Laura Woodburn is Director of Attractions and the Guest Experience at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She currently serves as the IAAPA Global Education Committee Chair and was honored in 2016 with the IAAPA Outstanding Service Award. Woodburn also serves on the board of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials.

Thoughts on Women in the Industry

What is the most pressing issue facing women in the workplace today, and how can the attractions industry influence positive change?

There are a lot of talented women in the attractions industry, and I work with many of them. Taking the time to mentor younger professional women in the industry is critical for not only fostering a sense of fellowship among women, but to share valuable industry knowledge. Ours is a unique industry that looks both to the past and the future simultaneously for success. Current female leaders must be purposeful in influencing and guiding the next generation of leaders. This is not unique to gender, as I believe all leaders should be helping to coach and mentor their team members, both men and women. Providing positive leadership and succession planning will ensure our industry remains strong now and years into the future.
How have you seen the industry evolve in regard to gender roles?
I am relatively new to the industry (beginning as a part-time sweeper in 1988 and hired full time in 1996). My experience has mostly been on the attractions side of the industry. There are many more women now involved in attractions, both in the maintenance, operations, and inspections of attractions. Over the years, I have witnessed an increase in mentorship and networking by more men toward the women. There is an understanding that we are working toward a shared goal of safe attractions. There is true camaraderie. Now I see strong female leaders mentoring and helping the next generation of women (and men) to become strong leaders themselves.
How have you built your network of women in the industry?
I don't think that I started out to build a network of women initially. The goal was to develop a network of professionals I could reach out to, to lean on when times warranted it, and to learn from. I found many women who wanted to make a difference in the industry. I gravitate toward people who are passionate. Find the people, and women, who are hungry to learn and wanting to make an impact. Make this your network while continuing to grow your network. Encourage others to do the same. Be the example of professionalism and growth and be mindful to cultivate your relationships. Be sure to lift the women you work with and treat everyone with grace.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to convey to women starting their attractions careers?
Find your passion, stay true to yourself, and whatever you do, do it with gusto!

Creating Careers of Distinction

How do you invest in yourself as a leader?

I am fortunate to work for a company that values continuing education and investment in the employees. I take every advantage I can to learn, whether it is reading a book on managing sideways, facilitating a class at IAAPA Attractions Expo, or presenting classes at the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO) seminars. I believe you must keep learning, then give back to others.
What is your most cherished work principle?
My most valued principle is really our company's mission: Providing value to the Milton Hershey School (R). I believe you must know what your "end in mind" is or your ultimate goal. Once you know that, every decision you make, every action you take, and how you show up each day must be in keeping with your end in mind.

What do you consider your most significant career accomplishment?

There are two answers really that speak to the two passions that drive me: learning and relationships.

The first accomplishment centers around learning and sharing with others. In 2013, I created the operations learning track and testing for NAARSO. 70 people participated that first year at the safety seminar. It became a very popular track. The second level of the operations learning track and testing was unveiled in 2015. I am appreciative for the support of my company to allow me to volunteer in this way, and for the many instructors that volunteer their time each year to provide a rich, education in the world of attraction operations.

The second is a more personal accomplishment in providing services for guests with disabilities. In October 2016, Hershey Entertainment and Resorts was honored to host the first annual IAAPA Operator's Forum. The forum was held at the Hershey Lodge and featured an immersive, educational experience at Hersheypark, focused on helping others in the amusement industry to develop programs to better assist their guests with disabilities. The day and a half forum brought in more than 60 participants and was completely sold out. It was such a pleasure to welcome those from other amusement parks, science centers, museums, zoos, family entertainment centers, and aquariums from across the United States. To share our Hershey Hospitality and the story of our founder on the opening day was an ultimate joy.

What has had the greatest impact on your career?
The greatest impact on my career is our guests. Each year we discover new ways of entertaining, communicating and engaging. Twenty years ago, I would never have guessed that our guests would want to ride a roller coaster while wearing something to make them believe they were enjoying another experience at the same time, then be able to send a message about that experience to millions of people that could "like" that message in return. Our products, attractions, level of service and employee engagement must constantly evolve (and at the highest levels) if we are going to remain strong.
What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

When I was younger, I tried to do too much. I hate saying "No" to people and over committed myself many times. This is never a good strategy as your work will ultimately never be to the level you want it to be because you are focused on too many things with not enough time to give each their proper time. The best advice I ever received was very impactful. My boss at the time told me to identify what makes you stand out from others then work hard to be the best in that area. I thought about that and decided to focus on learning (and giving back) and the relationships I had with people. I found that having a clear "end in mind" allowed everything to be more focused. This discipline also helps me to say "No" to the things that are not in keeping with my ultimate goals. 
What was the greatest piece of career advice you ever received?
 It is very similar to the advice I offered - clearly it was quite impactful! Identify what makes you stand out from others then work hard to be the best in that area.

The Future of the Industry

Why did you join and choose to stay in the attractions business?

I was hired as a sweeper my freshman year of high school, in June 1988. The end of that year, I was moved to the Rides team. The next seven years, I worked part time in Rides through all levels of the part-time supervisory ranks. I fell in love with the attractions industry, and could not imagine working anywhere else full time. I was lucky to be hired full time in May 1996 as a supervisor of Guest Services. I have had many transitions in multiple departments and have felt lucky to learn so much about our park, our company, and our industry.
What makes you most passionate about the industry?

My biggest passions are learning and the relationships I have developed over the years. Ours is an industry that is entrepreneurial and curious to discover what our guests will want for entertainment. We must remain ever vigilant to learn of the newest attractions, emerging services, and the biggest trends in the industry. At the same time, we have an industry that is very connected to each other, and to the guests we ultimately serve.
What is your vision for the industry in the next 20 years?

Twenty years from now, I envision an industry that has embraced engagement on an entirely new level. We will not only have amazing experiences for our guests, but will have amazing experiences for our employees. We will be the industry of choice for young people as we will discover new ways to provide internships, college course work, and degrees in the attractions industry. We will pioneer new networking opportunities and learning around the globe. If we want our industry to grow, we must envision new ways to recruit employees of all ages and from all walks of life. We will be leaders in employee retention, because only through meaningful relationships with our team members will we be able to deliver the world-class experiences our guests expect from us.

​​Know a professional we should talk to? E-mail Prasana William, IAAPA manager, digital content and strategy.


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