Tuesday, May 21, 2024

To China…and beyond

FUNA’s organic expansion leads to a significant Asian presence

by Dawn Allcot

This article originally appeared in InPark Magazine issue #41, 2012

Is FUNA International aiming to take over the world? One thing is certain: the global technology solutions provider, headquartered in Emden, Germany, has a solid, international business plan that secures its future in the theme park and attraction market segments on land and at sea.

This 40-year-old technology solutions provider excels in many areas. FUNA is a design, integration, engineering and consulting firm for a variety of systems, “from airports to wind turbines and everything in between,” as the company’s website states.

With more than 245 skilled professionals based in 14 locations in 10 countries worldwide, it’s not a stretch to say the company is like one of the theme park attractions it has designed, using technological “magic” to appear to be in many different places at the same time. Science fiction author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke posited, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

“Sufficiently advanced technology,” along with a solid business plan and the resources to implement that plan, is exactly what’s taken FUNA to the top of its industry — er, industries.

The Aqua Theater on the Oasis of the Seas. ©Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. All rights reserved.

Brian Paiva, vice president of business development & strategic planning for FUNA International, explains the plan concisely, his voice taking on the tone of a person who knows the goal and knows how to accomplish it, too. “We are establishing ourselves in multiple unrelated, niche markets with significant growth potential in order to mitigate risk, and leveraging that presence to expand into the next market.”

In this case, the next market is China or, as Paiva is quick to clarify, “all of Asia, with a particular focus on China.” The scheduled opening of the 963-acre Shanghai Disney Resort for 2015 has sparked interest in theme parks and attractions across the region. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, China is poised to overtake France and Spain as the world’s main tourist destination by 2020.

Not an organization to miss a big opportunity, FUNA has established a local presence in Shanghai and is currently working on a number of sizable theme park and attraction projects in Asia. Paiva says the details of the projects are confidential, but the clients are household names in entertainment across the world.

FUNA’s parent company set up shop in China in 1997, with a state-of-the-art fabrication house constructed in Taizhou in 1998. Located some three hours from Shanghai by car, the facility provides FUNA with access to a local ISO 9001:200-certified facility with 150 local Chinese employees for engineering, CAD, fabrication, testing and logistics of Asian projects. The facility, which was expanded in 2008, includes 4,800 square meters of fabrication space and 1,500 square meters of office space, along with 1,000 square meters of space available for future expansion.

Paiva says, “Being part of a much larger corporate group, we have a lot of resources – both capital and human – at our disposal that most companies wouldn’t have, to accomplish the types of things only a large company would be able to do. It might take a smaller company years to get to this stage, and we’re fortunate that we can do it right now.”

These resources include on-staff Chinese designers, engineers, fabricators and technicians. This access to a highly-skilled Asian workforce helps FUNA compete against local counterparts. “The Thaizou facility is kept very clean and organized,” Paiva says. “It would be clear to a visitor that this is a well-managed fabrication facility.” A further competitive point is its local status – allowing developers to comply with government-mandated requirements for local content (i.e. Chinese-supplied products and services).

Another advantage is FUNA’s decades-long experience as an international firm. Managing projects long distance, hiring local labor, and dealing with the permit process in other countries while maintaining consistency of product and quality are nothing new for this company. FUNA also knows the need to anticipate and solve the challenges of understanding the demands of consumers in other countries, the cultural differences and the variations in expectations when it comes to an entertainment experience.

The luxurious Amber Theater on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas was designed by FUNA and showcases a variety of performances and events during every cruise. Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

Scott Arnold, Design Manager of FUNA’s design consultancy group says, “There’s an interesting cultural mix that has to be taken into consideration, and that’s true whether you’re going to Germany, Spain, the Middle East or Asia. It’s not as simple as picking up an Orlando theme park, for instance, and putting it somewhere else.”

He cites several examples – including the layout of a theme park, how park guests wait in queue, how long they’re willing to wait, and what they expect to see while in line – as just a few of the minor differences. While the technology used to accomplish the end result anywhere in the world might be similar, the guest experience is different. “We don’t touch on cultural issues to the extent that theme park and attraction designers do, but you do have to be culturally sensitive,” Arnold says. “The companies that understand and embrace these issues are the ones that thrive.”

While seeking to grow the number of Asian companies in its clientele, FUNA is already serving an existing client base in the East. “A lot of our clients in the West are expanding to facilities in China,” explains Arnold. He notes that having offices and fabrication plants in both the East and West makes it easier to work with clients who likewise have a global presence. “It’s a natural fit, when we’re working with companies from the West who are also expanding into the East. Our teams in the U.S. or in Europe work together, while our teams in Asia connect,” he says.

Growth: Organically, and by Acquisition

The new Shanghai facility could be classified as part of FUNA’s “organic” expansion. Paiva says the company’s strategic growth initiative includes a mix of “organic growth and growth by acquisition.” The acquisition phase began in 2007, when FUNA GmbH Nachrichtentechnik merged with Teledimensions International Inc. (TDI) to create FUNA International GmbH (“FUNA.”)

Three years ago, FUNA acquired Advanced New Technologies (ANT), a renowned provider of technology solutions, from communications to themed entertainment to IT and safety systems, for superyachts. In 2009 and 2010, respectively, FUNA International supplied audiovisual systems integration, engineering, and technical design for most of the 50+ venues on Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas – world’s largest cruise ships.

In 2010, FUNA acquired West Palm Beach [Florida]-based ShowSys, an audiovisual integrator with extensive expertise and an existing client base in the theme park, attractions and cruise ship markets, and creators of ShowVue theme park operations software. “ShowSys is a good example of the type of team we look for, with diversified experience working on multiple projects. ShowSys would be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year if not for the acquisition,” Paiva said.

Most recently, FUNA acquired MAVCO, a leading provider of integrated low voltage system solutions specializing in audio, video, lighting, public address, broadcast and security systems. “This uncorks a big opportunity for FUNA, and is the next major milestone in our company-wide strategy to strengthen our position in primary markets while diversifying into promising new markets,” Paiva said. “The combined strengths of both companies open a wide range of compelling products and services to our clients. Our complementary assets, knowledge and experience will give us increased talent and scale to better compete in the marine and landbased markets: cruise ships, superyachts, visitor attractions and theme parks. MAVCO’s track record parallels FUNA’s own accomplishments and fits well with our established growth strategy.”

MAVCO appears on the official credits list of Disney’s Star Tours – the Adventures Continue, a refresh of the original attraction and recipient of a 2012 Thea award, an honor to be added to the FUNA portfolio along with FUNA’s own position in the official credits of another 2012 Thea awardee: Animation Magic at the Animator’s Palate Restaurant aboard Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Fantasy.

Verbolten, recently opened at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, combines a thrilling roller coaster with special effects and theming to simulate an out of control ride through the Black Forest. Graphic courtesy of Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

What’s next for FUNA? As the company dries off from its work on SeaWorld Orlando’s Shamu Show, FUNA is revving its engines to finish the integration of technology systems for Verbolten, a multi-launching steel roller coaster inspired by the Autobahn and Germany’s Black Forest, at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

And, of course, there is a host of Asian projects yet to be revealed, with more on the horizon. Paiva does share this: “This is a long-term commitment. We are in Asia to stay. If you look at FUNA history, we don’t leave a market once we’re there. And we’re always looking for other avenues of expansion.” • • •

Dawn Allcot (dawnallcot@gmail. com) a self-proclaimed Disney fanatic and theme park junkie, has been writing about audiovisual systems integration in theme parks, retail outlets, nightclubs and other venues for more than 15 years. A full-time freelance writer, blogger and copywriter, her work has appeared in a number of trade and consumer magazines, including Sound & Communications, and Worship Facilities, and on many high profile websites.

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