The amusement attractions business is notoriously challenging. It demands near-constant reinvestment and is at the mercy of a whole raft of variables to forge ahead and stand significant in the market. An ideal model for orientation is Six Flags, which has pioneered the theme park industry’s golden standards and established itself as a market leader, standing as the world’s largest theme park operator for running 26 parks in the US only. Building on its global leadership position, plans for “Six Flags Qiddiya” have been recently uncovered in Riyadh’s Qiddiya – an entertainment “giga-project” that is part of Saudi Vision 2030.
Into the bargain, Invest-Gate talks to President of Six Flags International Development Company David McKillips to outline some of the challenges that the amusement industry addresses, while exploring the ultimate formula for Six Flags’ success, on both the domestic and global levels.
As an entertainment industry guru, what is your vision for theme and amusement parks? How do you think such spots can fuel tourism inflows and boost the local economy?
The theme park business is one of the most exciting sectors in the world and I have been very impressed with some of the innovation that has entered the industry over the last several years, with new rides, incredible themed lands, and virtual reality-based attractions. For Six Flags, our vision for any new theme park development is to create a fully-integrated entertainment experience that combines world-class rides with entertaining shows, while complementing the level of entertainment quality with a commitment within our culinary and shopping offerings as well.
Theme parks can absolutely boost the local economy; in fact, we have several case studies of proven economic development with our parks in North America and we expect the same with our international theme park complexes. Being a very capital-intensive business upfront is one of the barriers for any theme park owner stepping foot into the market. However, once the initial capital is made, we traditionally work on a long-term plan that introduces new rides and expansion areas, which can be very reasonable in terms of investments and offer great value to guests.
Regarding investments, how can operators contribute to this success story? What are the means that shall be available for them, particularly from the government’s end?
Six Flags is actively seeking new partnerships with investors in developing markets around the world. A Six Flags theme park, alongside our other concepts such as water parks, adventure parks, kids-targeted theme parks, and hotel resorts, all make a great investment that provides long-term returns and benefits. We typically work closely with any of our partners to showcase and demonstrate all of these merits upfront and throughout the operating seasons.
From a governmental perspective, we look for our partner to have strong relationships with the local and state municipalities to guarantee full support from that end, in particular. On our part, Six Flags brings its expertise and international brand standards as well as assists with all of the destination’s design and development to ensure it is a world-class quality theme park.
Looking upon Six Flags as a model, how did it manage to be a benchmark for the amusement industry? What are the necessary factors and attributes when it comes to operating a flourishing attraction business?
We look at several factors before we make a decision on entering a particular area. With our partner, we execute an exhaustive market feasibility and brand study, confirming the appropriate and qualified demographic population. We also look at the location of the potential site to ensure it has access to all guests, including public transportation and easy proximity to highways. Also, we require a specific land plot for the initial park, along with future expansion areas.
When examining Six Flags’ portfolio of parks, one of our strengths is our ability to “right-size” a particular operation for a market. With 26 operating spots in North America, we have multiple developments of various sizes to meet a specific market population. What is most essential for Six Flags is to ensure we can deliver on our brand promise of safe, superlative thrills with our ride offering, and also complement these rides with various other entertainment and in-park offerings. Most importantly, everything we do is centered around safety – that is what every guest expects when they come to Six Flags theme parks.
Given your vast experience in the regional market, especially since Six Flags freshly released its designs for its newest park in KSA, in what ways do you think amusement attractions are a feasible real estate product in Egypt?
I think Egypt is a fantastic market for a theme park like Six Flags. With a growing middle class and relatively few international entertainment options like a thrill theme park, the opportunity is great there. I would especially encourage any investor in Egypt to look at the development of theme parks, along with other hospitality offerings such as retail, dining and entertainment areas, live entertainment auditoriums, hotels, and accommodations as well. There is a mix of investments that could be very modest to start with, including branded water and adventure parks, leading to a larger theme park footprint.
Moving to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are incredibly proud of our partnership with Qiddiya Investment Company, the master developer of Qiddiya megaproject. This theme park will be one of the exceptional developments in the world and the most unique Six Flags we have ever developed. We have gained a tremendous amount of learning in the Middle East and Six Flags would be great for expansion into Egypt.
Read the full interview on pages no. 22-23 at Invest-Gate’s October issue.