Does This Theme Park Make Me Look Fat?

Model of Dubailand

Model of Dubailand

What is our responsibility to our industry and our colleagues?

When encountering a poorly-realized vision, a project or Experience that falls far short of Promise (and Promotional Materials); is it our duty to call out the disparity, the shortcomings, the failure? Or, is it our responsibility to protect the feelings of our colleagues who may have worked on said project and say nothing?

Is that fair to our audience?

Is there integrity in sweeping poor execution under the virtual rug and leaving our audience to believe what they read in Official Communications?

In some parts of the world – places where audiences are relatively unsophisticated and (as yet) unaware of what is possible; what heights, intensities, excitement and compelling qualities of immersion can be created –  companies might be able to get away with substandard work, under delivering, failed vision.

Do we simply allow these audiences to assume they are seeing The Best That is Possible; convincing themselves that they are experiencing what they think they are experiencing?

Will such audiences come to realize, down the line, that they were sold a Bill of Goods? Will they realize this on arrival and entry to a park or attraction that is far less than described?


In 2003, after having read industry-published reviews of the amazing things going on in Dubai – of fantastic, themed installations in shopping malls and plans for massive theme parks to be built – I came to Dubai to take a look. What I found were sad, lackluster installations of refurbished carnival and FEC rides and games installed in relatively poorly-lit corners of the new shopping malls that had opened…with standards of construction that would never have passed muster in other parts of the world, and with levels of experience that would have consigned the installations to relatively quick financial failure in countries with more sophisticated audiences.

This is what was being described in the trades as “groundbreaking”?

What sprung to mind was the scourge of carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen from America’s Old West (not a theme park; rather, an era <g>). First worlders had evidently come to the UAE and sold these used and outdated pieces to anxious and well-funded local entrepreneurs; misrepresenting the state of the art and offloading an inventory of leftovers.

[Note: Ski Dubai was only then being built: some things did get better, thereafter…]

As I explored, I kept thinking that, at some point, someone was going to catch on and whomever followed these unscrupulous vendors was going to pay the price. Some day…

But why would our trades publish these misleading articles? Through what sense of loyalty does this make sense? Shouldn’t we be calling out these people and companies and labeling what is being propagated as what it is, actually? Would not such integrity ultimately serve our audiences, support future entrepreneurs, vendors, colleagues in developing and selling quality product and experience?

Such an approach, of course, would not be without its rancorous side-effects. More on that, later…


This stuff can happen in the US, as well.

I remember going to an Industry Preview of Disney’s California Adventure, back before ground was broken on the project; watching an exuberantly-delivered presentation on the plans for the park and thinking, “…there’s not much, there…” But nobody (including me) said anything.

After the presentation, at subsequent, industry gatherings, those of us who’d seen that or one of the parallel presentations were all sort of muttering amongst ourselves, sotto voce, that the programming seemed spartan, almost lackluster and incomplete. Un-Disney.

Then the advance press came out; all gushy and energetic. What presentation did these writers see that we did not? Did these journalists truly believe what they were writing, did they write so favorably in order to cultivate favor with the Powers That Be @ Disney?

Did they not foresee that audiences would probably not embrace this incomplete property?

Then, previews began and, sure enough, the word got out. Fail. Attendance fell far below projection, word on the street was dismal and years of corrective measures followed until DCA evolved into the fantastic park it is, today.

Why did none of the writers of the day call this out when presented with the plans for the park? Is our responsibility to make our colleagues feel good, or push for as close to perfection as possible?


Most of us have likely been involved in projects for which we are responsible that – through any number of Unfortunate Events (and misguided Client Interference) – ended-up far from what was envisioned. I’ve certainly had my own creative vision corrupted in grand and public fashion, once or twice.

Battles lost, image scarred, much disappointment (and fear of never working, again…)

When the criticism rains down, it is painful to hear…but it’s not personal. Facts are facts. The Experience manifested is the Experience experienced. This is where a thickened skin is worthwhile; the negative review is not of any one individual’s work, rather it is of what was built and delivered.

If it ain’t good, it ain’t good. To leave the impression that what exists in such instances is acceptable is absent integrity and dismissive to our audiences. IMHO.

I know of no one in these industries who deliberately sets out to do poor work. (Notwithstanding whoever sold those FEC rides to the UAE in the early ’00’s.)


Recently, after a visit to an iconic attraction, the publicity for which describes an Experience far better than the Experience the place actually delivers, I wrote of my opinion.

An acquaintance of mine, a colleague in the industry, took great umbrage at this deed. He had worked long and hard on creating this place (though he has never actually been to see it, completed) and thought my negative review “inappropriate.”

Hence, my inspiration for this piece.

The installation in question is a place for which, anecdotally and throughout the industry, the recounted experiences of scores (if not hundreds) of professionals articulate the same experiences of shortfall and failure. In the industry, it is no secret that this installation has had (and is aggressively addressing) significant problems.

Is saying nothing tantamount to endorsement? Is it not our responsibility, industry-wide, to acknowledge our missteps; thus strengthening our individual and collective credibility when we do endorse?

I get that this is not an easy question to answer or issue to resolve. The risks of speaking truth to client power are many:

  • no further work from that client
  • no further work in that country
  • angry colleagues who take comments personally
  • being stoned, tarred and feathered and given Pariah status in a relatively small industry

The Pollyanna in me wants to think that we can objectively critique the projects in which we and our colleagues are involved and actually find  and acknowledge agreement where such agreement exists. I believe we owe this to the public, the paying public for whom we create promised magic and thrill.

As for me, I’m a lousy poker player, anyway. I learned, long ago, that I may as well be candid; for when I withhold my opinion or POV, my voice and face betray me. Therefore, I am candid and pretty much withhold nothing.

People who work for me, with me, for whom I work learn that I say what I mean and can be depended upon to be completely candid. One always knows where I stand on pretty much anything. Respectful and clear; though not always easy to hear.

There are scores of repeat teammates and clients who embrace and welcome the candor and alacrity with which one can work on or with my teams. There are, as well, those one-time clients or teammates who are uncomfortable with that approach. So be it.

As individuals and as an industry, should we not simply be willing to tell the truth as we see it?

IMHO: we owe this to one another, to our work, to our clients and to our audiences.


HEY; have you downloaded the eBook, yet? It’s still free from iTunes or the iBook store. “IMHO”