This article is written by Shivani Garg, who is pursuing a Diploma in International Business Law from LawSikho.
When I started on Disneyland, my wife used to say, ‘But why do you want to build an amusement park? They’re so dirty.’ I told her that was just the point – mine wouldn’t be.
Any theme park is a ticket to bring back the lost child in any of us, no matter what the age is. And if you talk about Walt Disney, the man-made structure made sure that the grown-up kids i.e. adults free themselves from the shackles of their monotonous lives by making Disneyland. Well, the Disney theme park is one of the most successful examples of bringing the dream to reality in the perfect sense one could ever think. Imagine, one day you are so inspired to have your own theme park just like Walt Disney was 75 years back when he opened the first Disneyland theme park in California and then later took it to international expansion.
Well, inspiration is one thing but the aftermath of making it your reality is altogether another. Obviously, you will require a humongous amount of finance for that but let’s just assume you have sorted things like finances, etc. for your park but you still need to know about the ‘how part’ and the legality that comes along with it. To make sure things become easy for you I have gathered here all the information that is required to set up a theme park in the U.S. along with the legal assignments that come along with it. To begin with, let me ask you one question. Do you have any idea if there is a huge difference between a theme park and an amusement park? It is the ‘theme’ that makes the difference. While an amusement park is just a collection of rides and games, a theme park is meant to put anyone into a fantastic place where reality is temporarily taken away from life. Before we get started, be sure with what you want to go ahead with. If your choice is a theme park, then let’s see the process of setting it up. Well, the key feature for any theme park’s success is making sure it’s fun for people of all ages to be there and not just kids.
What is the process of setting up a theme park in the US?
Setting up a theme park is one big dream and nothing less than that. To make a theme park successful, it’s utterly important to understand that dreams and reality need to align together somewhere, which also includes pricing your theme park in such a way that it initiates maximum profit. The operation and profitability of a theme park is the result once a theme has been properly established. A few steps to build a theme park:
- Feasibility Study: this is the first step taken by any developer which provides the initial physical parameters, such as total land size needed and building space required. The planner also includes the initial theme design and other aspects like leisure attraction etc.
- Concept development: This is the part in the feasibility study where the development process begins with a site visit and an initial meeting to discuss the client’s vision for the park. The design effort begins with a blank page and as things begin (meeting of minds) the greatest opportunity occurs when the unique concept which is the theme of the project can be successfully integrated with the proven experience of an already existing attraction. This is to say, the market is looked into and the resulting plan is the biggest outcome in terms of finance and operation.
- Design charrette: Once the feasibility study is near completion, the physical and financial framework comes into the picture with respect to the conceptual design. Here, the client groups with designers and other creative team members to discuss the study findings, and all the ideas are involved. This is the brainstorming part with specific goals which depend on the type of leisure attraction being developed.
- However, it’s really important to keep in mind the potential guest experience right from the beginning as the entire success depends on that.
- Land use plan: As the master planning begins with design charrette, the initial land use plan becomes more and more refined as well as details as it adapts towards the needs of the concept and site. When we talk about theme parks, they usually have five to seven distinctively themed areas under the overall theme. Each area is unique on its own but acts as a piece of the big picture. There are two layouts for theme parks: 1. loop approach and 2. hub and spoke approach.
- Illustrated master plan: After the land use plan, functional needs are combined with visual theming in an illustrated master plan.
- Aerial perspective: The aerial perspective plays a key role in making things appealing and understandable to anyone involved with the project. It acts as a bird’s eye perspective to make things come to life for viewers.
In the case of establishing a theme park, legality is essential. So, it is better to be aware of the laws existing in the country to make things happen for real.
Legality/laws in force
One thing you just can’t miss about this huge project of your dreams is the legality of the laws in force where you plan to execute your project. Here, we talk exclusively of the US!
- Licensing: Licensing from authorities is required to run your theme park as your revenue figures revolve around that. It involves the owner of intellectual property either directly or indirectly. Licensing not only enables you to use well-known characters, books, etc but it will also become a unique selling point and attract customers. Licenses include premiums, products, and property.
- Permission from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission which is state-wise throughout the US for amusement rides.
- Amusement rides license: Once you get your state license for rides, you know for following the procedure get your business license as well.
- Licenses for using space, aerial, and also for water from the state authorities.
- Health and food license from state food authority.
- The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) has set certain regulations and standards for amusement rides that are followed in the USA.
- ADA accessibility standards have been set by the US government for rides.
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued some national regulations governing mobile amusement rides.
- Age limit restrictions as per the rides, categories: Up to 18 Years, 19 to 35 Years, 36 to 50 Years, 51 to 65 Years, and More than 65 Years.
- The U.S. Patent System for riding roller coasters in theme parks (p.s. timing plays a huge role while seeking patent protection.
- Labor law: Section 13(a)(3) Exemption for Seasonal Amusement or Recreational Establishments under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
It’s easy to know the laws but if you are investing millions into a theme park business without knowing about the challenges associated with it, as per the author’s advice donating the money rather than investing it is a better option. The author has noted down the challenges that even gamers like Disney face being in the theme park industry.
The challenges associated
It’s true that any big project comes with big challenges and when it comes to establishing a theme park, challenges are no less especially with the hit of COVID-19. Since the pre-COVID era won’t come back ever again, it becomes extremely important to check what challenges one has to face with COVID and irrespective of COVID-19.
- The mode of conducting business: Well, due to COVID-19 this art is really something that took a blow on many businesses. Many restrictions like that related to health and safety etc. have been laid down by the state legislation. With the major companies in the USA taking hit of COVID and some lobbyists have sought to pressure lawmakers into reopening theme parks as soon as possible, it’s a huge challenge to bring up a new theme park in the US at this point in time.
- IP issues: Well, whether it’s the expansion or producing entertainment based upon intellectual property used in popular films and television productions, intellectual property is a big deal that certainly can’t be missed at any cost.
- Bringing innovations to thrill the visitors: With high-tech features and creating an imaginative reality that’s appealing to every single person especially when theme parks like Disney exist is no less challenging but not impossible.
- Addressing labor issues: One challenge that many parks have faced in the last few years involves the need to compensate employees adequately while remaining profitable. A ballot initiative has been passed by Florida which requires a $15 minimum wage for amusement park labor forces.
- Food selection: Since the dynamics of conducting business are changing in 2021, one of the latest trends is to ensure the quality of food that is provided without compromising the theme of the park while keeping health in mind as well. Pretty much challenging!
- Travel is in question: With social distancing in pictures and new cultures like work from home, viewing the world from your own couch than setting out of the house, etc. becoming the new normal, people have actually developed a habit of questioning themselves, ‘do I actually need to go there at all?’ So, it’s a huge challenge more than ever to bring up and keep the theme park afloat in such circumstances.
“Interactivity is a very big part of what the themed entertainment industry is pursuing quite aggressively.”– Eric Merz
When we talk about the theme entertainment industry and setting up a theme park, everything comes as a big challenge and also a long way of doing things. Certainly, many things have changed with time bringing a whole new level of running a theme park industry. From getting approvals for the license to making sure that a creative vision is delivered so that every individual gets a very personalised experience is not less challenging. In countries like the US, the biggest source of entertainment for people of all ages is amusement parks and theme parks. So, to make sure the experience is that of a lifetime, the pressure to deliver everything up to expectations is quite high. Since customer satisfaction is the necessary element to run a theme park, every minute detail is kept in mind to get the business going and technology plays a huge role in that. Well, let’s admit, one has to beat the already existing top companies to make a new theme park run flourishing. Keeping that in mind it’s of utmost importance to have a well-planned intellectual property strategy for any company in the theme park industry that wishes not only to stand out but also wishes to differentiate its products as well as services from competitors and imitators at bay. Gone are times when people didn’t phone while entering a theme park.
Today the real-life world steps along with the fantasy world for each one of us. Theme parks provide a combination of things as what we watch in movies like Frozen etc and experiencing all the characters alive is what the theme park is all about – providing a dynamic social environment that is enhanced by visceral and tactical experiences. You see, it’s just not the thrill of adventurous rides but so much beyond that. If you can pull a physical environment, predictive awareness, contextual awareness and bring it down to make the customer experience worthwhile you are good to go with the theme park industry. In the end, a theme park is all about the real world and magical world walking together side by side giving anyone a lifetime of pleasure.
‘’It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’’ –Walt Disney
- How to Build a Theme Park: The First Steps (leisure-business.com)
- Amusement Park Liability – What You Need to Know | Clifford Law Offices PC
- When Fun Goes Digital: Creating the Theme Park of the Future – [email protected] (upenn.edu)
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