Kevin Yee is out with another scoop. This time he reveals some interesting details behind Disney’s next themed entertainment foray outside the theme parks. Location Based Entertainment (LBE) is the concept recently hyped by Jay Rasulo, worldwide head of Disney’s parks and resorts. It had Disney fans and city developers yearning to learn more and how they could get Disney to build in their local community.
Initial speculation was that LBE would take the form of a downtown hotel, shopping, and entertainment complex. The announcement led to a half-dozen or so mid-size cities exploding in rumors that ‘Disney is coming to town’ every time a new downtown development was announced. Turns out that Rasulo was thinking of something not quite so grand:
What if it were a hotel, an indoor water park, a shopping area, and an E-Ticket ride all bundled together and themed into one seamless region? Imagine Fort Wilderness, an indoor River Country, and a Splash Mountain all plopped down together and forming a contiguous themed environment. Or Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kali River Rapids and an Africa-themed indoor water park, again, of modest size and scope, but highly themed.
This may have you thinking of the Nickelodeon Family Suites hotel brand that sits just off Disney property on the 535. That hotel has already been the inspiration for the appearance of family suites at Disney’s value hotels (Pop Century The Legend Years is rumored to be getting a large number of them). It certainly appears to be similar to what Disney is working on.
But I think earlier inspiration can be found if you look out west. Remember when Las Vegas went through the ‘family friendly’ phase? (never more than a thin veneer, btw.) Well that expansion brought us Circus Circus Adventurepark, Treasure Island, New York-New York, and even Buffalo Bills. For all four hotels the primary attraction was the casino, but the dining and amusement attraction could be the make or break on the decision to stay at that hotel if you’re a family.
So how will Disney make this work without a casino? By locating the LBE complex near other existing destinations. Planning a trip to SeaWorld San Diego? Tack it on to your Disneyland Trip and stay with in Disney’s magical envelope at the Animal Kingdom themed hotel and water attraction. Galveston Texas? Enjoy Disney’s Rocky Mountain Adventure. Conventioneer? Stay with Disney and bring your family along. Come to think of it, there was just a rumor that a Las Vegas strip hotel would soon be built with no casino… Disney?
There is a larger challenge when you head north and encounter harsher winters. The water park and attraction will likely have to be climate controlled. But that’s not outside the range of technology today (as Kevin points out with an interesting example). Imagine a Jacksonville, CO Wilderness Lodge resort with an indoor waterpark and hot springs.
Speaking of Jacksonville, these LBEs will also be natural tie-ins to the new "Adventures by Disney" brand. The perfect home base for all sorts of adventure type operations.
By locating a different attraction at each hotel, by making sure each location features a unique theme, Disney could create a quest for the brand’s rabid fans (like me!). Who has stayed at every hotel, experienced every ride? Disney’s Passport to Adventure club. The quality and attention to detail that Walt Disney’s Imagineers are so famous for will drive a whole new level of resort and theme entertainment.
One worry is that this would siphon off visitors from Disney’s theme parks and resorts. Why spend money on airfare or gas when you can go to the local Disney branded LBE. Of course, they were worried about this with DisneyQuest and DisneyClub. Two of Disney’s previous attempts at LBE.
I prefer to think that the market for Disney’s brand is so large that people who visit their local LBE for a short vacation or convention will continue to visit Walt Disney World or Disneyland for the families extended holiday. I’m sure that’s what Disney is hoping too.
Blue Sky Disney has a few thoughts and insights about Kevin’s column tool.