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Canada Place to get $16 million ‘4D’ tourist attraction

Entrepreneurs team with Aquilini Investment Group to launch FlyOver Canada
Forty under 40 alumni Stephen Geddes and Andrew Strang, along with the Aquilini Investment Group, are planning to launch FlyOver Canada in late spring

This spring, Vancouver will get its biggest privately funded tourist attraction since investors pumped $22 million into the now-closed Storyeum in 2004.

Soaring Attractions principals Andrew Strang and Stephen Geddes, together with Vancouver Canucks owner Aquilini Investment Group (AIG), are pumping $16 million into FlyOver Canada, which will operate in space that used to hold the IMAX theatre at Canada Place.

They plan to hire about 60 employees.

FlyOver Canada taps into a global trend of entrepreneurs opening new “4D” attractions that augment visual and audio with other sensory stimulation, including technology that thrusts theatregoers forward in their seats between three and 10 metres toward a giant circular screen.

The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) operates similar exhibits at its Disney California Adventure Park and Epcot theme park, and Overseas Chinese Town Group offers a similar attraction at its Happy Valley theme parks in China.

Participants, who are strapped to their seats, watch a scenic movie that fills their direct and peripheral vision. They are sprayed with mist when the movie shows a waterfall, smell trees when the movie shows a forest and feel the breeze when the movie shows a gusty landscape.

The $16 million investment pays for construction of a new 60-seat theatre that includes a 20-metre diameter screen. It also covers production costs for the exhibits.

“We think it’s a great investment,” AIG principal Francesco Aquilini told Business in Vancouver. “About eight million tourists come to Vancouver every year, and this is just one more thing for them to do.”

FlyOver Canada visitors will experience three separate exhibits:

•a 360-degree audiovisual presentation set to original music;

•a safety video to prepare visitors for the big show; and

•the “flight,” in which attendees watch the 30-minute FlyOver Canada movie as their feet dangle in the air.

Once the exhibit is finished, guests exit to a renovated 1,500-square-foot space outside Canada Place where, under a new canopy, they can buy food that is representative of different parts of Canada and souvenirs such as FlyOver Canada T-shirts.

“The location is ideal,” said Strang, CEO of Soaring Attractions.

“Canada Place has a Canadian Trail walk, and it has become the hub for collecting tourists to take them different places in the city.”

Tourism Vancouver vice-president Walt Judas said the exhibit will encourage visitors to extend visits to Vancouver while boosting the city’s desirability as a destination.

“This is the most significant private investment in a new attraction in quite a while.”