IAE18 Recap - Signature Events - January 2019


The Walt Disney Company Chairman of Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products Bob Chapek delivered the keynote presentation at the GM and Owners’ Breakfast.

Disney Parks and Attractions Targets Becoming a Disruptor

by Keith Miller

Sharing news surrounding new attractions, new resorts, and the theory behind new experiences, The Walt Disney Company Chairman of Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products Bob Chapek delivered the keynote presentation at this year’s GM and Owners’ Breakfast. Chapek spoke about what he and the company have targeted as top priorities over the next few years.

He assumed leadership of the company’s new Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products segment following its creation in March 2018. Previously, he was named chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in 2015, and under his tenure, the division has seen its largest investment and expansion in its 60-year history. 

Chapek began his remarks by saying that since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, The Walt Disney Company has invented and reinvented many aspects of the attractions industry by blending innovation, creativity, guest service, and storytelling to connect with visitors.

“Our guests don’t just visit us to take a vacation or buy one of our products because they need a present,” he said. “They come to us for a feeling and to create lasting memories, and that’s what makes a visit with us different.”

He noted that in his 25 years at Disney, he’s never seen a marketplace as disruptive as the one that exists today, with consumer preferences and behaviors changing faster than ever before. 

“Technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence are changing the way people live, work, and play,” he said. “Consumers continue to migrate to mobile devices for all they do, while billions of smartphone users adopt apps and social networks with incredible speed.”

As a result, he said Disney has made the conscious decision to control its own destiny and be a disruptor—not disrupted. He gave the example of a new generation of sophisticated all-electric animatronics the company is developing, the A1000. In a video, Chapek explained how a “Stuntronic,” an animatronic that can perform trapeze-like acrobatics, flying through the air—unharnessed and without cables—will allow for greater storytelling opportunities.

This brought Chapek to the topic of advanced new attractions currently in development, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” at Epcot, which will have a ride building so large, it can house four “Spaceship Earths” (Epcot’s iconic silver geosphere) inside. But he stressed that world-class attractions aren’t enough because guest satisfaction doesn’t begin in the queue and end in the gift shop. 

“We believe the smartphone is key to reducing friction at all touchpoints,” he said, “and our resort apps are the gateway to mobile-driven enhancements to our guests’ visits with us.”

Chapek noted that all of the transformations into which Disney parks and attractions have embarked are challenging for a company built on tradition, but added, “Walt Disney never intended for his parks to stop growing.”



Mohamed Al Zaabi, CEO of Miral, the company developing Yas Island in Dubai, led the Lunch and Learn session.

Yas Indeed: Miral CEO Mohamed Al Zaabi on Incredible Growth in Abu Dhabi

by Scott Fais

A dozen years ago, the only thing found on Yas Island was a road, one structure, and plenty of sand. Today, the resort destination in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), features seven hotels, 165 restaurants, and 2,500 hotel rooms. And the growth is only set to continue under the leadership of Mohamed Al Zaabi.

The CEO of Miral, the company behind development on Yas Island, spoke at the Lunch and Learn session at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018. The resort in the UAE’s second-largest city (behind Dubai) is quickly becoming a destination for business, leisure, and entertainment.

“Yas Island is one of the ­Emirates’ greatest engines for economic growth,” Al Zaabi said.
Yas Island (pronounced “Yaz”) has gained international acclaim for Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Waterworld water park, and the recently opened Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. A Formula One race track, a marina, the Yas Mall, a golf course, and a beach round out the attractions.

“We started in 2006 with the goal to become an attraction for families, business, and leisure,” Al Zaabi told a sold-out crowd. The growth represents a $50 billion investment—and the plan is working. In 2013, Abu Dhabi saw 13 million visitors. In 2017, that number had grown to 20 million visits. Al Zaabi said the goal is to attract 48 million visitors by 2022.

“Miral’s mandate is to deliver significant attractions on Yas Island,” he confirmed. To keep momentum moving forward, Al Zaabi said Yas Island has plans to add a new ride or attraction each year leading to 2022, when SeaWorld Abu Dhabi opens. Al Zaabi called the first SeaWorld park outside the United States, now in the design phase, a “next-generation” experience that will continue SeaWorld’s work rescuing and rehabilitating animals in the Middle East for the first time. New hotels are also on the way, along with 3,000 homes and a high-speed cable car system with gondolas able to deliver guests from their hotel to a theme park within four minutes.

Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, Al Zaabi said visiting internationally renowned theme parks allowed him to see the world. Yet, when he returned home to his native UAE, there was nothing comparable for his fellow Emiratis to visit. He said he is proud to have created something for more than a billion people living within an eight-hour airplane ride of Yas Island. “Having theme parks adds value,” Al Zaabi concluded.



John Lawn, CEO of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company

Hersheypark Continues to Capitalize on Its Distinctive Product Identity

by Keith Miller

The Amusement Parks and Attractions Constituency Lunch and Address at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2018 featured John Lawn, who was named CEO of Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company in June 2017 after serving as president since September 2016. Previously, he served as vice president and chief operating officer and held other leadership positions in the company’s entertainment division.

From the outset of his remarks, Lawn highlighted Hersheypark enjoys a distinctive association with one of the world’s most popular food products, separating it from other theme parks: chocolate. This unique relationship stems from the renowned company after which the park is named—The Hershey Company. Lawn said, “Hershey, Pennsylvania, is truly the only place that can be the epicenter of everything that is fun and chocolate!”

Now, the park will highlight that relationship like never before with a new project: ­Hershey’s Chocolatetown, opening in summer 2020. “We all know in our industry that our guests demand new experiences, and every so often, we see an announcement in our industry that truly represents a transformational experience,” Lawn said. “On October 3 [2018], we were excited to announce this type of transformational experience. It will have an impact that is felt throughout the entire destination.”

He noted the park will invest $150 million in the 23-acre Hershey’s Chocolate­town, the largest capital investment in its history. He proceeded to show a video on the new park section, and following applause when it concluded, Lawn quipped, “It’s great getting a round of applause after an announcement of spending $150 million!”

He said Chocolatetown will feature a new front gate, and unlike the rest of the theme park, it will be open year-round. Chocolatetown will feature more than five unique locations where guests can eat and gather. There will also be a 10,000-square-foot exclusive space where visitors can shop for a large selection of apparel, personalized souvenirs, toys, and more. A signature gathering place will be a one-of-a-kind fountain designed on the Hershey’s Kisses candies. 

The new area will also feature the largest full-service themed restaurant in Hershey that will include a bar and second-floor patio, a confectionary kitchen where guests can watch candy makers create delectables, and a flagship store with a large collection of Hersheypark merchandise. 

Chocolatetown’s signature attraction will be the park’s 15th roller coaster, which Lawn said will be its “longest, tallest, fastest, and sweetest coaster to date.” Specific details about the coaster will be published in summer 2019.

Referencing Hersheypark Founder Milton S. Hershey, Lawn remarked, “Mr. Hershey once said, ‘The more beautiful you make something that people can see and use, the more enjoyment they will get out of it.’ We cannot wait for this next chapter in our story and hope Hershey’s Chocolatetown is a place where guests will be inspired to make more memories in the years to come.”


Bob Rogers (left) moderated “Legends 2018: Charming the World,” featuring Roland Mack (center) and Tom Mehrmann (right).

2018 Legends Panel Features Insights on Culture and Competition

by Prasana William

The panel of “2018 Legends: Charming the World” featured wisdom from two industry luminaries on the importance of culture in a competitive world. Roland Mack, founder of Europa-Park in Rust, Germany, and Tom Mehrmann, president and general manager of Universal Beijing Theme Park and Resort, joined Bob Rogers, founder and chief creative officer of BRC Imagination Arts, to share their insights on operating parks in the face of international competition and the power of local culture.

Mehrmann was hired by his previous employers at Ocean Park Hong Kong to prepare the park for the upcoming arrival of Hong Kong Disneyland. The park was considering closing to completely renovate with simulators and other attractions comparable to Disney’s existing parks. However, ­Mehrmann refocused the project on the park’s greatest strength: its place in the local culture. 

As a public trust, Ocean Park had been an important part of growing up to generations of locals. Mehrmann focused the park on celebrating what made it unique: its natural setting, its animals, and the memories Hong Kong citizens had created there over generations. 

Mehrmann also encouraged any regional attraction facing competition to focus on complementing their rival. “Focus on what makes you different. Complement and supplement, don’t try to compete,” he said.

Like Mehrmann’s experience, Mack’s Europa-Park also faced regional competition with an international company when Disney opened Disneyland Paris in the same market. Mack quickly saw it as an opportunity, however. The neighboring park helped familiarize the market with the theme park experience, which only helped Europa-Park. “They forced us to develop new things to move forward and be competitive,” he said. “Competition in the world is always good for the industry.” 

Iron also sharpened iron for Mehrmann. “Their coming to Hong Kong was exactly the thing we needed,” he said. “It gave the government the impetus to say we want a tourism pillar in our local framework. We want to drive more tourists to Hong Kong.” He worked to make Ocean Park’s approach archetypical rather than copying trends from the West. The park had been doing Halloween events for quite some time, but when local ghost stories and legends were incorporated into the experience, the events reached a different level. 

Europa-Park also faced the challenge of being culturally relevant, but with the added challenge of representing 15 distinct cultures. How do you deliver on the cultural archetype without accidentally falling into cultural stereotype? “Our way was not to copy the culture of other countries, but try to get the atmosphere,” said Mack.

Both Mehrmann and Mack consider the generational memories created by parks and their unique place in local culture to be a true strength of regional attractions.



“CEO Speaks” brought together (from left) Adrea Gibbs, Mary Stuart, and Christine Buhr to speak on topics including staff training and business disruptors.

All-Women ‘CEO Speaks’ Panel Covers Building Toward the Future and More

by Mike Bederka

For the first time, IAAPA featured three women on its “CEO Speaks” panel, noted moderator Matt Heller, founder of Performance Optimist Consulting. In the wide-ranging conversation, the experts with decades of experience among them discussed numerous topics, including how to build the future, disruptors in the industry, and the impact of the rising minimum wage.

The session opened with Heller asking the panel how they strategically “survive and thrive,” along with how they inspire their teams for the years ahead:

• “Building, training, engaging, and working with our staff is the most critical thing we can do,” said Mary Stuart, CEO of Luna Park in Melbourne, Australia. “All of our businesses depend upon the enthusiasm, carefulness, and attention of staff.”

• “It all starts with your front line,” agreed Adrea Gibbs, managing director of Planet Aqua Group. “Respect goes both ways, and one way to earn that respect is by treating your front line, managers, and supervisors with respect. I like to listen to my team members because some of the cutting-edge ideas are coming from them.”

• “I treat everyone on my staff like little leaders,” shared Christine Buhr, owner of Shakers Family Fun Centre and newly appointed chair of the IAAPA Family Entertainment Center (FEC) Committee. “Every single thing they do they’re acting like a leader in that area. What can they do in that area to better the customer experience and better themselves in the process?”

Heller turned the conversation to business disruptors and issues that may have thrown them off course:

• After the oil and gas industry crashed in Buhr’s area of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, she found many people entered the entertainment sector. “They came into the industry without a lot of knowledge or doing research,” she said, noting an influx of bad practices. “The competition became thick and heavy, so it was tough to deal with for a while. Fortunately, we had the skill set to get through it, and many of these businesses are closing.”

• Buhr also shared the impact of an hourly minimum wage increase from $11.20 to $15 in Alberta, including cutting back on staff and closing counters during slow times.

• “Schools keep changing their schedules,” Gibbs said. “It’s very, very challenging to try to manage ahead of time, especially if you’re seasonal.”