Saturday, April 20, 2024

Norman Kahn: A picture tells 1,000 stories

the value of great photo opportunities for attraction operators

by Norman J. Kahn


ABOVE: This promotional photo of Old Hong Kong Street at Ocean Park Hong Kong showcases the many different photo opportunities available in this section of the park. Photo courtesy of Ocean Park.

Ever since I first started in the theme park business I knew pictures were a big deal. Back in the 80’s when I worked part time at Universal Studios Hollywood as a merchandise cashier we all knew that pictures were BIG business. The top selling location for merchandise was the Kodak film booth at the main lobby entrance for the Backlot Tour. Back then, people would load up on as much film as they could, so when they came across Lucille Ball or Alfred Hitchcock walking on the back lot as they rode by in their vehicle, they were ready to snap that shot.

Now, people have no need to buy film. An entire line of revenue vanished and theme parks have learned to adapt accordingly. As a result, the idea of “monetizing” photos is a challenge for theme park operators all over the globe. The iPhone and Android have replaced Kodak, and people happily click away as many shots as they can to catch whatever they can. Savvy theme park operators are now providing photo opportunities as a form of enhanced entertainment, and it is working to great success.

Author Norman J. Kahn poses for a photo in a rickshaw at Ocean Park Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Norman J. Kahn.

On a recent trip to see one of our clients, Ocean Park Hong Kong, I saw one of the most vivid examples of how creating superior photo opportunities for your guest can not only enhance core entertainment value, but can also allow you to take “ownership” of your location and exploit not only its present, but also its past. Ocean Park’s 40,000 square foot “Old Hong Kong” area is filled with sentimental and vintage settings and offers an immersive experience of culture, history, and tasty delicacies. Old Hong Kong showcases the streetscape and spirit of Hong Kong between the ’50s and ’70s from various perspectives, including a replica of Star Ferry Pier’s clock tower, a manually retrofitted heritage tramcar and rows of classic “tong lau”style apartment buildings. Guests can even sample more than 70 local street foods and beverages to enjoy the flavor of old Hong Kong.

While taking a historic look at Hong Kong is a great idea for a tourist destination such as Ocean Park, the attraction’s pure genius lies in its ability to get those iPhones and Androids out and clicking. These photo ops not only provide great memories for the visitors, they allow these visitors to instantly share their experience with family and friends on their social networks. I experienced this first hand as my 10 year old son jumped at every opportunity to ham it up for the camera. From the Rickshaw ride, to the labor of carrying heavy baskets on a pole, to getting water from the communal tap, he enjoyed every minute of it, and our family members 6,000 miles away in Los Angeles also got to instantly share in our experience, as we were both texting and emailing our photos away!

We call this first step in the photo opportunity process, “socializing” the opportunity. When a guest texts or emails their photo to their friends and other contacts in their social network, they are “socializing” the experience.

The author’s son poses for a photo at Ocean Park Hong Kong that was instantly sent to family and friends halfway around the world. Photo courtesy of Norman J. Kahn.

We are working on enhancing the guest experience for another one of our clients, and one of their main goals is to not only improve the guest experience but to find additional sources of revenue. One of our solutions is to try and convert this “socialization” of the photos into “monetization.” We have begun to experiment with creating photo opportunities that also include a QR bar scan code. When the guest snaps their pic, they can also scan this code, which takes them to a custom designed interface portal where they can do the following things: 1) upload their photo to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email, or other social networks as appropriate, 2) enter their photo to “win a contest” for their pic, 3) get a 10% off coupon or free dessert at an in-park dining location, or 4) get a discount or free item for purchasing merchandise today. These last two items are intended to monetize the photo opportunity, and they provide not only additional revenue opportunities, but they
are trackable and measurable for purposes of determining impact.

While these ideas are just being experimented with now, in the future the truly integrated photo opportunity will continue to evolve and provide much more than just a picture. In fact, they can provide so much more to sophisticated operators, the old adage “A picture is worth 1,000 words” may need to be updated to “A picture provides 1,000 opportunities.” • • •

Norman Kahn is an award-winning producer who has spent the last 25 years designing, producing and operating large-scale attractions for theme parks and special venues for clients around the globe including Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount Parks, and Six Flags. His most recent projects include “Symbio” a new nighttime spectacular multi media attraction at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, and events for the Olympics and Live Nation Entertainment. He is CEO of Utopia Entertainment located in Los Angeles, California.

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