IAE18 Recap - Education - January 2019


Inspiring Women in the Industry Share Career Journeys and Insights

by Juanita Chavarro Arias and Prasana William

Throughout 2018, Funworld highlighted the accomplishments of women in the attractions industry. The year came full circle as leaders featured in the “Women in the Industry” column gathered to share insights on a panel at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018. 

Moderator Sharon Parker, of Six Flags Over Texas, led the discussion, which touched heavily on work-life balance. The panel agreed that a 50-50 split is not reality and advised finding the right balance for the individual. 

“When you step away from your job, you have to find something that you love to give you that burst of energy. There’s always a fire to put out—make sure you find that little bit of time that’s about you,” said Gina Claassen of Herschend Family Entertainment. “Rely on your team—empower,” said Bonnie Sherman Weber of Six Flags Entertainment Corp. “If you empower and really practice that, really live it, you help develop strong teams. It’s OK, even in our professional life, to ask for help.”

The panel discussed overcoming the guilt women can feel when choosing personal life over work, or vice versa. “You spend more time working than any other singular task, so you have to make sure you have the passion for what you’re doing,” said Denise Beckson of Morey’s Piers. “It comes down to priorities. You have to balance them.”

Through their journeys, the women of the panel also found great opportunity in the industry and urged young leaders to have confidence in their own skills. “Embrace opportunities. One of the failings women have is that we have to be 100 percent certain before we take that job. Men never feel that way. Even if you’re not 100 percent there, know that nobody is,” said Suzanne Gendron of Ocean Park Hong Kong. 

“It’s really interesting how resilient we can be,” said Sherman Weber. “We are stronger than we think we are. You can pick yourself up and move on. When life throws you challenges, big or small, you’re completely in control of how you choose to overcome or move forward.”


FROM LEFT: Rachel Quinn, Nancy Seruto, Tracey Powell, Melissa Valiquette, Debbie Petersen, Bettina Buckley, Kathy Mangum

The Value of Mentorship, Perseverance, and Happiness

“Inspiring Women of Disney Parks” continued the momentum of “Women in the Industry” by bringing together six leaders from Disney Parks Live Entertainment, Walt Disney Imagineering, and Walt Disney World Resort to discuss their career journeys and offer advice. Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador Marilyn West introduced moderator Kathy Mangum, recently retired senior vice president, Walt Disney World Portfolio Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering, who invited the speakers to share how they landed their current roles.

Before Bettina Buckley became vice president of Disney Parks Live Entertainment at Walt Disney World Resort, her first Disney job was with the Main Street Electrical Parade, and she later had the opportunity to open four theme parks and launch Disney Theatrical Productions.

“It’s a perfect testament of the career path that a company like Disney provides,” Buckley said.

Debbie Petersen, vice president of creative design and development with Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), started her 40-year Disney career working at a popcorn and ice cream wagon, moved to an Imagineering graphic designer and fabricator position, and later got into art direction.

“One of our focuses as leaders is to help people develop mentorships,” Petersen said. “At WDI, we put teams together and blend them in a way so we’re combining Imagineers that have a lot of experience with those that don’t. We create that mix so they can learn and grow from each other. … It’s vital to our culture that we all grow together.”

Tracey Powell, vice president of revenue management at Walt Disney World Resort, took a bit of a different path to The Walt Disney Company.

“I was an executive at Carnival [Cruise Line] but really wanted to be at Disney. I actually took a step backward and decided to come into the organization as a senior manager,” Powell said. “What I learned very quickly is that it really is all about your opportunities and realizing that ultimately where you want to go is not necessarily the path that you envision for yourself.”

Similarly, Nancy Seruto, vice president, Shanghai Disney Resort executive producer with Walt Disney Imagineering, shared her No. 1 key lesson with the audience: “Your career and your life aren’t always a straight line.” 

“Don’t be discouraged,” Seruto said. “If there’s something you love, then keep at it. I think that’s how we all have gotten where we’ve gotten.”

Melissa Valiquette said she got to her current role as vice president of Epcot by always telling her leaders that she would work hard to have all the necessary qualifications to one day lead a park.

“You have to be open-minded. If you really want the end goal, you have to be willing to do what it takes to get there,” Valiquette said. “Sometimes that means you’re going to work crazy hours, or seven days a week, or a third shift, and sometimes you just have to do that if you want to get there.”

Rachel Quinn, general manager of Magic Kingdom Entertainment at Walt Disney World Resort, acknowledged increasingly fast-paced work environments but said it’s important to take time to thank employees, letting them know they’re valued.

“I don’t want to ever lose sight of the importance of happiness, especially in the workplace,” Quinn said. “I try to get out and be as involved as I can with all levels within my organization.”




From left: Tony Tallarico, Joseph Camarota, Nick DiMatteo, Mike Abecassis, Michael Nowak

FEC Sessions Spotlight Redemption Strategies, Arcades, Group Sales, and More

by Mike Bederka

Redemption Tips and Tricks

From global market trends to best practices for pricing the counter and displaying merchandise, the opening session of the family entertainment center (FEC) track at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018 provided attendees with winning strategies to improve and freshen up a longtime facility staple. 

“If you’re not controlling redemption costs, it’s like throwing your money in the fire,” said Tony Tallarico, new business development for FEC and amusement sales at QubicaAMF, during a session titled “Redemption Rally.” “If game payouts are too low and/or prizes are set too high, revenues will be reduced. If game payouts are too high and/or prize prices are set too low, profit will be reduced,” Tallarico said. In many FEC models, games make up to 40 percent of total revenue. Video games (non-ticket, non-prize), self-dispensing games (direct prize pay, like crane games), and ticket redemption games (paper, game card) can create significant revenue, he said.

Speaking from an international perspective, Michael Nowak told attendees how the rise of entertainment and leisure activities and the downturn of retail have led to new entrants into the FEC marketplace, such as Cirque du Soleil. In addition, more facilities—especially in the Middle East—have added escapism elements, like parades and wandering costumed characters, along with redemption games. For example, a venue may feature a multimillion-dollar virtual reality attraction and then add “bread-and-butter” redemption equipment to the lobby, said Nowak, international development and marketing for Rhode Island Novelty. “It’s the juxtaposition of two different worlds.”

Mike Abecassis, CEO of GameTime, explained how FECs should look to retail giants for inspiration with their redemption displays. Amazon captures additional dollars by expertly categorizing products and anticipating what else a customer wants, such as recommending a phone charger when someone buys a protective case.

“There’s a reason to not have candy spread out across six counters,” he said, noting redemption often will be the last guest interaction with an FEC before heading home. “Get it right or all other victories you have had will be forgotten.”


FROM LEFT: Kyle Berger, Patrick Michael, Nick DiMatteo, Steve Paris, Jim Bennington

How to Grab the High Score in the FEC’s Arcade

Sometimes, less is more when it comes to the FEC’s game room—in a couple ways.

“Just because you can fit 40 games doesn’t mean you need 40 games,” said Kyle Berger, amusement sales for Betson Enterprises, during “FEC Arcades: Fast Forward to Fun.”

A panel of industry experts shared tips on choosing the best games and how not to max out the room with underperforming games.

To drive business, Steve Paris, chief operating officer of Elaut USA, recommended simplicity in the selection. “The goals are clear,” he said. “Stop a light, drop a ball, shoot a coin, throw a ball, spin a wheel, and swing a mallet. If a game is too complex, people move away from it,” Paris said.

Paris also believes bells and whistles like light, color, graphics, and sound can grab the guest’s attention, set the mood, and create a true experience. In addition, games that stir up the competitive spirit among families, friends, and coworkers, as well as those that generate a positive buzz, can encourage repeat business.

“The more frequently people are winning, the more they stay engaged and play,” he said.

Jim Bennington, national games manager for Lucky Strike Entertainment, shared his checklist for evaluating and implementing games:

  • Does it literally fit in the room, or is it too large to go through the door (or window)?
  • What infrastructure concerns impact placement?
  • Does the game complement the space?
  • Does the game meet municipality requirements?
  • Will the game resonate without guests?
  • Does the placement make sense?

“Are you putting a basketball game right where servers are walking by with drinks?” he asked.

Work the Phones to Boost Group Sales

Janice Jokkel, training specialist for TrainerTainment, described a simple formula for facilities looking to improve their group sales. The sales team should shoot for three calls an hour over eight hours daily, which equals 24 calls a day. Multiply that number by five days a week, and venues can plan for 120 calls weekly.

Not all calls will go anywhere, acknowledged Jokkel during “FEC: Groups Grow Your Business Exponentially.” However, facilities want to aim for roughly 50 true connections that could translate into five to 25 events booked.

The industry veteran shared these other group sales tips during the session:

  • With the 120 weekly calls, reach out to companies that held events at the FEC previously as a gentle reminder. “I don’t care how much money you spend on marketing, because people will forget about you,” -Jokkel said.
  • FECs also should put on the weekly call checklist vendors and referrals from satisfied customers.
  • If someone seems on the fence about booking, wow the prospect with a facility tour. “Buy them lunch,” she said. “Don’t be cheap.”
  • Try to connect with the potential client within the first eight to 10 seconds. “If you don’t, then you probably lost them,” Jokkel said. “The worst thing you can say is, ‘Did you look online for the information?’ They called you for a reason.”
  • To increase the chance of repeat business, always thank the customer in person at the function, call 72 hours after for feedback, and send a handwritten thank-you card one week after the event. 
  • Use LinkedIn as a tool to build company and personal profiles, as well as join local business groups on the website.
  • Finally, a boost in sales won’t happen overnight, she cautioned. “A salesperson needs time to make relationships.”


Carolyn McLean

Handling Crisis Management in the Social Media Age

FECs should understand the distinction between an incident and a crisis, said Carolyn McLean, marketing and public relations strategist for Urban Air Adventure Parks. An incident lasts only a day or two, can be managed on site, and disrupts business for just 24 to 48 hours.

“However, if an incident isn’t handled properly, it can turn into a crisis,” she said at “FEC: Crisis Management in the Social Media Age.”

A crisis, on the other hand, can continue for weeks or even months, threatening the business in the process. These situations should be managed at the corporate or executive management level.

Knowing social media could fan the flames in many situations, McLean explained some best practices for facilities:

  • With a smartphone, everyone can be a video- or photojournalist. “If we’re doing it wrong, it’s going to be captured,” she emphasized. “We have to be vigilant about what we say.”
  • Rapid response becomes critical. “We used to have two hours for a holding statement,” McLean noted. “Now, it’s about 20 minutes. We even have to say something if we don’t know anything yet. If we don’t tell our story, our employees might tell it with their own social media channels—and most of the time it’s speculative.” 
  • Concurrently, keep employees in the loop and mirror any statements sent to the media. Also, stress to staffers they should not speak to the press directly.
  • If the media arrives at the FEC unexpectedly, employees should politely ask, “What’s your name, who are you with, and who do you want to see?”; contact a member of the senior management team; and have the media wait away from the crisis area until a qualified person can assist them.
  • Never pick a fight with guests on social media. “Take it offline,” she said. “Talk about it on the phone so it can’t be cut and pasted.”


 Matt Heller

Know, Feel, and Do: How to Create a Supervisor Training Program

In an upbeat, interactive session, Matt Heller, founder of Performance Optimist Consulting, had attendees continually shouting “Know, Feel, and Do”—his three guiding principles in “Supervisor Development 3.0—Creating a Seasonal Supervisor Training Program.”

Know: This represents the key information candidates should know about the hiring and training process: the facility’s policies and procedures, qualifications and skills needed, job responsibilities, the number of positions available, the work culture, who will be training them, and how they will be supported along the way.

Feel: How should the person feel during hiring and onboarding. Show it’s a fair process and everyone will be respected. When officially in the position, the employees should be challenged but not overwhelmed and empowered to know they can make a difference. “We often under-estimate the feeling part of the training process,” Heller said.

Do: What actions does the FEC want the new leaders to take. For example, follow directions, be organized and responsible, show eagerness to work for the facility, ask questions, take ownership, work well with their new peer group, and think ahead.

“You have the ingredients to put this together,” said Heller of the hiring and training template. “If you focus on know, feel, and do, you will be absolutely successful.”


Food and Beverage Education Sessions Offer a Feast of Knowledge

by Megan Padilla


 Albert Cabuco

Food Trends Balance Both the Decadent and Healthy

Burgers on buns replaced with deep-fried mac and cheese, Mexican street corn rolled in spicy mayo and crushed hot Cheetos, and bacon-wrapped pork belly are some of the “more is better,” over-the-top food trends arriving at attractions and family entertainment centers (FECs). “If you aren’t selling pork belly, you’re losing money,” said Albert Cabuco, vice president of food and beverage for Palace Entertainment, which operates 21 attractions across the United States. 

So how do you strike a balance between decadent and healthy? Or should you even try? 

Shannon Seip—co-founder of Bean Sprouts kid-centric, parent-approved cafes that operate in museums, zoos, science centers, and other family attractions—is constantly working toward answering the question. “Guests say they want healthier food, so you put the grilled chicken salad on the menu … and then no one buys it,” Seip said. OK, so what gives? 

“Food and Beverage: What’s New – Food Trends” was a hot topic at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018.

Cabuco said branded concepts such as Johnny Rockets, Pink’s Hot Dogs, and Auntie Anne’s are very popular. “Anywhere we put a Dunkin’ Donuts, we sell like crazy. In some cases, a branded item doubles or triples sales in a certain park,” Cabuco said. Yet, he cautions that just because “branding units are the name of the game,” it’s important to match the demographics of the area. 


Shannon Seip

But where does healthy fit in, and what does “healthy” even mean? “Fresh” is the most cited response from surveyed guests, followed by “allergy friendly,” said Seip. Plus, she added, one-third of people are choosing plant-based alternatives to meat, poultry, and dairy. They still want to eat pizza and burgers, she said, adding both are two menu items forming the foundation of an attraction’s food and beverage revenue. “We still serve pizza, but with products that fit our nutritional guidelines,” said Seip. “We offer one-stop dining with something for everyone on the menu.”

Cabuco agrees with the focus of offering healthy alternatives, but not in a dedicated restaurant or kiosk, and not on its own section of the menu, but mixed in with all menu items. “Put the Impossible Burger on the burger menu,” he suggested. The meat alternative hamburger continues to receive rave reviews for its mimicry of a burger’s taste and texture at craft burger joints and national chains across the United States, like TGI Friday’s.

The takeaway? Guests are responding best to having plenty of choices to flavor their experience at an attraction.


Michael Holtzman

Incremental Strategies to Increase Food and Beverage Revenue

A youth baseball complex made just a couple of key changes from its Saturday concession menu to the one presented on Sunday. Saturday’s till totaled $3,000; Sunday’s hit $7,000. “Do you know what they are going to do in revenue when we’re done with them?” said Michael Holtzman, president of Profitable Food Facilities Worldwide, “They are going to hit a million dollars next year.”

In the case of that baseball field, the key changes Holtzman implemented—with just an hourlong audit the day before—included fresh instead of frozen burgers, cooking them to order instead of pre-cooking and keeping in a warmer, sending customers to the outdoor grill to pick up their order, and creating a combo meal prominently displayed at the center of menu.

With just an hour of auditing the baseball complex’s menu, Holtzman immediately zeroed in on the experience of that burger: The menu didn’t need a new item, he said, it needed to make its top-seller delicious—in this case, fresh meat cooked to order on an existing outdoor charcoal grill. “You can’t just do what you’re doing,” he told the attendees. “You have to create an experience.”

Holtzman and co-presenter R. Lee Pitts, chief operating officer of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, shared their real-world, replicable strategies to increase attractions’ revenue at the education session “51 Ways to Increase Food and Beverage Spending.” 

For an aquatic park, Holtzman’s team analyzed sales reports and identified the top 10 selling items that were responsible for 73 percent of the total revenue. “Focus on making those the best and forget the rest.” The team found a fresh solution for each item. For instance, replacing a pre-packaged ice cream product with a soft-serve machine. “Yes, that machine costs $10,000,” he acknowledged, “but your food costs drop from 50 percent to 18 percent. You’ll make it back in a year, maybe even in a few months. Don’t be afraid to cook your own food!”

Pitts shifted gears to look at another arena for increasing both the bottom line (increased revenue) and the top line (more guests). “Special events make up about 23 percent of our operations,” he said, referencing birthday parties and corporate events.

“Think about how you can identify down times and fill in with incremental sales to help you grow your brand,” said Pitts. “We get a ton of new guests at Andretti every day, guests who would not normally come in to an FEC, but they love it and come back with their families.” 


Vern Gassen (Left) and Terry Riddle.

Tips to Building an Airtight Food Safety Program

No matter how committed you are to food and workplace safety, if you aren’t constantly learning, improving, training, and engaging your employees, you’ve lost the game. That was the take-away message at “The Future of Food Safety” presented by two industry giants: Terry Riddle, vice president of food and beverage at Silver Dollar City, and Vern Gassen, director of food and beverage at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari. 

“It only takes a small mistake to make someone sick,” said Riddle. “You don’t want your reputation ruined because your organization is associated with a food-borne illness.” Plus, “folks with a great safety background are held in high esteem by upper management.”

Avoiding complacency is key to staying on track. Understand the food code and remember that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updates it every four years, based on the latest findings. Ask third parties, such as your vendors who specialize in all aspects on safety. Have written policies and procedures and training for unexpected issues. “What happens when you have a food recall on lettuce and you are serving it? Or you get two calls from guests saying they got sick from eating a burger? You have to have a procedure for this to respond immediately,” said Riddle.

Train your staff with purpose. Create the training manual that fits your property. If your manual is more than 25 pages, or even 50, he said, your employees don’t know what’s in it, so break it down so they can connect with the most important parts.

“The minute you stop talking, they start forgetting,” added Gassen, suggesting many tools to get the job done. Hang posters (available everywhere, even from other states). Include a safety message at every pre-shift meeting—even a casual message that underscores safety—or in newsletters if you have an electronic connection to your team.

“Once you have your program done, start over and do it again. You have to stay current on best practices. The rules are constantly changing,” said Gassen. Update your manual to keep it fresh and increase engagement, such as adding funny pictures, “to deliver it in a different way.”

Gassen underscored the necessity of staff buy-in. “Put them in charge, create a safety committee made up of your hourly staff, headed by a manager. When you tap them to have responsibility, they feel respected, and they will go out and tell staff in the way staff wants to be told.”



How Zoos and Aquariums Can Bolster Public Opinion

by Scott Fais

In 2017, IAAPA commissioned a report to help members with animals in professional care combat declining favorability ratings among certain segments of the public. A proactive tool kit—now available to IAAPA members—prompted the session “Tales from the Field: How Zoos and Aquariums Can Bolster Public Opinion,” where four leading experts shared success stories and highlighted the important role zoos and aquariums play in ensuring thriving, healthy wildlife.

“We’ve all learned in recent years that perceptions do become realities in the absence of the information we need to provide,” said Ted Molter, chief marketing officer of San Diego Zoo Global.

Molter offered this advice:

  • Pursue accreditation. While IAAPA does not provide accreditation to the zoo and aquarium community, the organization recommends members connect with agencies that do.
  • Encourage every team member to become educated so they can speak with visitors.
  • Monitor legislative proposals and stand ready to advocate when needed.
  • Partner with a wildlife fund.

“First, focus on the care of animals in your facility. Then, focus on caring for animals in the wild,” Molter said.

Nadine Lamberski, chief animal health officer with San Diego Zoo Global, encouraged creating a diet for animals that changes throughout the year.

“The vast majority of species’ adaptations are specifically related to how the animal pursues, acquires, and consumes food,” Lamberski said. In addition, the zoo provides animals the opportunity to self-maintain. When capuchin monkeys are fed nuts, it’s up to them to problem solve how to crack open a shell to find the nut inside. Elephants are often given whole tree branches, where they must extract leaves with their trunks. The efforts mirror the actions the animals would take in the wild. 

“This allows for animals to use their full range of behaviors that are associated with both cognitive and physical health,” Lamberski said.

Mike Chamberlain, innovation director at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said he believes in engaging all employees to help tell a positive story.

“Social media never sleeps,” he said. “Use emotion to share why people love your animals.”

Thane Maynard, zoo director at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, said when a crisis transpires, have a plan and stick to it.

“Don’t take the bait,” he said about initial media calls. Maynard offered several suggestions when planning for a crisis.

  • Have an immediate response.
  • Hold an honest press conference and be transparent with the press.
  • Hold a second internal press conference so employees have correct information direct from the source.
  • Befriend elected officials and teach them your mission by letting them experience it in person.
  • In times of trouble, elicit use of outside advocates. Celebrities like Jeff Corwin and Jack Hanna can bring recognition and credibility.
  • Show transparency and empathy during and after a crisis.
  • Double down on supporting conservation efforts in the wild.

“Fifty years from now, people will be a lot smarter as to why protecting animals makes sense,” Maynard concluded.


“New Kids on the Block: Lessons Learned from ‘Overnight Success’” featured (from left) Jesper Vilstrup, Frederic Bertley, and Bryan Sieling.

Museum Leaders Share Lessons Learned

by Keith Miller and Michael Switow

With a spotlight on museums, two education sessions discussed developing special exhibits to attract guests and using existing assets to generate revenue.

‘New Kids on the Block’ Provide Guidance on Their Success

Creating a new museum or large-scale attraction from the ground up presents a variety of challenges, and representatives from three successful facilities that seem to have gotten it right from the beginning shared just how they did it in “New Kids on the Block: Lessons Learned from ‘Overnight Success.’”

Jesper Vilstrup, general manager at Lego House in Billund, Denmark, talked about how this 12,000-square-meter attraction, which he termed a “brand beacon” of the family-owned Lego company, hit the ground running when it opened in September 2017. It features displays made from millions of Lego bricks, experience zones, a restaurant, and a retail store.

He said everything in Lego House was built with the Lego philosophy of “Learning Through Play” and celebrates creative, cognitive, emotional, social, and physical competence. For building a new attraction, he suggested four key points: develop from a strong foundation; test, test, test; think revitalization from the beginning; and incorporate technology if it makes sense.

Vilstrup observed, “Adding technology to the Lego brick is an enhancement, but Lego House needs to work even if all the technology breaks down.”

Bryan Sieling is associate director, office of project management and planning assistant director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and he noted that while most museums start with an existing collection, his did not. It had no artifacts, employees, property, or money when President George W. Bush launched its creation by signing a congressional act in 2003.

Sieling said visitors start their tour of the museum below grade, where the “heavy” content involving the history of slavery is presented. Guests then work their way up into the sunlight of the building’s “corona” as they enter the modern era of African American culture and freedom. The building’s exterior is often referred to as the corona because of its stacked-panel design.

“If I’m ever having a bad day, I just log into TripAdvisor and read the reviews of our museum, and then I feel great!” he said.

Speaking about the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio, was its CEO Frederic Bertley. He spoke about how technology is an integral part of our everyday lives and gave numerous examples. Bertley said this is why science museums exist and revealed that by 2020, 50 percent of the jobs in the United States will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

Mission and Money: Make the Most of Your Assets

A distinguished panel of practitioners, each with more than 20 years’ experience, shared examples of how a museum can generate more revenue by making the most of its existing assets in a popular education session, “Making Money and Meeting Mission: Leveraging Museum Assets in Today’s Economy.” Here are four examples:

1. Special Events and Private Access

On a typical day at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 8,000 visitors, cameras in hand, view Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” Finding a quiet moment to appreciate or contemplate the art is challenging, so MoMA created a series of boutique events—like Member Early Hours, Quiet Morning, and Valentine Tours—that offer visitors special access outside of normal operating hours. “It’s amazing to be in the middle of midtown Manhattan and hear a pin drop, right here at MOMA,” said Jean Mary Bongiorno, the museum’s assistant director of groups and tours. Tickets start at $100 and often attract repeat visitors.

2. Intellectual Property (IP)

Team up with an iconic brand to create or license an exhibit. Examples include “Dora and Diego – Let’s Explore,” “The Science Behind Pixar,” and the satirical “Duckburg” collection, scattered throughout the Finnish National Gallery. “IP acts as a hook to get children and parents to come in,” explained AECOM Vice President Brian Sands. Despite significant costs, many museums do not ticket these exhibitions, but use them instead to increase attendance.

3. “Open the Vaults”

With its latest exhibit “Mummies,” Chicago’s Field Museum is attempting to redefine the relationship that locals have with the museum. Forget the “old and dusty” cliché that some people associate with natural history museums. Instead, the Field Museum shows how modern technology, like CT scanners, casts new light on some of its oldest assets. “We’re monetizing the collection,” explained Jaap Hoogstraten, director of exhibitions at the Field Museum. The exhibit does not need to be a “blockbuster” as long as it highlights current research and fits into the museum’s program.

4. Holiday Events

Eleven months of the year, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry does not dominate the city’s attendance charts. But that changes every December, thanks to the museum’s Christmas celebrations, which net more than half a million dollars annually. “Christmas Around the World” showcases different themes and traditions each year, but consistently attracts a large audience. Some come for free cultural performances but then stay to eat or shop, while others attend corporate parties.




The “Spectacle and Shared Experiences” session presented ideas for creating captivating and inspiring experiences at attractions.

Trends in Enhancing Spectacles and Preparing for Market Disruptions

by Scott Fais and Keith Miller

While it’s hard to predict the future, attractions can count on the constant evolution of technology and changes in guest behavior and preferences. Two education sessions tackled these factors to guide attendees on ways to prepare and thrive in the face of change and disruptors.

Putting Life into Spectacles and Shared Experiences

Creating bold, inspiring, and eye-catching experiences that fully engage visitors became the focus of the “Spectacle and Shared Experiences” education session, which featured leaders with a reputation of helping their attractions captivate and inspire.

Bob Montgomery is CEO of Longleat House and Safari Park in Wiltshire, England, a 600-year-old estate that has been in the same family for its entire history. The safari park opened 53 years ago. With that longevity, Longleat felt the need to develop something new and spectacular. Montgomery wanted new attractions to have two key features: duration and repeatability.

An answer came in the form of a massive hot-air balloon festival, one of the largest in the world. Called “Sky Safari,” the event involves 150 balloons and includes special experiences like an evening launch of the balloons over the estate followed by the amazing “Night Glow,” when they light their burners timed to music.

Rob Cassetti is senior director, creative strategy, at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. The museum’s popular glass-making demonstrations had humble beginnings as just an unheralded demonstration at the end of a tour when the Corning Glass Works opened in 1951.

But they were always popular, so in the mid-1990s, the “Hot Glass Show” opened and featured live demonstrations of glass making from artisans who showed their passion to the audiences. The popularity of these shows eventually spawned “Hot Glass at Sea,” glass-making shows on three ships sailing for Celebrity Cruises.

Kate Bickert, senior director, engagement and new initiatives for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in San Francisco, discussed how the conservancy took on the challenge of making visitor experiences at Alcatraz National Park about more than just the famous prison. A large exhibition by contemporary artist Ai Weiwei did the trick. Included in the exhibits was a floor display of images of 150 prisoners made from Lego bricks.

Stephane Raymond is creative director of the Moment Factory in Montreal, which creates multimedia entertainment experiences for large audiences. Raymond stressed, “If you have an obstacle to work around like a column or pipe, don’t try to hide it because people are going to see it. Instead, figure out how to use it in your project.”


The “Spectacle and Shared Experiences” session presented ideas for creating captivating and inspiring experiences at attractions.

How Shifting Tastes Will Change the Attractions Industry

From using clean nuclear fusion to create energy to buildings built on ice that can seemingly walk away if their frozen foundation were to crack, Margreet Papamichael challenged Expo attendees to think—and act—differently.

“Technology is here, but it’s how fast humans will adapt to that the technology that is the question,” said Papamichael.

In “Game Changer: Preparing for Emerging Market Disruptions to Gain a Competitive Edge,” Papamichael didn’t apologize for delivering sobering news: attractions will need to evolve to weather changing tastes and millennial behavior. A charismatic economist by trade with CLEAR (Consulting for Leisure Entertainment, Attractions & Resorts) Associates, Papamichael woke up the audience with an honest warning: the disruptors are coming.

“A disruptor is a person or thing that prevents something, especially a system, process, or event from continuing as usual or as expected,” she said.
In the global attractions industry, that could be everything from how often a guest visits and how they arrive at your door, to the growing need for security inside a facility and how to limit construction costs.

“It used to be ‘location, location, location’—where you were located was the most important thing. Now it’s ‘location, location, protection’—security is becoming a bigger deal,” Papamichael said.

She encouraged attractions to take a look at their security, while remaining cognizant of how much of a security system is visible to the guest.
“There are a whole load of security measures you can put in place that are invisible to your guest that will help you manage that risk … because when it gets to a point that they see too many security measures, they get scared,” she suggested.

While the future could be daunting, Papamichael also presented opportunities that await business owners in the years ahead.

“The market you’ll be able to attract is growing, and that is awesome!”

The proposed Skreemr passenger aircraft would travel at Mach 10, making a trip from New York City to London possible in only 30 minutes. Already Virgin Atlantic has invested in Boom, that when traveling at Mach 2.2, could make a trip from Los Angeles to Sydney possible in less than three and half hours.

“Our world is getting smaller, and we’ll be able to welcome people from much further away,” said Papamichael.

The pressurized tube known as Hyperloop could reach 700 mph. Now, a potential guest living in Cleveland, Ohio, could be at Six Flags Great America outside Chicago within 30 minutes for the price of a bus ticket.

In addition, Papamichael said she believes the attractions industry is ripe for catering to guests “suffering” from midorexia—those middle age and older consumers who act younger than their age. She said they want to reconnect and celebrate their youth.

To insulate the attractions industry, Papamichael suggested using the five P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Having a vision is vital, along with being ready to mix your markets.



“Consumers Today – Trends in Millennial and Gen Z Media Use” offered insights to help marketers reach young people.

Revamp Marketing Strategies to Target and Engage the Right Audiences

by Juanita Chavarro Arias and Megan Padilla

With a variety of ­generations making up attractions’ demographics, it can be difficult to know how to get through to each group, ranging from parents and grandparents to children, teenagers, and young adults. Additionally, today’s media landscape has shaken up traditional marketing tactics, so marketing professionals are still figuring out how to adjust their strategies to best approach each consumer segment. Research, marketing, and advertising experts were ready to discuss prevalent media platforms and offer advice on effective messaging at two education sessions.


Tiffany Bailey

How Millennials and Gen Z Approach Brands and Media

What do those belonging to the “smartphone generation” want, how do they approach brands, and how can companies get through to them? These are the burning questions businesses want to know about millennials and the young, trendy Gen Z group. Tiffany Bailey, vice president of client service and owner/partner with Directions Research, and Neal Hubert, senior research consultant with Directions Research, delved into these questions to help attendees better understand these two recent generations in the session “Consumers Today – Trends in Millennial and Gen Z Media Use.” Bailey began by describing the differing ages, influences, core values, and percent of population of four generations: Baby Boomer (1946-1964), Gen X (1965-1980), Millennial (1981-1996), and Gen Z (1997-present). Millennials tend to be self-confident, tech-dependent, and optimistic, while Gen Z core values are ethical, trustworthy, and open-minded.

Bailey cautioned attractions should learn not to put labels on the groups because it could turn off millennials and Gen Z, as they value brands that are empathic, meaning companies understand them. It’s also going to be harder to group millennials or Gen Z into their own categories as they will be the most racially and ethnically diverse generations in United States history. She also said millennials will soon eclipse baby boomers as the largest living generation, so they will continue to be an important demographic for attractions to consider.

“Traditional marketing copy is not going to resonate with them; it’s not going to break through,” Bailey said, explaining that millennials and Gen Z value more individualized consumption and experiences. Hubert said they are more likely to seek something out that’s relevant to them.

“We consistently see less broad awareness with brands among millennials and Gen Z across multiple industries and categories,” he said. “They’re seeking things out, but they’re only seeking out the brands that relate and are relevant to them. Hence, they’re aware of less brands because those brands are not relevant to them.” In terms of social media, millennials and Gen Z are the biggest user groups. Gen Z is the largest consumer of YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat, whereas millennials are the top users of Facebook and Twitter. Bailey said millennials and Gen Zers are often thought to be only on their phones not interacting with people, but that’s not the case.

“They’re actually more interactive and more social than a lot of generations before them. They’re just using media or their smartphones to facilitate that,” she said. “They don’t value things; they value experiences, and this industry is well-poised for that.”


Jordan Carter

Planning Your Marketing Campaign? Video is King!

The creative minds behind Silverwood Theme Park’s robust commercials led attendees step by step through the creative, marketing, planning, and production process of a campaign at the session “Creativity: One Size Does Not Fit All.”

There’s a reason that Jordan Carter, director of marketing for Silverwood, and Mark White, a freelance writer and creative director who has worked on Silverwood’s ads for 25 years, packed their session with video and commercial examples. “Video is king in the advertising world now,” said Carter, providing the stats to prove it.

By 2020, online videos will make up more than 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic with YouTube being the second most trafficked site after Google. And get this: In the past 30 days, more online video content has been uploaded to the web than the past 30 years of TV content. Video vastly improves viewers’ retention of the message. Plus, the value of social media: social video generates 1,200 more shares than text and image content strategies. 

If you’re worried about the skills to produce video, don’t. “I’ve heard it said that like pizza, even bad video is pretty good,” said Carter. “It’s not so much about the quality but the content.”

Carter set out three phases of the marketing process: awareness, consideration, and purchasing. Awareness is getting the campaign out to the masses; consideration is coming to the website and planning a trip or visit; and finally, they purchase tickets.

Know your budget. How much are you willing to spend to get a creative idea, and how much to produce it? You can produce in-house or outsource, or a combination of both. Stand-alone segments are cheaper but can become repetitive. A campaign with three to five segments can tell a story and show different parts of the park and different demographics. It costs significantly more but has a longer shelf life.

Who are you trying to reach? Age indicates the medium or channel, while gender changes the imagery and feel. White added that moms are the decision-makers, and there’s nothing they love more than seeing dad having fun with the kids. Where does this person live? What product (type of ticket) are you selling to them? “Don’t forget to include diversity,” said Carter, so everyone can see themselves at your attraction.

Determine your platform: television, YouTube, social media, or radio? Silverwood has significantly reduced its print buys. No matter what: “Keep messaging short!” said Carter.



The panel discussion at “The Future of the Water Park Industry” identified several growth trends for the audience to consider.

Theming, Innovation, and Preparation Drive Water Park Growth

by Michael Switow

The water park industry has experienced incredible growth over the past decade—welcoming more than 32 million visitors last year, up 65 percent from 2007—but can this expansion continue apace?

“Yes, without a doubt” say industry practitioners.

AECOM predicts that more than 70 million people will visit wet parks in 2027. Existing water parks are expanding through new builds and acquisitions; theme parks are adding new gates; and municipal water parks are becoming more sophisticated. “One thing we’re seeing is the ability for markets that had only one water park to support two or even three parks,” noted AECOM Vice President Brian Sands.

In a panel discussion moderated by WhiteWater’s Franceen Gonzales about “The Future of the Water Park Industry,” practitioners identified several key trends characterizing this growth. 

1. Prioritize Theming

“Water parks have been low-tech for many years,” explained Jim Dunn of the Aquatic Development Group. “Now, we see resorts that are upping the ante on immersion. Theming has become our low-tech version of virtual reality.” At Atlantis Sanya in Hainan Island, China, for example, there are no visible ladders or stairs, as the entire park stays true to theme.

2. Design for the Selfie Era

Visitors want to take photos home. Is your attraction photogenic? “One park paid extra to shift a ride just to set it up for the right selfie,” Gonzales related. “Concrete is not a landscape element,” added Dunn.

3. Beat the Line

“As you bring new and innovative product offerings to market, you need to ensure that you’ve got capacity that you can service the guest with,” advised Jay Thomas, chief commercial officer of Urban Air Adventure Park. After a wave of adding large, thrilling fiberglass rides, parks are now focusing on making it easy and fun for visitors to simply “be in the water” by building more wave pools and rivers that can be accessed without a queue. Don’t forget the creature comforts, though: good deck chairs and shade.

4. Use Technology to Communicate Safety

Water parks are safer than ever, said Gonzales, but the public perception is changing. To combat this trend, Neva Heaston, Royal Caribbean International private destinations manager, advised parks to lead the conversation, such as highlighting best practices with visiting guests and through social media channels.


FROM LEFT: Frank Conway, Kim Mika, David Derda

Raising Revenue through Innovation

When Bingemans Grand Experiences in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, first deployed tablets near the cabanas in the Big Splash water park, the park thought patrons would gravitate toward them to order food that would be delivered right to their cabana. Yet, there wasn’t much pickup. The next year, after Wi-Fi was deployed throughout the park, allowing staff members to visit each cabana with tablet in hand, orders skyrocketed.

“Our intent was to use technology to save on labor,” said the attraction’s president Mark Bingeman, who spoke in a two-part education session, “Technology for Increasing Guest Spending at Water Parks.” “At the end of the day, we needed to expend more labor to ramp up sales. Technology was still key, though,” Bingeman explained.

After the system was deployed, Bingeman observed how some employees became better at sales than others. The fault was not the employees’, but rather the support given to them. “You can have the greatest technology, but if you’re not training and coaching the staff on how to use it, you’ll never get the full value,” Bingeman shared. In addition to paying attention to training, installing the right infrastructure is also crucial for new technologies, like cashless payments and mobile apps.

“Wi-Fi capability in your facility is key,” added David Derda, the general manager of Universal Orlando Resort’s Volcano Bay. “If you’re going to ask people to use an app to make purchases, make sure they’re able to download the app while in your facility. If they can’t, or if an app times out, that’s just going to drive a negative experience.” And parkgoers are likely to share that with others. Ninety-five percent of customers tell people about a bad experience, and they are likely to broadcast it online, explained Kim Mika, a regional sales manager with the social media management system Sprinklr. Attractions need to respond quickly to complaints—often within five minutes—and turn a bad experience into a good one by hearing the grievance and often offering some form of compensation, like a discount coupon.

Increasingly, attractions are implementing cashless payment systems, as well. Cashless payments increase sales and reduce theft. They also reduce wait times, according to Frank Conway, chief product officer of VenueNext, which partnered with NBA teams to introduce cashless systems in stadiums.

When introducing cashless payment systems into attractions, speakers suggest including third-party vendors and ensuring the system is easy to use. Once cashless payments are working, “you’ll have access to data that can change your business, lead to incremental revenue, and really make an impact on your guest experience,” said Universal Orlando Resort’s Sean Walls.


Speakers (from left) Randy Josselyn, Ken Handler, and Mark Moore shared tips to prepare for emergencies at the “Planning for Bumps in the Road: How to Be Ready” session.

Plan and Communicate for Failure

Several minutes into “Planning for Bumps in the Road: How to Be Ready,” the lights went out. But the three panelists were prepared. They pulled out flashlights and continued without missing a beat. They even pulled a “campfire” video up on the projection screen as a backdrop for horror tales of things that can go wrong in an attraction: power outages, robberies, point-of-sales failures, goats wandering in the park.

How can an attraction prepare and how should it react when an emergency happens?

Gateway Ticketing Systems’ Randy Josselyn recommended a four-step process:

  1. Assess what just happened. For example, if the power is out, is it out across the attraction, in just one area, or perhaps throughout the city?
  2. How will it affect your attraction, including safety, guest experience, and revenue?
  3. When will it be fixed?
  4. Do I have a plan?

“When’s the last time you updated your emergency procedures?” asked Gulf Islands Waterpark General Manager Mark Moore. “You need a written plan to handle these situations.” But if that plan has been sitting in a drawer for years, it is likely out-of-date, and the personnel responsible for implementing it have changed.

Moore also advised park operators to distinguish between events that are beyond their control (like the weather) and “events that you caused.” “You’ve got to walk it all through every possible scenario. You can’t control it all, but you can control how you react.”

“Keep it simple,” added Ken Handler of Global Management Amusement Professionals.

For example, if admission to your attraction normally costs $21.95, and there is a point-of-sales failure that forces you to only accept cash transactions, sell tickets on that day at $20. “Keep the math simple so the front-line team can work it out,” Handler said.

Many issues, particularly technological failures, can be prevented or alleviated through redundancies. For example, “wherever you have a router, you need an exact duplicate right next to it. No exceptions. It does not cost a lot of money,” advised Handler.

And for every four or five point-of-sales terminals, there should be an exact copy, including a computer, scanner, etc. The computer does not have to be the latest model; if you are replacing them every three years, as is best practice, then a 4-year-old computer that is being rotated out can serve as the backup. Some attractions also use services like Square—which enables credit cards to be processed via a smartphone—when all else fails.