The new water games

Universal has just opened a new generation water park in Orlando. Objective: compete with the giant Disney sites and enjoy the global success of these attractions, especially in Asia. Informed sledding in the thriving water park industry.

On the Costa del Sol, which would make the Riviera for a natural park, José Manzano has its small reputation, that come to confirm the accolades of young Andalusians tattooed, in Gucci caps and solar mirror. All summer, Jan-B - his stage name - turns in the nightclubs of the coast to mix the "retro break beat." But this Saturday in late May, he officiated in another setting: he opens the season of the Aqualand of Torremolinos with the Sun Coast Festival, electro music full of ears, feet in the wave pool. "It's very different from a nightclub, here it's sunny, you have the sun. people are more friendly, and the party lasts a very long time. "The toboggans were still carefully closed to avoid road exits. Monday morning, the vapors of "ganja" will have dissipated for the official opening of the season 2017 of the water park.

The "water park" is a bit like the pet: difficult to escape if you have a child under 10, especially if you spend the summer near the Mediterranean. Warm and sunny four months of the year, Spain, the south of France and Italy have taken advantage of their comparative advantage to multiply the aquatic attractions. "Our first competitor is the sea. But where there is the sea, there are people," says Michel Moenner, 35 years of passion for water parks and always at the head of the Aqualand Saint -Cyr-sur-Mer (Var). "It is the body that is at stake, the object of hedonistic rites: a place of pleasure and relaxation, always warm water, lush tropical vegetation, next to bars and restaurants"observes Isabelle Marc, author of a study on the rise of these places of rejoicing in Spain for the Research Center on Contemporary Spain (CREC). The towel thrown on the lawn in Kikuyu - a grass much more resistant than the turf -, the tummy tucked up and sunscreen well spread out, you are ready to face a day of family slides.

The profession this year has its eyes turned to America. More specifically Florida, historic cradle of water parks, where opened on May 25 Volcano Bay, the third Universal Park in Orlando. With a simple philosophy - "Water is life. Life is joy "- but claiming a conceptual jump: to stand out from simple water parks, Universal has built a" water theme park "- nuance. The bather does not just slide on a toboggan, he enters the legend of the peoples of Oceania. After touring the South Pacific, the Waturi tribe (meaning "watery") discovers Volcano Bay where Krakatau, the ardent god, sent his daughter Tai Nui to heaven, furious at his romance with young Kala. Remorseful, Krakatau turns into a 200-foot-high volcano and spits (fake) lava at night to reconcile heaven and earth. Meanwhile, the tears of Tai Nui filled the wave pool ..."Whenever we create a new attraction or new space, an incredible story is always our starting point , " Universal Creative's creative director, Dale Mason, who is working on the group's new concepts, said on his blog. . "The Americans understood that to compete, it was necessary to thematize. Investment in a park today is 50% in the slides and 50% in the theme. People must be out of their way when they arrive, they must be speechless, " decrypts Michel Moenner.

Universal to storm the Disney king

With Volcano Bay, Universal wants to challenge Disney, so far master of gender and storytelling. In Orlando, the latter owns Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach (the pitch: a snowstorm turned Florida into a ski resort ...), respectively number 2 and 3 in the world of water parks in terms of attendance. Universal does not want to reveal its ticketing goals or revenue forecasts, but Volcano Bay is also there to boost tickets to its two other Orlando theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. "Adding a second type of experience encourages longer stays, and attendance tends to climb. This is a popular trend among developers and park operators.says the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), which annually gathers the figures of the profession. With Volcano Bay, Universal discount nibble a few points of market share at Disney. Of the 438 million tickets sold worldwide last year by the ten world leaders in amusement parks, Disney still outclasses its challengers, with 32% of the cake (140 million visitors) last year, against 11% for Universal. In view of the first experiences identified after the opening of Volcano Bay, rigging was still needed, but Universal is definitely the entry into the world's top 10 water parks, better than Wet'n did Wild, his first try (number 11 in 2016 with 1.3 million visitors).

For aficionados, the birth of Volcano Bay mainly meant the last session of Wet'n Wild on December 31st. After 40 seasons of operation, the mythical Orlando Park, bought by Universal in 1998 from its founder George Millay, is already a memory. In September 1980, photographer Joel Sternfeld, who travels the United States aboard his Volkswagen combi, puts his tripod in front of his wave pool. The cliché is the cover of his American Prospects , become a classic of American photography."The concept of Wet'n Wild, the first water park in the world, was more of an innovation than an invention. George was the first to put water-based entertainment into one environment, put a fence around it, and charge an entrance ticket , " says The Wave Maker Tim O'Brien, the biographer of George Millay. If Millay did not have the genius of Walt Disney, he remains considered the father of these attractions. From San Diego, on the shores of the Pacific, he had, a few years earlier, created SeaWorld, a concept of wildlife park today decried.

In the 80s, like fast food restaurants, rollers or disco, water parks cross the Atlantic. And since it takes a legend, it is, it is said, an American, sensing that his domestic market is already too crowded, which offers the General Company of Guy Dejouany waters and Paribas to develop in Europe. The first Aqualand was created in Cap d'Agde in 1983. In 1996, Jean-Marie Messier sold Aqualand to the bank Worms, associated with Caisse des Dépôts and Spie Batignolles. The whole thing is sold three years later to the Spanish Aspro-Ocio, who still owns it today. But the European market has also developed in cooler latitudes (Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark ...) with "indoor" parks (like Aquaboulevard in Paris or Tropical Islands, not far from Berlin)."The park offers a wealth of new sensations, gliding pleasure, the search for emotions in the extreme leisure , " writes Isabelle Marc of CREC. Extreme but not too risky: "We play to be scared." More and more afraid, all the same: the managers, to bring back their customers and especially young adults, invest in new toboggans ever faster or dizzying .

A handful of companies around the world manufacture these long plastic structures, including the Turkish TNTY Waterparks. This family-owned company, founded forty years ago to manufacture fiberglass, now competes with industry leaders, the Canadian WhiteWater and ProSlide. Architect of training, the founder, Enver Pakis, passed the hand to his three sons. "We started working for Germany and the German-speaking countries like Switzerland and Austria, which forced us to be very serious about safety and technology"explains Sohret Pakis, who is married to the new president and marketing director of the company. From the shores of the Black Sea to Asia via Europe, TNTY works in a hundred countries, with two advantages: a central geographic position, and especially very competitive prices. The big SME, which produces its toboggans in Dilovasi, 80 km south of Istanbul, has not won the market of Volcano Bay - won by the Canadian ProSlide - but it has raised its colors on Harmony of the Seas , the largest cruise liner in the world, inaugurated last year.

Video game way attractions

To stay one step ahead, manufacturers and park operators are now looking for inspiration in video games. In the spring, the Canadian WhiteWater received one of the prestigious Thea Awards, which recognizes the best achievements of the theme parks, in the technology category. Principle of the award-winning attraction: Reaching targets when descending on buoys, which creates competition between players. As the objective is still, above all, to turn the turnover, the operators also push the services "cashless" and "fast pass." In Volcano Bay, a bracelet called TapuTapu can pre-preserve its next attraction to avoid queues, open your locker locker and connect you to your credit card.

The story does not tell if the Waturi tribe will continue their journey on the Pacific to the Asian coast, but in just ten years, China has understood all the codes of the water park and its declensions, the electro concert to the shows great show. Attendance at water parks in Asia (South Korea, Thailand, Japan ...) has now exceeded that of North America, and the continent has no less than seven facilities in the top 20 worldwide. The first place goes to the Chimelong water park in Canton, with 2.35 million visitors last year. It was designed by Canadians WhiteWater and Forrec, who see the full potential of a market boosted by a young population and a middle class eager for entertainment. But Asia does not is no longer a land of easy conquest for Western operators of medium size. A few years ago, the Spanish Aspro-Ocio, which owns about forty parks in Europe, imagined that it would allow it to double its turnover within five years. Nothing like it happened."We always look, but large Chinese companies have invested in leisure and do not expect us , " recognizes Michel Moenner.

Water parks, on the other hand, continue to interest photographers. Last year, Seph Lawless shot the Disney River Country in Orlando's wetlands, where nature has taken over a 15-year-old abandoned site. Strategically placed, Wet'n Wild, still owned by Universal, will not suffer the same fate. A big real estate project is already in the boxes.