trend in the visitor attractions industry. Brands such as Puttshack, TOCA Football and Topgolf are at the forefront. Indoor venues are on the up as traditional golf courses and their ilk are in decline.
Topgolf, the technology-enabled golf experience company, now has more than 80 locations across the globe. There are venues in the US, UK, UAE, Australia, Germany and Thailand. Its first location in Scotland opened in 2022. Topgolf venues are home to interactive games, climate-controlled hitting bays and F&B.
The trend for technology-driven sports in visitor attractions
Puttshack, a technology-infused mini-golf experience with F&B, is currently expanding across the US. Founded by Topgolf creators Steve Jolliffe and Dave Jolliffe, it already has four attractions in the UK. Its venues combine mini-golf courses powered by patented Trackaball technology with immersive social experiences.
“The scoring is done automatically,” Joe Vrankin, CEO of Puttshack, told blooloop. “You don’t have to walk around with paper and a pencil. You don’t even have to think about how many times you hit the ball. Our guests can be totally immersed in the game, and in interacting with the people that they’re with. They don’t have to think about anything other than having fun.”
TOCA Football, known as the Topgolf of soccer, is a trend-setting technology-enabled soccer experience company. One half of its business, TOCA Social, is the world’s first entertainment and dining concept featuring immersive soccer-based games.
“Guests will be able to experience soccer in a new and innovative way, while socializing with friends over drinks and world-class cuisine,” said Yoshi Maruyama, TOCA’s CEO.
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