Rebirth of the Holy Land Experience

'Jesus' speaks for a crowd at the Holy Land Experience.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Every summer, families from all over the world, make the theme park pilgrimage to Orlando, but not everyone is headed for Disney or Universal or SeaWorld. There's another choice: a Christian theme park called Holy Land Experience. It's been around for six years, but it's struggled. Enter Trinity Broadcasting, the huge Christian TV network. It just bought the Holy Land Experience and hopes to be its savior. Here's Jeff Tyler.


Jeff Tyler: The Holy Land Experience aims to transport guests 2,000 years back in time. For $35, you can visit a re-creation of ancient Jerusalem or watch dramatizations of Biblical stories — some set to music.

Les Cheveldayoff portrays Christ, reenacting scenes from the life of Jesus.

Les Cheveldayoff: We don't have a photo-op time, when you can come around and sit around Jesus to take a picture. We're trying to keep some reverence there. Don't want it to turn into a Mickey Mouse kind of thing.

Of course, Mickey Mouse might be considered a competitor. Though park officials say Disneyland represents a different market.

Nonetheless, the new owner plans on an upgrade. Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch Junior envisions the park as . . .

Paul Crouch Jr.: A faith-based Universal Studios, so to speak, where we'll use it as a platform for production. We could shoot movies there. We could shoot musical specials. We could shoot talk programs.

But is that enough to ensure financial salvation?

Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, is an industry consultant. Pointing to the example set by the now defunct Christian theme park Heritage USA, he says religious theme parks have a spotty track record.

Dennis Speigel: Unless you are spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a concept and present the concept, it has its deficiencies.

Before Trinity came onboard, Speigel says the Holy Land Experience struggled to attract the multitudes.

Speigel: They have suffered. And they have not had the attendance, or come close to, the attendance that they anticipated.

Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch Junior disputes that assessment.

Crouch: They had the budget and the ticket sales were covering the basic costs of running the park and keeping things going, but they just never could break through and get promotion.

Promotion is something that Trinity Broadcasting is well equipped to handle. It boasts more than 12,000 television and cable affiliates worldwide.

I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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