I think that while most of us love our themed rides, the general public does not, and if you were to have the same rides, without any themeing, I think the general public would still rate them highly. I think Rita is a great example of this, the worse themed coaster on Park, and the general public constantly rate it highly. Until the general public start complaining about the lack of themeing, they will continue to do as little as possible with regards to themeing a ride.
I completely disagree with the idea that people don’t value themed rides. If this was the case then Disneyland wouldn’t be popular, Eftling wouldn’t be popular, Gardaland wouldn’t be popular and restaurants like TGI Fridays and Planet Hollywood would not succeed.
Sure if you ask the general public what they want they won't respond with "a well themed ride" but if you had asked the general film-watching public what they want they wouldn't respond "a black and white silent movie set in the first half of the 20th century" and look how amazingly well "The Artist" has done! Rule number one - People don't know what they want until they are given the option.
When it comes to entertainment, people value experience more than anything else. They don’t care how technically advanced something is, it will be valued by how good an experience it was. If themeing is anything it is an experience enhancer. You should read an interesting business book called “The Experience Economy” which proves time and time again that in a competitive market, the product with the best experience will prevail. You can largely attribute the Apple company’s success to their brand experience. What Apple’s customers buy into isn’t just the physical product but the experience of a phone or a computer which has been designed to look sophisticated and contemporary. The Experience Economy also deals with theme parks and all kinds of attractions which occupy a physical space. It proves that themeing is important to a guest and the figures show that in a competitive theme park market, the parks which enhance their experience with themeing prove to be the more popular product over the park’s which do not. A theme park’s themeing is what the aesthetic design of an Iphone is to Apple.
If this was truely a competitive market here in Britain, it would be in Merlin’s interest to create extremely intricately themed rides and keep the rest of the park fresh. Unfortunately that’s the problem though... This is not a competitive market. It is a market dominated by Merlin, and because of this they don’t have to pull out all the stops and they don’t have to make amazing themeing as people will still use their parks because it’s the best they can hope for. Imagine if Apple was the only technology company in Britain? They would stop spending money on making their products as good as they are and they would cut costs. People are still going to buy from them because it’s the best they can get.
If we want improvement, Merlin HAVE to sell at least one park. This would give another company a chance to run a park with the infrastructure available for them to succeed and significantly compete with the current market. Unless we see another major theme park company create a park here in Britain then that is the only way we will get truely great parks in this country.
Edit --- Re-reading this, I feel that I might come across perhaps just a little bit too critical. I want to stress that I believe that on the whole, people working for Alton Towers and Merlin do really, really care about the theme park industry and want to create the best experiences possible. In particular, the creative teams are fantastic. However somewhere higher up in the company there are people who make the fiscal/business decisions and choose not to invest on the basis that it is unnecessary because it won't effect the profit margin for parks in Britain. It is those people that I am condemning. The creative teams make the best of a bad budget.