Published in MENALAC Vendor Talk
The “experience economy phenomenon” was first mentioned in the early nineties and since then has gained huge momentum, enhanced by social media and the culture of sharing. From food photographs to IG stories of wacky vacations, YouTube videos of flash mobs, TikToks of gigantic music festivals, or even performative gaming – the last decade is all about proving that we are doing more, experiencing more and because of that - living more.
Social media has managed to change memories from something subjective to something that can easily be publicly quantified, thus changing the concept of experience from “something you do” to “something you are”. This mentality – that social status comes not from “having” but from “being”, shapes the spending habits of the whole Millennial and Gen Z generations.
Given this, it comes as no surprise that the entertainment industry has been booming in the last decade. And while the classics like Arcades or Bumper Cars are still common, trends like Active Entertainment – the concept of merging entertainment with physical exercise, are on the rise.
This is especially true when it comes down to entertainment targeting children and families. The appeal of kids actively playing with one another rather than being glued to a screen is a successful marketing strategy as it fills a void, both emotionally and in terms of exercise, that parents often feel ineffective to fill otherwise. Moreover, the trend is fueled by the millennial health craze to raise kids who are fitter, healthier, and environmentally conscious.
The benefits from these trends are reaped predominantly by the FEC centers. Of course, the high demand equals a fierce competition so the hunt for new and more interesting attractions is always on. From trampolines to soft play and giant slides – when it comes down to catering to the demand of physically challenging entertainment, the possibilities seem endless.
It is when cognitive and physical challenges need to be combined into one attraction that things get a bit trickier and unfortunately, there are a few types of attractions that seem to be able to hit the mark. One example of successful active entertainment is kids climbing walls which are specifically designed to enhance cognitive development in children as well as challenge their balance, coordination, and agility.
Kids climbing walls are already extremely “in” and climbing centers designed solely for kids are popping up across Europe and the US as well as the Middle East. However, as popular and flexible as these are, they do require a building with a considerable indoor clear height, which is a requirement that not all FECs can meet.
An option for smaller and narrower spaces could be another artificial natural structure – the artificial caving system. Combining exploration games with tunnels and obstacles, the attraction is the embodiment of “edutainment” while being interesting and stimulating. These solutions are however more of a solo activity compared to other attractions like Adventure Trails or Cloud Climbs that cater to children’s desire to compete and create imaginative games as a group.
Such activities have the claim of sustainability – unlike video games, they rely not on flashy ruses but on activity and building real connections between the participants, their parents and the FEC center itself. Given this is true, it could be a fascinating opportunity for FECs to grow their business in a sustainable way – by creating a community that engages both children and parents and brings them back. This concept rings true even with the elephant in the room, Covid-19, present. After the lockdowns, now more than ever people crave meaningful and shared experiences. And while being closed has been strenuous for businesses – it is also an opportunity to go into a new direction – one that is not only appealing but also sustainable.
The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we work and as with any change, it brought good and bad. However something became clearer than ever - even though the world is globally connected through technology, conversations are still human and it is people who make great things happen.
We decided we want to help you know us better, so we are launching a series of interviews with Our People - Walltopia’s core team members. We start with something we perceive as a key advantage of Walltopia - design.
1. Active Entertainment is a relatively new trend in the leisure industry but one that will stay for long. Can you share your guiding principles when designing an Active Entertainment center?
It starts with being clear on the mission of Active Entertainment - to get us moving through good fun and safe adventure. That will be the starting point of any project. Then we have to design the user experience, to analyze the business case, ensure maximum safety and get creative on the overall look that should be equally creative and functional.
The more we know about the project, the better - target demographics, desired capacity, type of operation, people flow, etc. We look at what we do as building businesses and that is why the context plays a great role in the design process.
2. What prevails in the projects you’ve worked on - the similarities or the differences?
You can’t achieve greatness with a copy-paste approach. So, just like in traditional architectural design, we treat every project as unique and put the needed time and resources to make it stand out from the rest. What we do replicate though is core principles of space distribution, people flow, safety measures, we’ve seen they work over time and contribute to a project’s success.
3. Is there a recipe for a successful Active Entertainment center? A starting base that’s a must for all projects?
Well-thought business model, clear focus, strong attention to details. The more a client has thought through his or her business endeavor, the easier it is for us to give life to that vision. Then of course, location is a crucial success factor and is no surprise it usually takes more time to find a good location than to secure a project’s funding. Last, there’s a thin balance between fun, adventurous, safe and … beautiful structure :) A great project does not compromise on those.
4. Walltopia’s design & architecture team is located in Sofia, where the company’s headquarters are, whereas all your projects are spread globally. Is that a challenge for the team?
It could have been 15 years ago but since we have all that technology to work and meet remotely, it is not. Our team is used to working around the clock and we always try to find the most convenient time for a client. We travel often to location - to get a better understanding of the surrounding or to take the measures we need. Many clients are curious about the production process, so they also come to visit us, go on a tour in the factory, and meet our team. So, although we are situated in Bulgaria, I can say our communication is a mix of what a project will need and we are super flexible and fast in reacting to any needs throughout a project.
5. Last, do you have a favorite project? Or more? :)
We take pride in all our work but I personally remember mostly the difficult ones. Those that put us through many challenges along the way but then you look back and say “It was worth it!” Such projects are Angry Birds Adventure Hub in Festival City, Doha Qatar, the Space Adventure Hub in Lavina Mall, Kiev, Ukraine, The Rainforest Adventure Hub in Oxigeno Mall, Costa Rica. I am also very happy with Playtopia Adventure Hub, Pachuca, Mexico.
We are now working on the biggest Adventure Hub in the world that is coming up next year in China and I am sure that it will go straight to the list :)
Pencho joined Walltopia back in 2014 as a senior architect with more than 10+ years of experience in leading construction & architecture companies. He quickly grasped the Walltopia’s know-how and believed in the future of Active Entertainment. That led to his promotion to Head of Walltopia’s Design & Architecture in the Active Entertainment devision in late 2016.
“The theming in the cave was the best and most realistic from any companies that we tendered, we even have an LED lava entrance which is always a big hit with everyone! The cave is very easy to operate, we have safety hatches in the event that someone becomes claustrophobic and needs to get out quickly, although we have never had to use them for that purpose - just for maintenance.
Karen Harris, The Harbour, Dunmore East, Ireland, Owner of Dunmore East Adventure Centre
As the new year is already in full gear, it’s time to announce the events our team will attend in February. This month you can find us at SEA, ACCT, EEE, and GNEX, where you can discuss the products we offer - the Rollglider, Ropes Courses, Fun Walls, Ninja Course, Caves and Cloud Climb. Find out more information about the events and meet us to discuss your future projects!
Saudi Entertainment and Amusement (SEA)
3-5 February, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
SEA is the second edition of the trade event devoted to the growing entertainment and leisure industries in Saudi Arabia. It is taking place at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center (RICEC) on 3-5 February. You can find Walltopia’s team on booth #1A49.
The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT)
6-9 February. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
ACCT is a four-day conference focused on the challenge courses and aerial adventure park industries. Walltopia’s team will be at booth #224 available to discuss your future projects. Furthermore, Ivaylo Sotirov, our CEO for Walltopia Adventure USA, will give a presentation on the topic “Invest for Growth: Choosing Attractions that Will Boost Your Profits” at 1 pm on February 7 on our booth.
EEE Entertainment Experience Evolution
11-12 February, Los Angelis, California, USA
EEE is a two-day conference, hosted by the Shopping Center Business and France Media on 11-12 February at the JW Marriott Los Angeles LA Live. The event is dedicated to developers, restaurateurs, entertainment venues and mixed-use properties that are ready to grow their businesses to the next level. You can meet us at our booth and get an understanding of our innovative thinking at one of the roundtable discussions.
Global Networking Experience (GNEX)
18-21 February, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
We are proud to announce that this year we are the Gold Sponsors for GNEX – an event that brings together all the segments of the hospitality industry including hotels, vacation ownerships, resort real estates, vacation rentals, OTAs, travel agencies and travel clubs. Join us at GNEX’s 10th Anniversary at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to learn more about our active entertainment products and how you can implement them at your venues.
Stay tuned for updates on the trade shows and conferences we will attend later in 2020!