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seaworld china

There are a lot of things I want to cover today that aren’t related to marine life parks, but I want to get these three stories out of the way while they’re still relevant. I’ll have a separate post towards the end of the month covering Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, Two Bit Circus, California Trail at the Oakland Zoo, and new coaster experiences at Europa-Park and Liseberg. Today’s post will be split into three different ones posting throughout the day. And now, some breaking news.

SEAWORLD: INCREASING NUMBERS FROM THE OUTSIDE, FEWER NUMBERS ON THE INSIDE

For the first half of 2018, SeaWorld reported increased attendance and revenue (although there was actually a loss in revenue for the first quarter due to severance payments for a number of executives). The company has gone back to its roots and is operating its destination parks in Florida and California as if they were regional parks, pushing annual passes in the local market and building up events year round to pull those pass-holders back in, which increases both attendance and per cap spending in the parks.

The policy of adding a new attraction or show every year in each park is one that has proven successful for both Six Flags and Cedar Fair, again promoting return visits, which lead to increased annual pass sales. The increased regional attendance has filled the void created by a loss of tourism from foreign territories in the prior few years.

In the company’s filing with the SEC were a few juicy morsels. Here are a few of them:

On February 27, the day after he resigned, Joel Manby received a lump cash payment of $6.7 million. Yeah, that’s a lot of money for a company trying to cut costs. But I’m not surprised. The annual report’s exhibits include an amendment to the contract for Denise Godreau, who left the company after just over a year of employment as the Chief Marketing Officer. The amendment offered her up to $2 million to purchase a house.

These next two come straight from the 10Q. We’ll be addressing this later today, when I look at Thomas Cook, PETA, and the ethics of animal rights and welfare:

“Negative publicity can also impact our relationships with our business partners and ticket resellers. For example, in July we were informed that one of our ticket resellers in the United Kingdom will discontinue selling SeaWorld-branded tickets beginning in July 2019. Although we do not expect this decision to have a significant impact on our business nor do we currently consider this to be a material trend, we continue to monitor any such items that could impact attendance trends. As a reminder, historically, aggregate attendance from the United Kingdom represents approximately 5% of our total annual attendance.”

But first, I’m going to address this:

“We are exposed to the risk of loss in the event of non-performance by such strategic partners or other counterparties. Some of these counterparties may be highly leveraged and subject to their own operating, market and regulatory risks, and some are experiencing, or may experience in the future, severe financial problems that have had or may have a significant impact on their creditworthiness. For example, in April 2018, it was reported that an affiliate of ZHG Group was experiencing financial distress. The inability of affiliates of ZHG Group to pay amounts due to us or otherwise fulfill their obligations to us under their agreements with us, including the ECDA and/or the CDSA, could have an adverse impact on us. In addition, the sale or transfer of our common stock owned by affiliates of ZHG Group, or the perception that such sales or transfers could occur, could harm the prevailing market price of shares of our common stock.”

So there are two companies named Zhonghong.  One is Zhonghong Zhuoye Group (ZZG), a private investment firm. The other is Zhonghong Holdings Group (ZHG), a publicly traded real estate development and tourism company. Both are in China. ZHG has the license to develop SeaWorld parks in China. ZZG owns Blackstone’s former 21% stake of SeaWorld Entertainment.

Zhonghong Zhuoye holds a substantial amount of stock in ZHG and the financial woes of the latter greatly impact the stability of the former. On April 17, I reported the following on the ThemedReality/Final Days of Conventional Wisdom Facebook page.

Some news on Zhonghong Holdings, the company developing SeaWorld-branded parks in China. Zhonghong Holdings predicts an expected loss for its first quarter (Jan 1 – Mar 31, 2018) of 300 million yuan (US$47,731,500). This is in comparison to the same period last year, which saw a profit of 8.95 million yuan (US$1,424,437.25 based on today’s exchange rate). For those of you not adept at math, the ThemedReality Computronic Gizmo computes that to be a staggering decrease of 3451.96% for first quarter profits from 2017 to 2018.

Here’s more fun with numbers. Zhonghong Holdings also released an amended estimate for fiscal year 2017 (Jan 1 – Dec 31) of a loss of 248 million yuan (US$39,463,000), down from a 2016 profit of 157 million yuan (US$24,990,475). The ThemedReality Computronic Gizmo computes that to be a drop of 1679.13%.

So questions have arisen among some of the card-carrying members of the ThemedReality Universal Team of Helpers (TRUTH) as to whether or not Zhonghong Holdings will be able to pay off its loans, due within two years, for its 90.5% stake in British tour operator Abercrombie and Kent. The loans consist of a US$77.5 million loan from Zhonghong Zhouye group, a major Zhonghong Group shareholder (whose shares in the company keep getting frozen by Chinese courts) and the owner of a 21% stake in the US theme park company SeaWorld Entertainment, and another US$335 million in interest bearing loans from non-Chinese banks. The company’s lack of profit precludes it from using earned revenue to pay of the principal on the loans.

On the same day, April 17, I also reported:

According to the ThemedReality Computronical Gizmo, Hill Path Capital now owns just over 28% of SeaWorld Entertainment, which, according to the ThemedReality Computronical Gizmo, is also more than the 21% stake that Zhonghong Zhouye Group purchased from Blackstone. Hill Path Capital is the investment firm of SeaWorld board member Scott Ross (the investment banker, not the famed harpsicordist). At Apollo Global Management, Ross played key roles in the acquisition of both Chuck E Cheese and Great Wolf Resorts, both of which were turned profitable and then sold off by Apollo (a corporate version of house flipping). Then again, the ThemedReality Computronical Gizmo is an abacus held together by duct tape….so there’s that…

Although the proxy material sent out by SeaWorld to its shareholders eight days after my Facebook post stated that Hill Path owned 15.3% of common stock, a small footnote indicated that SeaWorld’s figure was based on a November 2017 filing. If my figures are correct, Hill Path is now the largest shareholder of SeaWorld Entertainment and the staff layoffs that took place the day after 2nd quarter earnings were announced is a strategy straight out of the Apollo playbook.

One thing that differentiated this staff cut from others is that it wasn’t simply a matter of eliminating one individual and consolidating their responsibilities into the duties of another just to save money.  This one was very well thought out (the advantage of having a Chief Strategy Officer onboard, it seems).  Quite a few middle managers were eliminated and the process of parlaying information and data between the top and bottom of the heirarchial personnel structure has been streamlined.

This is usually done in anticipation of a sale, as an efficient HR structure is more appetizing to potential suitors and minimizes issues with staff integration during an acquisition or merger.

A number of my contacts in Hong Kong and China have advised me to expect an announcement within the next week or two by Zhonghong of a sale to Hong Kong-based investment firm Pacific Alliance Group (PAG).  However, I’m hearing different details as to what that sale entails.

In one scenario, PAG purchases Zhonghong Zhyoue’s shares in Zhonghong Holdings. This is a risky move based on three factors:

  1. Chinese courts have frozen ZZG’s shares in ZHG from being traded.
  2. The shares are basically worthless.
  3. It was announced yesterday (August 14) that Chinese regulators were investigating ZHG for filing fake financial records.

More likely, PAG could purchase ZHG assets, which include the luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent, some nice real estate, and the exclusive SeaWorld license for China.

Most likely is this scenario, which is based on the highly probable belief that ZZG may have missed one or more escrow payments to Blackstone and defaulted on their contract for the stock sale.  If this is the case, then the 21% stake of SeaWorld that ZZG owns is being transferred to PAG.  And if Hill Path sells its shares to PAG, then PAG will end up owning almost half of SeaWorld.

And there’s one other little surprise. CLICK HERE

That’s right. If it’s scenario three, we’re back at the beginning.

Still to come: Marineland smuggles a pair of belugas to China and PETA’s mouthpiece gives Thomas Cook immunity

 

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Trolls

This is gonna be a very long post, so grab your Starbucks, your Timmies, or your Shotter (for my British readers, Coffee Shotter is a vegan coffeehouse/cafe in Croydon that’s been highly recommended by friends).

THE THOMAS COOK/FOSUN POST

On July 29, I wrote a blog post about Thomas Cook’s relationship with the Chinese company Fosun. Within two days, it had been viewed 40,000 times. I wasn’t expecting that. I usually get double digit readership, on rare occasions, triple. Obviously, this post certainly hit a cord with a number of people. And to think – this blog is simply a place for me to share my thoughts and observations.

What happens after that is just humanity in motion.

HISTORY OF THEMEDREALITY

I am a journalist covering the attractions industry. That is my profession (click on the “disclaimer” tab above. Readers should understand that this is a personal blog and is independent from any professional work I do). For the past seven years, I have professionally written extensively about theme parks, waterparks, wax museums, haunts and Halloween mazes, giant screen theaters and planetariums, virtual and augmented reality, museums, zoos and aquariums, cruise ships, and casinos for trade publications read by attraction designers and operators.

In February 2013, I started this blog. It was a way for me to examine the industry and the aspects of it that interested me in a voice unique from that of the trades. Most of its earlier posts were written in a sarcastic and sardonic fashion, often with a wink at individuals working within the industry.

On November 3 of that year, Blackfish aired on CNN. I was following the comment stream on SeaWorld’s Facebook page as the entries became vulger with wave upon wave of obscene comments – to the point that SeaWorld shut down comments altogether on the page with a note about it being “family friendly.” I blogged about this. But I wanted to understand more about why this happened. Upon request, I was sent a press DVD of the film by the distributor and watched it over and over, and I bought a copy of David Kirby’s book “Death at SeaWorld.”

These led me to write the paper “Dissecting Blackfish,” where I examined how the editing and writing of the film and Kirby’s book were designed to meet narrative goals. I recently reexamined “Dissecting Blackfish” and found it to be a horrible piece of work – not in its content, but in the writing and context, which were both poorly executed by myself. If I were to write it now, it would come out a completely different document.

I HAVE A SECRET AGENDA – HERE IT IS

Following the release of “Dissecting Blackfish,,” I was contacted by a number of leading zoo and aquarium professionals, as well as a number of animal rights activists. Somewhere in this process, I realized that if I was going to understand the issue of captivity, I had to open up and listen to both sides.

Over the past five years, I have established strong friendships with quite a few animal rights activists and also with a large number of zoo and marine life park staff and supporters.

There are quite a few on both sides that remain skeptical about my intentions and, although we may not see eye to eye on most everything, they have proven to be courteous and respectful individuals who want to hear what I have to say while sharing their thoughts in a direct two-way dialogue (much appreciation on this front to FJ and HG for our lengthy and informative chats).

Then there are those who have opted to villianize me, which is fine.

To the park lovers who find me a traitor, I’m an agent of PETA (because many actually believe PETA runs the entire animal rights activism movement. I’ve been told by friends of mine active in the animal rights movement that this is because PETA allegedly takes credit for others accomplishments. I use the term “allegedly” because PETA has never taken credit for anything I’ve done).

To the animal rights activists who can’t stand me, I’m on SeaWorld’s payroll (which would be nice, because if SeaWorld payed me for the amount of personal blogging I’ve done on my own time and at my own expense about cetacean parks, including posts that aren’t quite complimentary to the company, I could probably afford to visit SeaWorld more than once every twenty years).

I am neither an animal rights activist nor an anti-cap.

I am also not a die hard zoo or marine life park fan who believes that such places can do no wrong.

I believe that zoos and aquariums can and do serve an important purpose, but I also acknowledge that many animal exhibitors should not be in operation and that quite a few facilities, even some reputable ones, practice antiquated husbandry techniques.

I believe that zoos and aquariums need to reevaluate their mission – how they exhibit and care for their animals, how they develop and implement educational programming, how they establish conservation programs to protect animals, plants, and ecosystems in the wild, and how they fund this all.

My agenda is simple on this blog – I share what I see on a variety of topics. Not just animals. Readers are welcome to do with that what they want or to discard it altogether.

That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I sometimes quote individuals as sources – some I name, many ask for anonymity due to the nature of their work and the political situation of the country in which they reside. All numbers given in the blog come from publicly available documentation.

HAINAN

For the past seven years, I have been covering the attractions industries in China and Russia both professionally and as a blogger. As a result, I have gained some very strong connections in both countries.

This past June, I wrote an article about Chimelong Group expanding into Hainan. This is an important milestone, as to date, Chimelong has concentrated on its three resorts in Guangdong Province – Chimelong Guanzhou Resort, home to the company’s original park, Chimelong Safari; Chimelong Zhuhai Resort, home to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom; and Chimelong Qingyuan Forest Resort, the 13.5 square mile animal park and resort being built in the mountains.

Now, Chimelong, which in 2017 saw more people attend its five Guangdong parks than Six Flags saw in all of its 20 North American parks, is going to build a huge resort based around marine and terrestrial wildlife in Hainan. Word is that it will likely be in Ledong, a two hour drive from Sanya, home to two major marine life parks – Atlantis Sanya and R&F Ocean Paradise (set to open next year). How will these two resorts be impacted by Chimelong’s entrance into the market? I was researching this when, on July 16, Thomas Cook announced a strategic partnership with the Hainan government “to promote international tourism to Sanya.”

In short, a major shareholder of Thomas Cook owns a three-month old luxury marine life park in a market that Thomas Cook has just agreed to promote. Thomas Cook has a huge role in  Fosun’s larger long-term entertainment/tourism strategy. On July 4, Fosun applied with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange to spin off its Tourism and Culture Group into a separate publicly traded company, with assets including Atlantis Sanya, Club Med, Thomas Cook China, and the Chinese operations of Cirque du Soleil.

And then the SeaWorld decision came down from Thomas Cook and puzzle pieces started fitting together. I’ll explain in a moment, but first…

A SHORT DISCUSSION ON TROLLS…BROUGHT TO YOU BY PETA

I began two other blogs as offshoots of this one – “The Mid-Cap Chronicles” and “Final Days of Conventional Wisdom” – to focus primarily on the issue of animal captivity and exhibition. I also started a Facebook discussion group on cetacean exhibition that grew to over 2,000 members from both sides, created an hour long video examining the business situation at the five North American parks housing orcas, and maintained a Facebook page which proved a great platform for discussing issues with both park supporters and activists. It also became a page where I could share real time updates on natural disasters, something of concern to me, such as the week I spent monitoring and reporting on Florida’s zoos, aquariums, and sanctuaries during and after Hurricane Irma, monitoring for more than 24 hours when the storm hit South Florida. Suffice to say, all this has taken its toll and I’ve been downsizing my blogging and social media posting this year.

While doing all this over the past few years, I’ve encountered plenty of internet trolls and haters. They’ve never angered me, just annoyed me. And it was easy to deal with them.

But a certain reaction to the Thomas Cook/Fosun blog post piqued my curiosity. When people started posting links to it on their Facebook accounts and in Facebook groups, I started receiving messages from them about what appeared to be a troll attempting to discredit my blog. Upon examination, it turned out neither to be a troll nor a hater. It turned out to be a man trying to defend his life’s work. And who it was fascinated me.

Luke Steele (and I am quite envious of the fantastic name) is a successful and well known animal rights activist in the UK. He is a consultant to PETA UK and played a key role in the group’s Thomas Cook campaign.

In one comment, Steele wrote:

This is a blog by somebody who says their objective is to stop any threat to the entertainment industry, including bans on orca breeding. Of course somebody of that mindset isn’t going to be applauding this decision.

In another, he attempted to discredit the entire blog post with a simple explanation:

This is untrue. Thomas Cook is ending involvement in all captive orca attractions across the globe, including SeaWorld and Loro Parque.

In all kindness, I won’t go so far as to call Mr. Steele a liar, but I will point out that his claims are both false and intentionally misleading.

“This is a blog by somebody who says their objective is to stop any threat to the entertainment industry…”

As somebody who has over twenty years experience in hospitality and attraction management, I’ll share a simple truth. If a company or park goes out of business, it’s either due to poor operations or because management is unable or unwilling to adjust to a changing market. I’m not in the business of saving entertainment companies. They go out of business all the time.

To be clear, my objective has never been to “stop any threat to the entertainment industry,” as Mr. Steele claims, and I’ve never stated as such. I have, however, opted to bring attention to some key threats to the industry. As we’ve seen with the #metoo movement, the biggest threats to the entertainment industry are internal. I’ve addressed that with a number of blog posts – on issues ranging from the wild capture of dolphins and whales for aquaria to the legal ramifications of pedophiles in waterparks, racism, and this one on homophobia, which I was excited to see one of my colleagues reference during an on-stage discussion with Greg Louganis at an entertainment industry summit (the video is on YouTube).

As for stopping “bans on orca breeding,” Mr. Steele undoubtedly missed the January 1, 2014 blog post which originally appeared here and was later moved to The Mid-Cap Chronicles, wherein I advocated for an end to orca breeding and choreographed shows, and the construction of bigger spaces for the whales. I also expressed my concerns with swim with dolphin programs in this post (which, like it or hate it, also included my opinion on why Blackfish was snubbed for an Oscar).

This was seven months before Blue World Project was announced, more than fifteen months before the hiring of Joel Manby, and more than two years before Manby and Wayne Pacelle announced an end to orca breeding. Just in case you doubt the date it was posted, you can also access the piece archived on the ThemedReality blog via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.

As for the second comment, I’m not certain what Mr. Steele is saying “is untrue.” If it’s the Thomas Cook/Fosun blog post, then he’s alleging that publicly available information filed with a number of regulatory agencies has been fabricated as part of some big conspiracy by a number of governments in Asia and Europe with the cooperation of Canada.

However, I’m just being hypothetical, as I’m certain Mr. Steele, as accomplished and compassionate as he is, could never be as conspiratorial as someone like, say, Donald Trump, or Moby (it’s true – look it up).

The second part of his statement, “Thomas Cook is ending involvement in all captive orca attractions across the globe, including SeaWorld and Loro Parque” is absolutely true, and it wasn’t denied at all in the Thomas Cook/Fosun blog post.

I fully acknowledge that Mr. Steele and his team worked long and hard to achieve this goal.  But I’m left wondering, based on Mr. Steele’s fabrication of facts about my blog, my writing, and my intent, how honest that campaign was in its dealings with Thomas Cook and the thousands of animal rights supporters who signed petitions and donated money to PETA.

Frankly though, I’m not bothered. I’m just wondering.

TRUTH AND TRANSPARENCY

Both Thomas Cook and Steele have something in common – they both hid the truth in order to achieve their goals. How they did it was accomplished in different ways, for there are many different ways to hide the truth.

Steele created a fraudulent dialogue to protect his achievement, something which could be considered a blemish on PETA UK’s integrity.

Thomas Cook simply hid the truth through omission. Even if it never sells tickets or packages to Atlantis Sanya, two facts remain:

Thomas Cook announced a major promotion to the market where Atlantis Sanya is located just days before stripping two major marine life park companies who met the Thomas Cook guidelines at the time they were audited of their involvement in its programs.

At the same time, regardless of whether or not Thomas Cook ever sells any tickets or packages to Atlantis Sanya, every ticket or package it sells to anywhere results in a portion of Thomas Cook revenue going directly to Atlantis Sanya’s owners, as that company, Fosun, also owns a sizable stake of Thomas Cook.

THE THOMAS COOK TAIJI CONNECTION

Now, I will briefly discuss the dolphin captures and kills in Taiji, Japan. It has been pointed out by a number of people on the internet that Atlantis Sanya’s ten dolphins were captured at Taiji. This is true. And it is also true that over the past five years that SeaWorld, Loro Parque, and almost every major zoo and aquarium association globally have condemned the practices executed at Taiji, as have PETA and PETA UK.

Now here’s where it gets tricky – from a business standpoint, there is no requirement that Thomas Cook disclose its relationship with Fosun and Atlantis Sanya within its blogs, press material, social media, or websites. Moreover, Thomas Cook’s animal welfare policy is now founded on two principles – that there be no captive orcas and that facilities meet ABTA standards of animal welfare. And, as difficult as this may be to believe, the captures at Taiji actually meet ABTA standards for the wild capture of cetaceans.

But there’s something else – integrity, transparency, and honesty work hand-in-hand with truth when a company is marketing itself from a platform of taking the moral high ground. Sadly, in my opinion, these traits are lacking from Thomas Cook’s announcement of its dropping of SeaWorld and Loro Parque.

There’s a whole other part to the story, involving the relationship between Fosun and SeaWorld shareholder Zhonghong, but that’s for another post.

I’ll just end with a quote from one of my favorite authors, the great Geoffrey Chaucer:

Savour no more thanne thee behove schal;
Reule weel thiself, that other folk canst reede;
And trouthe schal delivere, it is no drede.

Duck Duck Death

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It had become evening and it had started to rain.

The group of tourists had traveled around town on board the duck. Now they wanted one last thing – to go in the water in this amphibious tour vehicle that was combination bus and boat.

The duck’s “Captain” told them over the loudspeaker, “we’re going to attempt to go in the water now. I don’t know how long we can stay there because a storm’s coming in and it’s starting to get dark.

“As a reminder,” he added, “there are life vests above your seats, but you won’t be needing them since the duck is very safe and sturdy. We just keep them there to meet government regulations.”

Once in the middle of the body of water, the storm hit. Passengers felt the strong gusts, pushing waves into the cabin. They saw lightening strikes only a few miles away and loud thunder echoing off the water. Then the engine flooded and stalled.

DuckTour

This was my experience riding the Discovery Channel Ducks in Baltimore in 2002, stranded in the Inner Harbor during a thunderstorm until another (non-duck) boat could come and rescue us. I’ve never been on a duck again.

When news came this past week of the deadly incident in Branson, it refreshed memories. It was only a matter of time.

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The company that operated both the Branson and Baltimore duck tours, Ride the Ducks, was established in 1977 by Bob McDowell in Branson, Missouri. He started off modifying World War II amphibious landing craft into tour vehicles, later building custom vehicles from start to finish in his plant, many of which were sold to other tour operators.

In 2002, McDowell began partnering with Herschend Family Entertainment, then based in Branson, which financed the duck tour expansion to Baltimore and other markets. Then in 2003, Herschend’s new CEO, Joel Manby, made his first major acquisition. Herschend became the new owner of Ride the Ducks.

For the most part, duck tours have operated safely over their 40 year history, but there have been some major accidents, including one that took place during Manby’s tenure at Herschend.

In July 2010, just two months after Manby appeared on the CBS television show Undercover Boss as a crew member of the Stone Mountain, Georgia Ride the Ducks, a Ride the Ducks vehicle in Philadephia suffered an engine fire and became stranded in the middle of the Delaware River, where it was hit by a barge, pulling it underwater and killing two passengers.

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In 2012, Herschend and the tugboat operator pushing the barge reached a $17 million settlement with the surviving passengers and the families of the deceased.

Deadly incidents involving ducks have not just been restricted to water. In another Philadelphia accident, this one in 2015, a duck hit and killed a 68-year old woman crossing the street.

Perhaps the most well known incident prior to last week involved Ride the Seattle Ducks, an independent operator using vehicles from the Branson plant. In 2015, the front axle of a duck sheared off and it veered into oncoming traffic on a bridge.

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The duck collided with a tour bus carrying foreign students, killing five of them. The vehicle’s manufacturer, Ride the Ducks (the company Herschend had purchased in 2003), was fined half a million dollars by the National Transportation Safety Board, with an additional half million in fines to be allotted if federal investigators found further violations of safety laws.

By the time of the fine over the Seattle incident, Ride the Ducks was no longer a Herschend subsidiary. In 2012, the year of the settlement over the Philadelphia collission, Herschend spun off Ride the Ducks as a separate company, maintaining a minority share and selling the majority to an undisclosed private investor.

Last year, the Branson tour operation was sold to the Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver, British Columbia, which has been operating it under its Ripley’s Believe It or Not! division. It was this location from which the duck that sank last week, killing seventeen, departed.

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As for the Baltimore location, it was shut down in 2009 by Herschend, amid local attempts to unionize the operation. According to a Sept 10 article that year in the Baltimore Sun, the union said employees’ “concerns primarily focus on safety, including scheduling breaks so operators weren’t taking back-to-back tours, as well as the safety of the vehicles themselves.”

Amphibious landing craft are fantastic for trained soldiers and marines to invade shores, but they’re just not designed for tourism. The shape of the front of the vehicle and the high elevation of the driver have resulted in numerous collisions. A number of duck operations don’t require seatbelts and, as for life vests, the ducks have traditionally operated within the minimum requirement of the local law. So, while we see Manby putting life vests on passengers at Stone Mountain in his Undercover Boss episode, he’s only applying them to children. At the time of filming, Georgia state law required ages 10 and under to wear life vests on waterborne moving vessels. In 2013, following a number of drownings the prior year (not duck related), the age was increased to 13.  As you can see in the following photo, adults are not required to and often are not seen wearing life vests on the Stone Mountain ducks. In most locations, such as Branson, they are made available, but never worn by passengers – both adults and children.

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What happened in Branson is just the latest in an ever-increasing chain of deadly accidents. In due time, a deadlier accident will take place. It’s just a waiting game.

There’s only one way to prevent it from happening – it just might be time for the duck boats to do what duck birds do – head off into the sunset.

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News out of the UK media today is that Thomas Cook is dropping SeaWorld and Spanish animal park Loro Parque from its ticket and package sales services.

And if you’re a touchy, feely, save the animals type, you must be giddy with joy that Thomas Cook recognizes what you know to be the pain and suffering of captive animals.

Which could only mean one thing….

….You don’t know Thomas Cook.

You see, Thomas Cook is 12% (up from an initial 5%) owned by Guo Guangchang, one of the wealthiest men in China, with a net worth of around US$7.6 billion.

He is the founder and Chairman of Fosun.

Fosun owns a 25% stake in Cirque du Soleil, which includes its recent acquisition Blue Man Group.

LA Premiere of Cirque du Soleil's "KURIOS - Cabinet of Curiositi

Fosun also owns an 85.6% stake in resort chain Club Med.

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In 2016, Fosun and Thomas Cook launched a joint venture – Thomas Cook China, to provide travel services to affluent Chinese tourists. Fosun owns 51% of the new company.

As I’m writing this on July 28, twelve days ago, the same Thomas Cook that’s, according to the British media, dropping SeaWorld and Loro Parque, announced a strategic partnership with the government of Hainan Provence to promote tourism to the emerging Sanya market.

And what’s in Sanya?

The recently opened US$1.74 billion Atlantis Sanya, owned by Fosun and managed by Kerzner International, a resort company controlled by the royal family of Dubai.

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And at Atlantis Sanya, you can find this fellow (the one on the left):

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And these guys. You can even swim with them for a fee.

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And this guy (the one swimming in the back, that is):

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And these guys too:

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So if you think Thomas Cook is sending a lesson to marine life parks, they really aren’t. They’re just dropping emphasis on one part of the world as they prepare to support the marine life industry in another through their partner Fosun. It’s the head on the other side of the dragon you’re not seeing.

As for Hainan, there are at least six major aquariums and theme parks with whales and dolphins that have either just opened, are under construction, or are under development for the island. Imagine six resorts the size of SeaWorld Orlando – or larger – in an area the size of the US state of Maryland.

That’s a lot of cetacean parks for Thomas Cook to sell tickets to.

 

 

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SeaWorld Gets the Deep Blues

Joel Manby’s out as SeaWorld’s CEO, replaced in the interim by long-term company executive John Reilly. The company’s Chief Creative Officer, Anthony Esparza, is also out. At the same time, Mike Denninger, another company veteran, has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Attractions. Is this a case of the old guard regaining control of the company and kicking out the new guard?

Yes and no.

Esparza is quite a talent – just look at his achivements for Herschend Family Entertainment. But his departure is indeed a byproduct of Manby’s resignation, as he was one of the highest profile Manby hires.

On the other hand, rather than replacing Esparza, Denninger’s promotion appears to be a consolidation of job duties within SeaWorld’s Deep Blue Creative design studio, picking up the slack created by the departure of Brian Morrow, who ran the US theme park design division in conjunction with Denninger.

Morrow’s departure to open his own design studio, b morrow productions, which had been months in the planning, had the unfortunate timing to coincide with the departures of Manby and Esparza, making it appear to some that the departures were all related – which they were not.

So, to summarize the current situation at SeaWorld’s Deep Blue Creative design studio:

  • Joel Manby out
  • Anthony Esparza out as a result of Manby’s departure
  • In a long-planned retirement, Brian Morrow leaves to establish own company
  • Mike Denninger promoted to consolidate his duties with Morrow’s.
  • To the best of my knowledge, John Linn, another veteran from the company’s Busch Entertainment Days, continues to run the Global Theme Park Development division.
  • Up in the air remains Steve Iandolo, Vice President of Resort Development, and another Manby hire from Herschend.
  • Nancy Hutson, Corporate Vice President of Events and Entertainment, left the company in December to become a Production Consultant for Norwegian Cruise Lines.
  • In October 2017, Crystal O’Hea, Senior Director of Expedition X, moved to SeaWorld’s marketing department, where as Senior Director, Brand Experiences & Innovation, she is responsible for, among other things, integrating the company’s Park to Planet marketing campaign. Expedition X was the part of Deep Blue Creative that sought to identify trends, innovative technology and unique partners who can boost SeaWorld’s creative firepower.

This leads to a few questions:

  • Has Deep Blue Creative been eliminated with its various divisions rerouted to other company departments?
  • Or has it been downsized to concentrating on attractions and resorts?
  • And with the departure of Esparza as CCO, who’s running the overall design studio?

Is the old guard taking control and the Manby folks parting ways a good thing? Depends on what you consider a good business plan. If you’re against captivity, then any business that holds animals has a bad business plan. If you’re a SeaWorld fan, then you can hope for the best and a return to what made you a fan to begin with. Ironically, one of the biggest questions I receive comes from both animal rights activists and SeaWorld fans: will the company resume the breeding of killer whales?

Stateside, that’s a bit of dilemma. Although breeding is now illegal in California, it is still permissible in Texas and Florida. The company would need to walk a fine line on the public relations front after having voluntarily committed itself to ending its killer whale breeding programs. However, resuming breeding would fill a gap caused by the 2017 transfer of six whales in its care to the Spanish zoo Loro Parque and the deaths of three whales stateside during the same year.

On the international front, if we are to believe, as I do, that SeaWorld’s library of killer whale genetic material was removed from California prior to the implementation of the state’s new law, the company would be able to artificially inseminate whales housed at Chinese facilities, with the offspring finding their way to Zhonghong’s SeaWorld branded parks in China without the whales having ever been on US soil. As I’ve mentioned before, the marine life park industry is booming in mainland China and killer whales are the next big thing (I expect between seven and ten killer whale show facilities in mainland China over the next decade). Since the majority of mainland Chinese who are familiar with the US SeaWorld parks associate the brand with killer whales, for Zhonghong to open its parks without killer whales means they lose a competitive edge in the market.

As profiled in the recent ThemedReality PowerPoint video (above), SeaWorld is undergoing an identity crisis and needs to determine the direction it wants to go – regional theme park company or operator of international destinations. Attendance is down year after year across the board due to a number of factors, including poor weather, increased media saturation by animal rights campaigns, new blockbuster attractions at higher profile competitors Disney and Universal, and increased competition from LEGOLAND and its associated Merlin brands.

One factor that has rarely been mentioned on earnings calls or reports is the negative impact that Manby’s decisions had on the company’s fan base, with SeaWorld finding itself offering substantially discounted tickets and season passes to offset losses caused by instituting the killer whale breeding ban, establishing its controversial partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, and the elimination of theatrical killer whale shows in California, all actions many of the park’s longest fans considered heretical and succumbing to the demands of animal rights activists.

When we look at the 2017 over 2016 revenue changes for the top seven publicly traded companies that operate theme parks in the United States, something is very obvious. All are up, except for one.

Merlin Entertainments up 11.6%

Universal Theme Parks up 10%

Disney Parks up 8%

Six Flags up 3%

Cedar Fair up 3%

Parques Reunidos’ fiscal year runs Oct 1 – Sept 30. Although fiscal year 2017 revenue was barely up 0.1% over 2016, the first quarter of the 2018 fiscal year, which ran from Oct 1 – Dec 31, 2017, was up 7.6% for the same quarter a year earlier.

On the other hand, 2017 revenue for SeaWorld was down 6% over the prior year.

Being the only major publicly traded operator with negative year over year results is a red flag. For the company to turn around, it will not only need to control costs and spending, but it will need to become enticing once again to the dedicated fan base it lost. At the same time, in order to pull in new clientele, it will need to become a value-based secondary park to Disney and Universal. Right now, the company’s competition isn’t the big two. It’s LEGOLAND.

Time will tell  if the old guard, in conjunction with the company’s new primary owners, can make that happen.

Now, there is one little gem hidden in SeaWorld’s annual report. In my 2015 article “SeaWorld’s Future Lies Not With FUR, But With FIR,” which appeared in English at InPark Magazine and in Italian on parksmania, I argued the need for SeaWorld to add hotels integrated with its parks in order to establish fully integrated resorts, a necessary step to successfully compete with other brands in its market, such as Disney, Universal, LEGOLAND, and Knott’s Berry Farm, which already have on-premises hotels and (with the exception of LEGOLAND) entertainment/dining/retail complexes. In January 2018, according to the annual report, SeaWorld Entertainment and Evans Hotels established a limited liability corporation in order to develop and build a hotel on the SeaWorld San Diego property (and contrary to media reports, the hotel location is on the far side of the property from the toxic dump, something I covered in an earlier piece on the now-canceled Blue World Project, and is unaffected by it – you can see the location for the hotel in the FIR article). If all goes according to plan, it could open within five years.

The Day Superman Become a Pedophile

On Sunday, January 6, 1991, CBS aired the television movie “Bump in the Night.” It starred Meredith Baxter-Birney as an alcoholic mother whose young son is abducted, as she reunites with her ex-husband, played by Wings Hauser, to locate him. The network advertised the film as “you’ll see Christopher Reeve as never before.” And they sure were right. Four years after his last foray as Superman, it was difficult for me to take in this role. Here was a childhood hero of mine, playing the abductor of Baxter-Birney’s eight year old son, an atrocious  man who was both a pedophile and a child pornographer.

I feel the same conflict with Gary Goddard, who spearheaded some of my favorite theme park projects from Monster Plantation to Star Trek: The Experience, and with John Lasseter, who helped turn Pixar into an animation powerhouse and later helped turn around Walt Disney Animation.  Plenty has been written about the accusations against both in the mainstream press, so I won’t discuss them here, other than to say that I refuse to take the Donald Trump route, where he considers those accused of sexual misconduct or physical abuse of a spouse to be innocent only because they say they’re innocent. Rather, I’ll simply state that I’ve heard enough stories from enough credible sources over the years to keep an open mind and accept that there just might be some credence to the current claims

Throughout the corporate world, there has been a continued practice of silence and shaming when it comes to workplace sexual harassment and sexual abuse. As the cases of Goddard and Lasseter show, the issue exists within the creative design community as much as anywhere else, and it’s much more extensive than just the allegations surrounding these two individuals. The problem is also very extensive on the operational end of attractions, theme parks, waterparks, and museums, where just within the past few months, a major waterpark executive was asked to resign over allegations, among other things, of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Why the silence? Among many, there’s an idolization of the individual for his or her accomplishments. Some of us begin to doubt the accusations because they don’t coincide with how we envision the accused. Some of us don’t want to be “that guy” who speaks up and destroys a legendary career. Somewhere within, there is a fear that, by accepting the truth, we destroy the person’s legacy, and with it a major legacy within our industry. Many times for the victim, there is fear of retribution, of a smear on their reputation.

Sexual harassment is a crime. Sexual assault is a crime. It does not matter the sex (I speak here of biological sex rather than gender, which has many more more options than just A or B), both can be committed by anyone on anyone – male on female, female on male, or same-sex. One of the biggest problems with claims is that, unless there is physical evidence, it becomes a case of the accuser saying one thing and the accused another.

And sometimes there is valid doubt as to when a claim has merit or when it’s true intent is retribution or grandstanding. When allegations arose about possible sexual assault perpetrated by the comedian Aziz Ansari upon a young photographer, a very staunch feminist friend of mine, a victim of sexual assault herself, shared her thoughts. “This young girl’s trying to take advantage of the #metoo bandwagon and get herself some press. She wasn’t sexually assaulted. She had a REALLY bad date.”

The issue of proof is compounded by outdated laws in the United States. Since the 1986 Supreme Court Decision in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, federal sexual harassment policy has primarily fallen under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, Title VII limits federal complaints to companies with fifteen or more employers and it does not allow the victim to sue the alleged harasser, only the company. What this has resulted in is a corporate culture where sexual harassment policy is centered around the company’s liability, rather than the best interests of the staff. And worse yet, Title VII does not even address the criminal aspects of the act.

Workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault are part of a larger picture – they are tied in with religious rights, gender identification and preference rights, ethnic rights, skin tone rights, immigrant rights, you name it. Pretty much anything that’s not the traditional white male heterosexual (primarily Christian) stereotype of corporate America, where intimidation and subjugation are utilized to maintain the status quo. This is part of a bigger conversation on equality and inclusion in an America that’s becoming increasingly divisive and isolationist. The big picture includes issues ranging from wage disparity to hate killings.

The issue of workplace sexual harassment can be fixed, but it must be fixed in three distinct areas.

First, on the federal government level, Title VII must be strengthened. The fifteen or higher employee rule must be abolished, penalties must be strengthened, and additional penalties and jail time must be added in, especially to deal with those instances where sexual harassment develops into sexual assault.

Second, companies must redefine their policies not to protect themselves, but to support their employees’ needs.

Finally, there must be many discussions within the community between employers and employees on the issues surrounding workplace sexual harassment and sexual assault. Industry trade organizations need to take a leading role in fostering such discourse.

One such discussion will take place on April 5, when a session on gender inclusion takes place during the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual Summit at the Disneyland Hotel.

It’s a start. Eventually, we’ll get to the place where when someone’s accused of sexual misconduct, instead of the ones who know something staying silent to avoid being “that guy,” they’ll join others in raising their hands and say #metoo.

PHOTO FROM: “Arms and the Man: A Sampling from Among the 48 Hugs Administered by Pixar Chief John Lasseter During WSJ’s Daylong Adventure With Him.” Wall Street Journal. May 26, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A ThemedReality video!

A few months ago, I was asked to make a presentation on risks facing North America’s attractions industry. One topic I covered was new and proposed laws governing the holding of whales and dolphins. Because there’s a lot going on with the marine life park industry right now that will affect its future, I’ve expanded it to this video. It’s kind of long and might be boring to some, but a hot cup of Starbucks or Timmies should help get you through it.

https://youtu.be/io37VZd1xvk

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I’m going to approach Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox through speculation – a speculation based on past business decisions by Disney involving other acquisitions and the company’s history of handling synergistic branding over the past three decades (something I first started studying in the mid-90’s when a Disney marketing executive pointed out during a presentation that a banner for Tarzan at the X-Games was strategically placed to appear in a brief shot in the IMAX film Ultimate X).

First thing to understand is that often Disney will purchase a company for certain, but not all, of its assets. This usually entails the entire company being dissolved and key assets, especially technology, being integrated into other Disney divisions. Dream Quest Images, renamed by Disney as The Secret Lab, is an example of an entire company that was dissolved. Lucasarts is an example of a dissolved division of an acquired company.

 

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Ice Age themed hotel room at Alton Towers Resort

 

Within Fox, two particular divisions come to mind as candidates for dissolvement. First is Blue Sky Studios, the animation house behind the Ice Age and Rio franchises. Blue Sky is not as strongly marketed an animation studio as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or even Universal’s Illumination. This is partially due to Fox having concentrated its marketing and distribution efforts on DreamWorks Animation pictures once it acquired distribution rights to that studio’s films. Ultimately, Blue Sky is more valuable for its intellectual properties than for the studio itself.

If Disney opts to continue producing animated films under the Peanuts or Dr Seuss animated franchises as begun by Blue Sky, it will need to consider that other theme park companies hold the licenses for those brands.

 

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The other unit that will likely be dissolved is FoxNext, a newly created division of Fox overseeing gaming, virtual and augmented reality, and location based entertainment, including theme park development and attraction licensing. The division will likely be discontinued as much of what FoxNext does is already handled internally by several existing units within the Walt Disney Company.

Porting Fox IP into the Disney parks, I expect the following:

Most Fox properties will show up within Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, Disney California Adventure, and Walt Disney Studios Paris, unless they can be thematically linked to an attraction or land at another park.

 

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Make sure to take the escalator ride to Epcot’s newest attraction – a branded logo.

 

Blue Sky properties Ice Age and Rio will likely find homes within Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Those two parks will also see a National Geographic branding overlay as Fox holds majority control over National Geographic Partners and its branded attractions, including the new Ocean Odyssey that just opened in New York’s Times Square.

Existing Blue Sky licenses to third parties, such as Merlin Entertainments and SimEx-Iwerks, will need to be reevaluated.

 

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This is not the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It’s a typical night at Universal Studios.

 

Over the past few years, Fox has had a successful partnership with Universal on Halloween Horror Nights with such franchises as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Aliens v Predator, and American Horror Story. With the purchase of Fox, Disney now has enough horror franchises to hold two events at each of its American resorts each year – one a traditional family festival at one park and the other another park for more mature guests, allowing the Disney resorts to compete against leaders in the theme park haunt market within their regions, such as Universal, Cedar Fair, and Six Flags.

 

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Artists’s conception of Miami Wilds theme park. Also planned were a waterpark, entertainment district, resort hotel, and I’m pretty sure I saw youth soccer fields in the blueprints.

 

Disney will likely announce that it is pulling out of Miami Wilds, a $930 million Fox themed resort located next to ZooMiami. The project has been delayed for some time due to concerns over endangered species on the property. The cancellation of the project will have an adverse effect on the Miami Seaquarium, which was purchased by Parques Reunidos at the same time that Fox won the rights to build its resort. Miami Wilds, designed by Hettema Group, was to be managed by Parques Reunidos, which would have brought the company $5 million on average in management fees once its theme park and waterpark were fully operational. With Miami Wilds no longer in the picture, Parques Reunidos will need to re-evaluate its plans for the Florida market.

There is the possibility that as the Miami Wilds waterpark was themed to the Ice Age franchise, elements of its design could see new life as an overlay of Disney’s existing Blizzard Beach waterpark.

Marvel is a given. Except in Florida.

 

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Mr. Sparkle. No relation to my theater major sister’s cat.

 

The Simpsons is a different issue, with Universal having invested heavily in Simpson-themed lands in Florida and California. However, the lucrative franchise will likely find its way to Disney’s overseas parks, such as in Japan, home of Mr. Sparkle.

 

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A recent photo of Fox World in Malaysia, located at Resorts World Sentosa. Sorry, that’s the home of this casino company’s other theme park – Universal Studios Singapore.

 

One of the biggest unknowns surrounds the Fox World theme park currently being built at Resorts World Genting in Malaysia. Construction is well underway, but would Disney allow a Fox-only theme park operated by a company that operates a Universal Studios-licensed park in nearby Singapore to exist? I expect that over the next six months, we’ll find out the fate of the Malaysia park – if it will continue as is under its current contract, or if Disney will sink its participation in the project faster than the Titanic attraction going into it, causing Genting to seek out another (or multiple other) studio(s) to partner with.

 

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Brought to you by Cobb Salads. For every Cobb Salad purchased, Dave Cobb of Thinkwell gets a new t-shirt.

Congratulations to the 2018 TEA Thea Award Winners

Especially the Universal Orlando Resort on its unprecedented twelve Thea Awards for “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Skull Island: Reign of Kong,” and Volcano Bay.

No. I didn’t make an error. I made a point.

Tapu Tapu indeed.

Oh Gary, Where Aren’t Thou?

Noticeably missing from the IAAPA Attractions Expo was Gary Goddard, following allegations of breaking zoo rules and touching a Goose.

The company, however, maintains a strong relationship with its clients, has a new and well talented President, Taylor Jeffs, and may soon undergo a rebranding. We look forward to seeing what the talented artisans at Goddard Group bring us in Mexico and China.

Abu Dhabu Du

Numbers this year have been far less than projected for the new theme parks in Dubai – IMG, Motiongate, and Bollywood, resulting in FOX cancelling its plans for a Dubai park.  Two things came to light through the ThemedReality InfoSpies (trademark pending, and yes, Dave Cobb will get an InfoSpies t-shirt if enough Cobb salads are purchased) embedded at this year’s IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando.

First, Dubai Parks and Resorts may turn its theme parks into seasonal operations. Second, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi could be mothballed if the Warner Brothers theme park opening next year on Yas Island underperforms.

FINALLY, PLEASE BE A SAFE RIDE

Speaking of SeaWorld, just a little worried about riding Intamin rafts following the 2016 and 2017 deaths at DreamWorld and Drayton Manor. But this is SeaWorld, and nobody ever died on a ride at SeaWorld – except of boredom on the revised mermaid-less version of Journey to Atlantis.

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Lots to share, so let’s dive in….

THE FORTUNATE SIDE EFFECT OF AN UNFORTUNATE INCIDENT

My heart goes out to the victims of the tragic Las Vegas shooting. Someone I personally know, a member of my congregation, was among those shot and has gone through multiple surgeries. It’s the third such case where I’ve known someone to be shot in a mass shooting incident – the others being the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Luby’s cafeteria in Texas. I’ll be writing another post comparing banning guns versus gun control and why physical incidents like this strike more fear into the populace than perceived threats, like our current one for nuclear war.

Law enforcement was fortunate with this incident in that the gunman decided to shoot from that particular hotel at that particular target. If reports are accurate that he attempted to check into the Ogden in downtown Las Vegas during an 18-block wide music and culture festival a few weeks ago, or that he rented a room in Chicago overlooking the Lalapalooza festival (above photo, which personally bothers me as my good friend Lauren was attending with her husband and teenage daughters), the results could have been more catastrophic. As it is, with both the Mandalay Bay resort and the Las Vegas Village festival grounds being owned by the same company – MGM Resorts International, law enforcement’s access to facilities, surveillance, and assistance has been streamlined in a way that’s accelerated the pace of the investigation, a benefit that would have been lacking had he either shot from a non-MGM hotel (such as the Tropicana) or in one of the other festival locations.

MANAGEMENT CHANGES AT CEDAR FAIR

Matt Ouimett is taking control of the board and Richard Zimmerman will be the company’s new CEO. I wish them the best. This change looks primed for continued Cedar Fair expansion, but I can’t help but remember that the last time something like this happened at a major theme park chain (Six Flags), it didn’t necessarily work out.

FELD IS OUT OF THE ELEPHANT BIZ

While monitoring more than 20 zoos, aquariums, animal attractions, and sanctuaries in Central and South Florida during Hurricane Irma, there was one I couldn’t access on either its website or social media – the Ringling Center for Elephant Conservation. Entering the web address rerouted me to the Feld Entertainment homepage, where all mention of the elephant center has been removed.

I have since confirmed through multiple sources that Feld is now officially out of the elephant game and has sold its collection to White Oak Conservation near Jacksonville. Once the elephants have all been relocated, the Center for Elephant Conservation will close shop.

What does this mean? There have been well-founded rumors for quite some time that Feld has been in talks to be bought out by a larger company – Disney is the name that is most often mentioned – and that the elephants had been a sticking point in negotiations. If this is the case, I anticipate a buyout announcement within the next six months.

MERLIN DOES NOT WANT TO BUY SEAWORLD

Speculation has been running rampant throughout the media and investor sites that Merlin Entertainments has submitted a bid to purchase SeaWorld Entertainment.

As reported previously on this blog, Merlin is not interested in the entire company, but rather the two Busch Gardens properties and their waterparks. Although the land for SeaWorld-branded properties in San Antonio and Orlando is quite valuable – the recent settlement with the tax assessor shows the property value of the Orlando parks is around $170 million – a purchase of the SeaWorld-branded parks would place Merlin in a difficult spot as the company’s anti-cetacean captivity policy would conflict with owning the world’s largest collection of captive cetaceans.

The easy answer is always “stick them in a sanctuary.” But is that practical for Merlin, a company that has been working for eight years with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) to establish a sanctuary for its four dolphins from Heide Park and Gardaland? Meanwhile, those four dolphins continue to perform at the Nuremberg Zoo and the Genoa Aquarium.

HOLD ON A MINUTE….some late breaking info….one of Merlin’s Heide Park dolphins was shipped last year to ZooMarine in Portugal for breeding and swim with dolphin programs.

I don’t know what to say….I’m at a loss of words…I mean, doesn’t this go against everything Merlin says it believes about dolphins in captivity?

And that’s why Merlin shouldn’t buy SeaWorld as a whole and won’t. Those parks are going to the Chinese anyway.

 

See you real soon!

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While researching an unrelated piece, I began realizing that for a number of years, Falcon’s Creative Group has been at the forefront of redesigning the aquarium and marine life park experience – through virtual worlds, real animals, or a combination of the two – ranging from an interpretive coral reef experience at the Florida Aquarium (above) to a concept for an innovative live killer whale exhibit (below).

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Following are a gallery of photos, videos, and conceptual artwork for some of the biggest marine life projects to come from this Orlando-based creative design and media production company.

TurtleTrek, SeaWorld Orlando

Following a journey through two aquariums, one with rescued manatees, the other with rescued sea turtles, guests experience a 360 degree dome presentation in 3D showcasing the life of a turtle, encouraging them to become everyday heroes in protecting the environment.

Manta, SeaWorld San Diego

After visiting a gallery with real rays, guests board a roller coaster car and are launched from a media tunnel where they experience life under the sea with a school of animated mantas. The launch tunnel was overseen by Falcon’s.

Media Canopy, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

Five distinct storylines appear on the 300 foot long, 100 foot wide media screen that covers the entrance to this Chinese marine life park.

Deep Sea Odyssey, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom

The ride attraction integrated into Chimelong’s world record-breaking aquarium tank, Deep Sea Odyssey combines animatronics, animation, projection mapping, and real whale sharks into a single experience.

Ocean Odyssey, National Geographic Encounter

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ENCOUNTER is a first-of-its kind immersive entertainment experience that harnesses ground-breaking technology in new ways to transport guests on an incredible underwater journey. Visitors walk through the experience with friends and family, journeying across the Pacific Ocean to interact with and encounter the ocean’s greatest wonders and mightiest creatures. Guests will come face-to-face with humpback whales and great white sharks, Humboldt squid and sea lions, and animals you’ve never dreamed of…in ways they’ve never seen. Opening October.

Atlantis Sanya Resort

A joint project of Chinese company FUSON (owner of Club Med and Cirque du Soleil – Blue Man Group) and Kerzner International (Atlantis The Palms Dubai), this is one of three marine life parks currently under construction in the Sanya resort area of China’s Hainan Island. In addition to the traditional Atlantis animal attractions of a swim with dolphins program and a waterslide descent through an aquarium tank, Sanya will feature a number of firsts for the brand – including belugas, whale sharks, and a dolphin performance arena. Opening 2018.