Bob Gurr: The Future of Theme Parks

One of our team sat down with Disney Imagineering Legend Bob Gurr to find out where the theme park industry is going in the future.

Bob Gurr’s theme park career began in 1955 when he was asked to design the Autopia vehicles for Disneyland’s grand opening. From there, he designed practically everything on wheels at the Disney parks including the Monorail, Main Street Omnibus, PeopleMovers, and the Haunted Mansion’s Doom Buggies. His storied career also took him to other parks including Universal Studios and to design gigantic show effects for Queen, Michael Jackson, and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Bob has seen the growth of the themed entertainment industry from the beginning, so his perspective on its future is extremely valuable for those of us who plan to carry the torch.

Storyland: Where is the theme park industry going next?

Bob Gurr: Well, in the broader sense, I don’t see anything drastically different because we’re still filling the world with theme parks.

You see Walt was the first to do a real modern theme park, even though Tivoli Gardens and other places had existed for a very, very long time. But the idea of this generic theme park thing which would fit any size, any country, anywhere… What’s Disney got? 10, 11 of them now?*

Attraction designer and Disney Legend, Bob Gurr. Photo courtesy Dann Gillen. ©2018 Dan Gillen, all rights reserved.

And it’s almost certain that the next big country that gets filled up is going to be India because there are so many people in India. They’re going to grow in parallel to China. There’s so many theme parks in China. There’s so many companies in the Themed Entertainment Association. Vendors are so busy all over China.* And now Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they’re all starting to compete with one another.


I think, looking way ahead, when we’ve got the countries that can support it, we will sort of have done the infill of conventional theme parks. And I would love to come back in a hundred years and see what that next wave of innovation [is going to be].

It’s almost like when you have something and you infill all the stuff and now somebody says, “Ok, we’ve done that. Now what?” The “now what” usually leads to some people coming up with some brilliant stuff.

I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I see it’s way down the road. But it’s not there yet.

So there might be some kind of stuff, obviously some of its going to be virtual reality. But virtual reality, I think, is coming to a point where it’s going to be very generic in another couple of decades, in a way. And it’s almost like there’s going to be a semi-throwback to more naturalistic environments that are entertaining.

I can’t tell you very much, but I was paid recently for an entire morning with probably one of the most important, far-out theme park designers in the world, and I can’t say anything more than that. But that was the thrust I could see that they’re headed to. And this person has always been in the forefront.*

So, all I can share with you, is that, yeah, I might be the 86 year-old guy on the bus, but I did get invited to poke my nose into that next wave of the future. Because it’s out there.

To read the entire interview, visit FreddyMartin.net.

*Edited for clarity.

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