When Cale Heit took over as CEO of global entertainment design firm FORREC in 2017, he’d already been working for the company for 25 years. Heit joined as a landscape architect in 1993 and worked his way up through the ranks to lead the theme parks business, before taking the helm from former president and CEO Gordon Dorrett five years ago.
2022 has seen the opening of two new FORREC-designed attractions at Motiongate Dubai’s expanded Lionsgate Zone: the John Wick Open Contract 4D free-spin rollercoaster and Now You See Me: High Roller spinning rollercoaster. Last year’s projects included the opening of the Niagara Parks Power Station as an immersive tourist attraction – FORREC worked closely with the client team to repurpose the hydroelectric power plant as an attraction. As part of this ongoing project, Thinkwell Group created an immersive light show and Science North the exhibit design – both opened in January 2022. Further experiences will launch this summer.
Here, Cale Heit shares his insights with Attractions Management.
What trends do you see emerging in the attractions industry?
We see a pent-up demand for transformational experiences connecting us all. Socialisation and shared experiences with family and friends among larger crowds are paramount to who we are as human beings. Experiences that allow for these interactions are critical as a shared community. We feel whole when we have opportunities to share joy, be in awe, learn, laugh, and cry.
We continue to hear the question regarding online versus in-person experiences. Why debate when I ask, “why can’t there be both?” Better integration of these two will lead to more immersive and repeatable experiences.
The online experience has jumped years ahead since the pandemic started. This includes how we live, work and play. There’s no going back, but rather moving forward with how we combine the new way of meeting our needs. The possibilities of increasing connections through in-person and online engagements can’t be overlooked.
However, opportunities to be in the moment is something we continue to be challenged to deliver and this has been exacerbated by the lines of life and work being blurred as we move towards a more flexible work environment.
What’s on your wishlist to visit in 2022?
The list is long as we’re in an amazing growth period for attractions in our industry.
I’m excited to experience our work at Dubai Parks and Resort, especially the John Wick: Open Contract experience and ride (www.attractionsmanagement.com/JohnWick and www.attractionsmanagement.com/JohnWickfans) and the Now You See Me: High Rollers attractions at Motiongate. The entire team from DXBE, Lionsgate, consultants and the team at FORREC did an amazing job. The innovations at Area 15 are also high on my list to explore.
Universal Beijing is another one of our projects that I’m excited to experience once travel into China is easier.
Super Nintendo World is a must experience in Japan, and being a big Marvel fan, the Avengers Campus at Disneyland will be another go-to during the 2022 season.
What’s FORREC working on right now?
We’re leading the visioning of various cultural attractions from greenfield in one case to an existing attraction in another. For the latter project, we’re working with the operations team to research, assess and make recommendations for upgrading the experience with added capacity and attracting a broader demographic.
In both of these attractions and in most of our work, the need for authentic experiences that truly represent the people, natural environment and social connections of that region are a key driver. Being sensitive to not impose biases on our work allows for more inclusive designs that reflect the culture, further bringing meaning and connections that allow the purpose of the attraction to be the star.
We’ve found that receiving input from stakeholders has never been more crucial whether through open forums or cultural representatives and speciality consultants. This research has come to be critical for the creation of experiences. As an example, we’re currently working together with an indigenous consultant to fully capture a non-colonial mindset for a cultural attraction.
Despite the limitations on travel, we’re active in Asia, including China, as well as North America, and have several projects in the MENA region, including KSA.
We’re also very excited to participate in the grand opening of LEGOLAND Korea Resort. Our long-standing partnership with Merlin has led to many successful projects and we’re immensely excited to share in the celebration with the LEGOLAND team.
What are your plans?
To remain successful and grow as a company you must have a strong purpose, a visionary strategy, and propensity to set achievable goals.
I’m excited about providing creative, quality design and design management offerings to our clients through a broadening of our studio’s expertise and experience, and focusing on important, strategic partnerships.
Another great opportunity I see is aligning with the rapid changes in our industry. We’re experiencing a shift in the blurring and combining of project types, whether it be retail, attractions, or accommodation.
We’ve seen that standalone commercial centres, waterparks and theme parks which have been designed for one purpose are no longer as viable as they once were. Having a multi-sector approach with a lens on people-centric design is something we’re focused on.
How are you taking the FORREC legacy forward?
Our legacy is based on five key pillars: hiring and retaining exceptional people, creating long-lasting relationships with our partners, staying creative and innovative, offering a breadth of design and design management services, and using our experience and know-how as subject matter experts to deliver the vision.
For each of these offerings, FORREC sets goals to build upon this great foundation. That said we will remain nimble to help us grow our business to reflect the hyper environment of constant change we continually face.
Our industry is one of the most dynamic and innovative in terms of creating experiences that connect and engage people. However, we cannot continue to achieve success in our attractions without considering three key factors that impact us greatly: inclusivity, sustainability, and talent.
These three factors are critical to the long-term success of the attractions industry and individual businesses; it will take a concerted and measured effort by all to create meaningful changes in these areas.