Geplaatst op: 21-11-2019
Auteur: Wim Strijbosch
Breda University of Applied Sciences.

Theme parks and happiness

Beyond fun and excitement alone

Theme parks and happiness
Dwervel in Toverland

Of all the sectors within the leisure industries, the sector of themed entertainment might be the most capital intensive. Annually, the sector invests billions of dollars into novel developments to attract more and more visitors. Although these large-scale investments do occur because of aspired revenues and shareholder value, arguably, most of these investments are made with philanthropic intentions as well: to make people happy (Cornelis, 2017). 


Making people happy is a phrase that is not unfamiliar within themed entertainment. Various organizations even include it in their mission statements, such as Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products ("We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.”) and Attractiepark Toverland ("Creating magical moments of happiness.”). Traditionally, theme parks have always been associated with fun and excitement. Positive psychology has shown that such emotions do indeed contribute to well-being. Yet, although fun and excitement are still at the core of their experiencescape, theme parks employ several other strategies for happiness beyond providing "mere” fun and excitement. Amongst them are the production of meaning, ensuring escapism and offering innovative hospitality systems.

Positive and optimistic themes

In order to understand the concept of meaning production, one must distinguish between theme parks on the one hand and amusement parks on the other. Amusement parks tend to focus on direct hedonistic effects through a vast array of ride systems, whereas theme parks tend to focus on communicating a certain theme through a small number of attractions in large-scale, designed environments (Cornelis, 2017). As Joe Rohde, creative lead of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, suggests, the concept of theme is often misunderstood. 


The word theme is often used as in "[being] decorated to look like something”(Rohde, 2019). An example would be that "this collection of buildings is themed to look like a Western village.” As Rohde (2019) continues, theme rather refers to "the idea that brings unity to a creative work”, much like in a book report where you are asked to reflect on the theme of a story. Themes do therefore not refer to such things as "a Western village”, but rather refer to underlying value systems that bind everything together through a shared meaning. It is exactly here where theme parks connect with happiness and well-being. Their themes often focus on positive concepts, such as hope and romanticism. Most of Disney’s parks are built around the theme of reassurance: the notion that all your fears or doubts are taken away and that all will be right in the end(Haas, 1978). That is why environments in these parks always evoke a sense of harmony and optimism. Also, Disney’s attractions tend to end on a positive note: during the attraction you might be exposed to a threat, but near the end the threat is always taken away(Haas, 1978). Other theme parks employ positive themes as well. Efteling, for example, tends to focus on themes of romanticism and nostalgia, outed in the particular settings and styles as designed and inspired by Anton Pieck. Recent additions of Attractiepark Toverland have all been designed around themes of hope and love. Toverland’s Magical Valley area, for example, is designed as the habitat of the fictitious people of "Dwervels”, who symbolize a world that still allows for love and peace. Toverland’s Port Laguna offers an idyllic Mediterranean-style harbor with warm colors, relaxing music and holiday-like settings to evoke a sense of warmth and carelessness. Thus, besides generating direct effects of fun and excitement, theme parks also appeal to happiness and well-being on a deeper level by producing positive meaning from optimistic themes.

Escaping the world out there

Experiencing a sense of escapism during leisure activities leads people to perceive these leisure activities as enhancing their quality of life and hence their well-being (Hwang & Lyu, 2015). Providing this sense of escapism is exactly what is in the nature of theme parks. Efteling, for example, has always offered natural environments for guests to escape the worries and hassles from everyday life. 


Today, a core element in Efteling’s vision for 2030 still consists of this very purpose: "In everything we do, we allow our guests to escape from everyday reality and to stimulate their wonderment.” This vision results in a policy where Efteling allows itself a maximum development rate of 11% only. 89% of Efteling’s parcels remain allocated to nature, thus ensuring their pursuit of providing escapism. Besides these in-park environments, theme parks also consciously design their borders, both mentally and visually. 


Attractiepark Toverland’s entrance is deliberately designed as a border post where you leave the Netherlands and enter a magical realm. Disney constructs large berms around its castle parks, topped with tall trees in order to keep guests’ sightlines within the park. In this way, tall real-world structures from outside remain hidden from in-park views. For guests, there is only one way through this berm: the park’s entrance. Above all entrances of Disney’s castle parks, a plaque reads "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.” Besides the physical border crossing of going under the berm, mentally, the entrance serves as a portal to escape from the real world as well. In sum, theme parks deliberately employ strategies of escapism for their guests so as to recharge their mental batteries for well-being in the longer run, both through in-park environments, as well as through the use of the physical and mental borders surrounding them.

Innovative hospitality concepts

Theme parks are certainly more than escapist landscapes with themed attractions only. Each day, millions of theme park employees worldwide put their hospitality skills to the test. Most parks use their very own training programs to educate employees in terms of hospitality. On top of that, recent guest experience enhancement initiatives have integrated state-of-the-art technology in order to develop innovative hospitality concepts. Efteling, for example, has recently developed its Boarding Passsystem at Python rollercoaster, where a mobile application can reserve a spot in the attraction at a given timeslot, thus making optimal use of its capacity. Another recent development is the display of real-time queueing times in mobile applications, which allows parks to spread their crowds towards attractions with low queueing times. 



Disney's MyMagic+ Bracelet


The most impressive example of hospitality innovation is perhaps that of Disney’s MyMagic+ system, at the core of which is a simple-looking RFID bracelet. Guests use this bracelet to enter the parks and their hotel room, as a payment device, and to store their FastPasses, restaurant reservations and on-ride attractionphotos. Besides the replacement of numerous disposables (tickets, room keys, receipts) and exploiting planned reservations to lower queueing time in both attractions and restaurants, the behind-the-scenes benefit is that these bracelets provide Disney with vast amounts of big data on guest behavior, to optimize their operations even further. These examples show that the theme park industry is certainly ahead when it comes to innovative approaches towards optimizing operational processes. Other sectors within the leisure field could certainly be inspired by these efforts, because if done well, it might certainly remove some of the seemingly inevitable hassles and dissatisfiers, thus contributing to happiness and well-being in its very own way.


Theme parks tap into leisure for a better world by appealing to happiness and well-being in numerous ways. Positive meaning production, ensuring escapism and various hospitality innovations are only a few of the various strategies that go beyond the fun and excitement that provide direct happiness in the first place. Fair enough – the direct kicks and thrills of record breaking attractions may certainly make you happier, but below the surface there is definitely more to theme parks which makes the world just a bit better.

References

Cornelis, P. C. M. (2017).Investment thrills: managing risk and return for the amusement park & attractions industry. Nieuwegein: NRIT Media.

Haas, C. (1978, 4 December). Disneyland is good for you.New West,13-19.

Hwang, J., & Lyu, S. O. (2015).The antecedents and consequences of well-being perception: An application of the experience economy to golf tournament tourists.Journal of Destination Marketing & Management, 4(4), 248-257.

Rohde, J. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/BtgrvG7HV75/?hl=nl


Dit artikel is eerder verschenen in het themanummer Leisure for a better world van Uncover, het magazine van de Academy for Leisure & Events van de Breda University of Applied Sciences. 

Trefwoorden: attractieparken, innovatie, geluk

||| Blogs |||

29/05/20
Niet doemdenken maar doendenken
Patronen doorbreken is moeilijk. En dat is precies wat er in deze tijden noodzakelijk is.
29/05/20
Wie breekt de macht van de Online Travel Agency’s?
Leisure Brains begrijpt er geen (J)OTA van dat er nog een OTA bestaat…. Ze vragen zich af of omdenken kans van slagen heeft.
13/05/20
Meer marketing? Nu even geen Holland-promotie!
Hans van Leeuwen vindt dat er geen geld moet worden gestoken in Holland Promotie maar juist ondernemers moeten worden ondersteund.
09/05/20
Van de verblijfsrecreatieparadox naar de toerismeparodie…
Deel 1 van de toerismeparodieRECRON lanceerde ooit eens de term ‘verblijfsrecreatieparadox’ waar...
06/05/20
Waarom we vooral in onze vrije tijd moeite hebben met de lockdown
We leven inmiddels meer dan 7 weken in een inteligente lockdown. Een ingrijpende maatregel om het Co...

||| Twitter |||

||| Nieuws |||

29/05/20
Ons virtueel prikbord van inspiratie: Vekabo geeft gratis vakanties aan zorgmedewerkers
Naast ons coronadossier met actualiteiten willen we in deze nare tijden ook hoop en inspiratie bieden.
28/05/20
Fietsroute Waddenkust moet Friese kustregio een boost geven
Friesland krijgt een doorgaande fietsroute langs de kust van de Waddenzee, met zicht op de Wadden. Daardoor moet de economie en toerisme in de kustregio een boost krijgen.
28/05/20
Duurzame reisgids voor Nederland laat zien hoeveel CO2-uitstoot je bespaart
Nu de grenzen voor uitgaand toerisme in de meeste gevallen dicht zijn, verwachten we nog extra boekingen voor de zomer in Nederland. Natuur & Milieu speelt daarop in en heeft een gratis reisgids voor Nederland gemaakt.
28/05/20
Medeoprichter van Toverland Caroline Kortooms neemt afscheid van Attractiepark Toverland
Caroline Kortooms heeft besloten om Toverland te gaan verlaten na 20 jaar Algemeen Directeur te zijn geweest. Het Algemeen Directeurschap droeg ze in november 2019 over aan Jean Gelissen jr. en het afgelopen halfjaar was Caroline werkzaam als Leider Visie en Bedrijfscultuur.
28/05/20
Veluwe gaat recreatiezonering invoeren
De Veluwe krijgt een recreatiezonering. Die moet het evenwicht tussen natuur en recreatie herstellen.
28/05/20
Toerisme mag niet meer domineren in Amsterdamse binnenstad
Na de coronacrisis mag in de Amsterdamse binnenstad het toeristisch aanbod niet meer domineren. Dat schrijft burgemeester Halsema in een brief aan de gemeenteraad. De binnenstad moet weer aantrekkelijk worden voor bewoners en mensen die in de stad werken. Toerisme moet worden teruggedrongen.
27/05/20
Studenten gaan sector met COVID-19-crisis helpen
CELTH organiseert samen met UNWTO, Saxion, NHL Stenden, HZ en BUas de eerste editie van de UNWTO Students’ League in Nederland voor derde- of vierdejaarsstudenten van leisure, toerisme en hospitality opleidingen. De studenten gaan aan de slag aan een case rond de COVID-19-crisis.
26/05/20
Na weken van videobellen lijkt vraag naar meetings groot
Op 1 juni openen de meeste meetingbedrijven weer hun deuren. Na de lockdown sinds 15 maart maken de ...