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The biggest challenge facing the attractions industry is a lack of operators

This blog, written by Kelly Herrick, originally featured on Blooloop. To read more themed attractions industry blogs and the latest news in the theme park world head over to

During 2019 I have spoken to numerous IPs, brand owners, retailers, estate owners, property developers and investors. They all want to develop their location based entertainment offers. In fact, some of these people are crying out for more leisure attractions and yet the lack of operators is putting a stop to this growth.

One of the most common conversations I’ve experienced goes a little like this…

IP: We have a great LBE concept, it would be great for shopping malls. Mall: Hey, we need an LBE concept in our mall! IP: Great! How are you going to operate it? Mall: You mean you don’t? IP: No. Don’t you? Mall: No. (Sighs and exits sadly).

Here’s the problem

Most of the established operators in the leisure and themed attractions industry have clear strategies of their own. They have their own portfolio of parks, FECs and Midway attractions. They just aren’t interested in jumping on opportunities like this.

Estate owners and developers are stuck in the world of retail. They think they can buy in LBE like a new shopping brand. They don’t seem to want any risk but they do want the rewards of LBE.

IPs want to take over the world with their brands but don’t have the set-up or desire to run their own LBE venues. Their business is IP creation after all.

And the retailers? Well, they are going bankrupt almost every month but still they stick to their old business model. Not one of them has pivoted and taken the chance to operate as a leisure destination.

There doesn’t seem to be enough operators out there. Sure, there are some great operating teams running stand-out attractions, but there simply aren’t enough to fulfil demand. We talk and talk about retailtainment, the changing face of leisure, the golden age of entertainment and yet how can we deliver that to our consumers? People want experiences not things and yet we are geared up as an economy to deliver products – the very stuff they don’t want. Doh.

Some Creative Solutions

So how can we overcome this problem? Wait until the operations fairy visits? I don’t think so, but some of these creative alternatives might sound just as weird. Change is always scary, just think back to your first online banking experience…

Retailers change their business models Hey retailers! There’s a growing, profitable market over here, how come you’re staying put? What if the retailers who need to change really changed? What would have happened if ToysRUs had become a series of FECs with toyshops attached? What would have been the outcome if Sears had created IP based FECs in their profitable locations? Surely someone has to want out of the retail apocalypse?

Entrepreneurs seize the day Every other growth market has seen its share of entrepreneurs making big bucks. From Jeff Bezos to Elon Musk. Disruption is food and drink to these folk, so where are the LBE operating entrepreneurs? There’s a gap in the market just waiting to be filled…

Large operators offer ‘own label’ operations What if the large operators started up operator training schools, or franchised out their operational models? What if they set up separate businesses for white-label leisure operations? They could still keep their individual magic for their own attractions, whilst providing proven and credible operating experience to the rest of the market.

Educators become operators Universities, industry associations, tourism colleges all become more than educators; they go on to provide fully formed teams, with operating processes to the market. Maybe you brief them on the operating style you need and they produce that team. They fund their educational organisations with their profits, drawing the best and brightest to work for them. This model would just get better and better over time.

Less talk, more operating! We have so many opportunities in this industry to create amazing leisure attractions, all we have to do is fill this operation gap. How that will play out during 2020 will be interesting to see. Who knows maybe Asda Walmart will take on Disney?

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