Prepared remarks of Charlie Bray, President & CEO Intl. Assoc. of Amusement Parks and Attractions at the AALARA 2007 Annual Conference Monday, May 14, 2007 Conrad Jupiters Hotel & Casino Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
Introduction: It’s Great to Be Back
Thank you, Michael, for that generous welcome, and for inviting me back again this year as a guest speaker. It is indeed a pleasure to be with you all for this important and timely event.
When I was here last year, I walked ‘round a field feeding kangaroos, was eyed for lunch by a large hungry crocodile, and got my first up close & personal introduction to a koala bear – all before I ever checked in to my hotel and after 26 hours of traveling. I won’t even go into the details of a closing night full of Elvis numbers and last-minute packing. So, I’m not exactly sure how this year’s festivities will top those of last May, but knowing our hosts and the Australian people in general, I am entirely confident that you’re up to the challenge.
IAAPA & AALARA – Working Together
My confidence is bolstered by the fact that the trade show component has returned to this great regional industry conference. AALARA 2007 has got it all – a robust educational track, new products highlighted on its trade floor, and enjoyable social events full of networking opportunities. We at IAAPA are delighted by this new development, for it will further strengthen a key regional industry partner. And when AALARA is stronger, we’re all stronger.
It’s this same spirit of working together which animates the entire AALARA-IAAPA partnership. For over a decade, our two organizations have had a very close relationship – pioneered by folks like Len Shaw of Dreamworld, whose insightful and dedicated service on IAAPA’s Board was then very ably carried on by Steve Peet of Warner Village Theme Parks and now Greg O’Neill of O’Neill Entertainment and our Global Alliances representative “down under.”
I also want to thank Russell Murphy of Ripley’s and David Howell of Warner Village Theme Parks for their respective service on our current Communications and Food & Beverage committees.
And, of course, I want to commend and thank Michael Collins, whose graciousness as a host is only surpassed by his leadership in putting together such a fantastic industry event. Through the selfless efforts of these and many others, we have built a strong partnership committed to growing our industry locally, regionally and throughout the world.
A Growing Industry, Here and Beyond
All of this comes at a time of great opportunity for the Australian leisure sector. Tourism spending for 2006 was up in Australia, with international visitors providing a particularly important contribution. And that was before the full impact of recent investments like Movie World’s Batwing Spaceshot and Dreamworld’s new sister property, WhiteWater World – not to mention Jamberoo Action Park’s plans to double in size by 2010. Based on these and other factors, PricewaterhouseCoopers expects average annual revenue growth of 5 percent over the next several years in Australia’s attractions industry.
This upward trend mirrors the growth in both the Asian and global attractions & leisure segments as well. Worldwide visitation was up more than 2 percent in 2006, and consumer spending on theme parks is slated to rise by five percent annually through 2010 – creating a $28 billion industry.
A Universal Feeling Needs A Global Organization
When you consider numbers like these, it makes perfect sense to speak of the “world” of attractions, because this industry is truly an international one, with parks and suppliers located all over the globe.
IAAPA has become the largest international trade association for attractions and their suppliers. Currently, more than 40 percent of our attractions members are from outside the U.S., and through our aforementioned Global Alliances program, we have agreements with 16 national or regional associations around the world. IAAPA also leads the way in the industry’s efforts to develop universal ride safety standards and foster more widespread ride incident reporting.
This expanding presence has allowed IAAPA to join with partners in Australia, Asia, Europe and elsewhere to bolster the industry’s growth in concrete ways, such as participating in annual regional events like this one and IAAPI’s recent conference in Mumbai. Another way is through our can’t-miss trade shows like IAAPA Asian Expo 2007 in Bangkok June 27th through the 29th, and IAAPA Attractions Expo 2007 in Orlando from Monday, November 12th through Friday, November 16th.
In short, all the products and services we offer are aimed at helping you keep your business growing and evolving – for growth and evolution are crucial to establishing and strengthening your connection with your customers, and that’s what I’d like to talk about this morning.
Creating Memorable Experiences
In today’s world, daily life is hectic and often stressful – it’s full of what you have to do, and “time” is an increasingly valuable commodity. Conversely, theme parks and attractions are about what you, your family, and your friends want to do – providing valued experiences for their guests’ valuable time and enjoyment rather than stress.
That’s a good recipe for success, but nowadays we’re one of many possible “wants,” all competing for that small window of people’s time and attention. How can the attractions and leisure segment win this progressively competitive battle? Essentially, it comes down to how we can best serve our customers and give them exactly what they want.
April’s edition of our magazine, FUNWORLD, has a quote that captures this mindset perfectly. It’s from Jeff Cantwell of Landry’s Restaurants, a Houston, Texas-based company that has blurred the lines between dining and attractions in some remarkable and unparalleled ways.
He said, “For us, the common thread is customer service and entertainment. Whether you’re eating a steak or riding a roller coaster, it’s money and time that guests have set aside for some sort of entertainment. People want that memorable experience more regularly.” Jeff’s right. If a guest has made time in their busy schedule to come to your facility, they want – and deserve – that memorable experience. So how you gonna’ give it to ‘em?
Personalizing the Connection
I think you start by giving them some of the things that go into creating a memorable experience – things like choice, control, a sense of connection. It’s this ability for guests to customize their interaction with your facility that can produce what is ultimately, for them, a personal memory.
Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro set forth a challenge in Atlanta last November, when he said that we must not see ourselves as a mature, settled industry. Instead, we must adopt and adapt some of these personalization techniques and technologies if we’re to compete with other “wants,” and I agree. While mass entertainment was central to the industry’s beginnings and enough for early park-goers, relying solely on a one-size product, attraction or experience in this day and age just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Leading companies in related industries already know this. Marriott’s Rewarding Welcome system lets guests specify personal stay preferences like pillow type or refrigerator offerings, which allows its hotels to then “deliver” for those guests during every trip. And Expedia has partnered with Home and Abroad dot com to offer consumers a “virtual guidebook” tool that lets them create customized itineraries for their vacation destination based on their interests and travel style.
Such personalized interaction can take place long before – and after – a patron sets foot in your park or attraction. The methods for reaching out to a consumer, on a one-to-one basis, have risen greatly, while the costs and complexities for many of these technologies have steadily decreased.
Facility websites have gone from a one-way posting of information to a two-way forum for customer feedback and interaction. Whether consumers are participating in a ride naming contest, submitting a written or video entry for a daily web log, downloading a ring tone for their cell phone or a podcast for their iPod, asking questions in a chat session, or signing up for an e-newsletter or text messages – every one of them is engaging your facility in a personal way.
In addition, the trip planning features on websites are becoming more advanced, allowing a level of customization previously unimaginable. Entertainment Bookings Concepts in Denmark has developed the Adventure Resource Planner, a versatile online scheduling tool for planning visits to parks and attractions. Guests choose “reserved” times for certain rides, producing an itinerary that optimizes the schedule for incorporating additional rides, shows, and dining.
Now before you dismiss all this as only for those with deep pockets, let me make two points that relate directly to any bottom line. First, as mentioned earlier, the cost and complexity of many of these things have fallen dramatically. Attractions we’ve spoken to about web enhancements, podcasting, and more have noted the minimal required investment in new hardware or software, the compatibility with standard existing systems, and the relative ease of set-up and maintenance.
Second, all this personalization is of real interest to teens and tweens in Australia and many other countries, and to those who’ll come after. Noted Internet pioneer Alan Kay has observed that “technology is only technology to those born before technology.” He’s exactly right. To the current Millennial generation, these technological developments aren’t really “advances” at all – they just “are.” They’ve grown up with it. They don’t know anything else.
And they are your present and future customers and employees, so if you want their attention – from brand loyalty to word-of-mouth marketing – you need to get in synch with Millennials. Becoming part of today’s teens and tweens social network – a network filled with text messages, personal webpages, podcasts, & blogs – gives you access to the social capital they possess to sway their peers and others, including the $2 trillion in yearly spending they control or influence.
Tailor Your Park to Each Guest
Once guests enter your facility, you must continue this customized service. Remember: it’s about choice, control, and connection – all contributing to a memorable experience.
One option is text messaging, which is increasingly widespread, particularly among tweens and teens. A sign-up area on your website allows patrons to receive short in-park messages on their cell phone screens, alerting them to souvenir discounts, show times, and food specials. You can maintain that connection off-site, with periodic updates of new ride openings or special events.
Some parks have also started using text messages as a queue management tool. This innovation allows more parks to adopt some form of this guest service that was inaugurated by Disney’s FASTPASS system and the Q-bot from England-based Lo-Q. To hold a virtual place in line while getting more for their time and money by enjoying other rides, eating a meal, or buying a souvenir: that’s a visitor’s dream, and it gives them two things – choice & control – that are crucial to customizing a day at your park, not to mention the bump in your in-park revenue.
A number of facilities are taking customization to the next level, using products like Cruiser. Developed by Park-Tours Inc. in San Diego, Cruiser turns a cell phone or PDA device into a personal tour guide. Not only can guests minimize their time in line or receive in-park messages, but they can also keep in touch with their group, advance order food & beverage items, review show schedules, get attraction information, access ride wait times, and use interactive park maps.
Several parks have gone beyond the virtual and are offering an actual personal tour guide with their VIP packages. As part of its new VIP Program, a Six Flags host helps guests plan their ideal day and then takes the lead in turning it into reality via specialized services for parking, ride access, meals, games, photos, character interaction, and more. Talk about customization!
I realize that not every facility has quite this capability, but many parks and attractions have created personalized VIP offerings for their customers simply through front-of-the-line ride programs or premium-level tours. And numerous waterparks now offer individual poolside cabanas – a private oasis with extra services, for families or groups seeking an experience that meets their specific needs. While I recognize that such enhancements must be implemented with sensitivity to all guests, I also believe in providing upgraded options for those willing to pay.
Another, more widespread way to offer this customized service is through DVDs. Imagine being the star of a digital movie dedicated to your favorite ride experience or even your entire day in the park, and in a format that you can share electronically with family and friends! Well, the technology to provide guests with such a tailored story of their visit is steadily coming on line.
Closing: Creatively Meeting the Challenge
Not surprisingly for those of you who know me well, I could go on and on. From healthier food options to a variable in-park video network to the next generation of interactive ride experiences, I see endless possibilities for personalizing the visit of each guest in readily-achievable ways.
Our industry has always prided itself on creativity, and an ability to both initiate and incorporate change. This innovative spirit lives on in every one of us. It has to, for customized engagement and immersive entertainment experiences are the future, and thus must be our future. It can be, and I hope that some of what I’ve said here today has inspired you to make it so.
Like Jeff Cantwell, I believe that the right level of dedication and detail can make any facility feel like a destination, providing guests with their own individual escape from reality and a personalized memory to walk away with.
So once again, on behalf of IAAPA, I am very pleased to be here today, as we all work to grow the attractions and leisure industry. And I look forward to working even more closely with you in the future, for there is much we can accomplish together. Thank you very much and G’day!
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