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Education - January 2015

Creating a Positive, Rewarding Employee Culture

Effective employee recognition doesn’t necessarily require a big investment, said panelists during “Big Reasons to Reward Your Employees.” And the benefits can have a sizeable impact on your business.

According to Melissa Felder, chief marketing officer for the California Academy of Sciences, high visitor satisfaction scores are linked to high revenues and ample recommendations to potential future guests. What is the key to high visitor satisfaction? Happy employees.

The first step, according to Tom Mehrmann, CEO of Ocean Park Corporation, is hiring the right employees. Mehrmann listed eight traits any potential applicant should exhibit, including an aptitude for organization, teamwork, flexibility, and quality as well as the ability to problem solve and communicate effectively, and a drive to reach goals. “You have to hire the right people, otherwise you have no foundation to begin with,” he added.

After hiring the right employees, it’s crucial to create a nurturing environment to keep them. At Ocean Park Hong Kong, a number of programs designed to enhance employee satisfaction have been instituted, including paternity leave, a staff social club that organizes employee trips and outings, and a staff committee that voices employee concerns, which helps to lessen the need for a union, Mehrmann added. The CEO also advises taking the time to personally hand-write thank-you notes to employees, which he does for any compliment submitted about an employee by a guest.

“We want employees to think of it as the first place they want to work, and the last place they want to leave,” Mehrmann said.

Creating a positive employee culture can be simpler than you might initially think, said Shaun McKeogh, vice president at Management Resources, head of the company’s International Training Academy, and co-author of “Reasons 2 Reward: Transform Your Business by Rewarding Your Team Members.” To acknowledge employees for a specific act in a way that makes a big impact, whether it comes as a handwritten note or in-person praise, McKeogh recommends taking these steps:

  • Name the person, so the compliment feels personal.
  • Describe the act specifically, so they know why they are being recognized.
  • Describe the specific impact on the guest.
  • Describe how the act positively impacts the business.
  • End with sincere, personal praise.

McKeogh listed budget-friendly ways to acknowledge and reward employees, including pre-printed recognition cards that come with scratch-off prizes, internal newsletters spotlighting years of service or special instances of when employees went above and beyond. Volunteer days, like costume characters visiting a local hospital, can instill a sense of company pride in employees. Or, get more creative and plan an annual banquet, like the Academy Awards-themed reception the California Academy of Sciences throws for its employees. In addition to rolling out a red carpet lined with paparazzi (who are actually staff from the photography team), Felder says the banquet includes a cocktail reception and awards ceremony to make employees feel extra special.

“What you’re doing in celebrating is creating a culture that recognizes employees,” said McKeogh.

Streamlining and Strategy—The Secrets to F&B Success

The “Maximizing Your Food & Beverage Revenue” session sent the audience away with a bounty of ideas on how attractions can take control of their concessions and restaurant outlets to curb expenses and increase revenues.

Food and beverage outlets can potentially supply the second-largest stream of revenue for an attraction, said Michael Holtzman, president of Profitable Food Facilities, but streamlining expenses and maximizing on profitable items are key. For example, an important first step is determining what proper facilities and equipment your attraction requires—and don’t necessarily rely on a contractor to figure it out for you, advised Holtzman.

“When you’re building a facility, somebody has to focus [on the cost of the equipment],” he said. “You want to set it up for versatility as well, so you’re not landlocked into a menu.”

Doing homework on what similar facilities in the area pay—whether it’s for kitchen equipment or beverage contracts—can be helpful, too. Holtzman also spoke about how a little creativity can go a long way. For example, naming and designing a food and beverage concept can be more cost-effective and improve the appeal of the attraction. “You don’t need a brand to sell products,” Holtzman said. “You can make it and brand it yourself.” Creativity extends to the details as well—like busy menu boards, which can benefit from more white space, highlighting, and bolding.

“Menu engineering is really important,” he said, adding that attractions should highlight five profitable items that they are known for, taste great, and are fast.

Holtzman also shared his main keys to success gleaned from his 35-plus years of experience working with concessions and restaurants:

  • Honestly rate your attraction’s food on a scale of one to 10, then deduct a point, to accurately gauge quality.
  • Locate food and beverage outlets close to the entrance. “If you don’t make it convenient, they’ll walk by it and never know it exists,” Holtzman said.
  • To speed up service, have guests order and pick up food items at the same window.
  • Invest in the proper equipment (and know the health codes).
  • Ensure an experienced manager monitors the floor to combat problems.
  • Don’t get greedy when it comes to pricing. “You can drive on price, but be fair,” he said.
  • The trick to doubling line speed is when a line becomes longer than three people, send out an employee to begin taking orders directly. “But your team has to be ready to work two times as fast,” he said.

Museums Shouldn’t Sacrifice Customer Service in Face of Tech-Obsessed Guests

How can museums and science centers stay current and engaging in a time when attendance is dropping and guests’ faces are buried in their phones? Take a jump and swim in the deep end of innovation, according to the panelists in “Breaking the Glass Case: How Museums and Science Centers are Exploiting New Technologies to Stay Relevant.”

Audience needs and desires are changing dramatically, so how can we meet them? asked moderator Kurt Haunfelner, vice president of exhibits and collections at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (MSI), who shared 10 major trends affecting museums right now. Topping the list is the fact that it’s not just kids frequenting museums anymore—it’s millennials, who will add up to total 22 million households by 2018, and baby boomers (42 percent of MSI’s audience, for example) who are demanding a larger focus.

Staying relevant and innovative means creating memorable experiences for guests that they can experience or share with their friends and family, said Shari Berman, partner and owner at Evidence Design, which creates environments and exhibits for museums like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. She cited examples that encourage guests to interact with or get as close as possible with the exhibits. An example is MSI’s “Science Storms” exhibit, where guests can ride along with storm chasers or create a 40-foot tornado.

But even though two of the most pervasive trends happen to be crowdsourcing and social media, enticing guests to put down their phones and actively participate can be key to keeping them interested.

“People are much less likely to remember something they photograph,” said Jake Barton, principal and founder of Local Projects, which specializes in media design for museums and public spaces.

Barton said one of the main goals of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s new expansion debuting in December, was to keep guests off their phones. To achieve this, Local Projects helped create interactive exhibits that let guests become artists and designers themselves.

During the session “Making Your Guests Happy,” the audience expressed interest in how to make international guests comfortable. Wayne Hunt, founding principal of Hunt Design, expounded on the benefits of keeping guests confident and at ease by using simple signage with universal symbols and multilingual handouts. Meanwhile, Kenny Person, general manager of park operations for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, emphasized the importance of hiring bilingual guest service representatives. Overall, the theme of the session revolved around the importance of building a customer service team that is friendly, passionate, and empathetic.

Citing LAST—Listen, Apologize, Solve, and Thank—as one of his favorite guest service models, Person said, “We never want technology to disrupt what we’re known for—great guest service.”

“Guest service shines when it becomes a way of life in your organization,” said Amy Ritter Cowen, Shedd Aquarium’s executive vice president of marketing, guest experience, and sales. Cowen said the Chicago attraction, which made becoming “the friendliest place in town” one of its main goals, recently consolidated everyone who works with guests—whether they process payments or book special experiences—into one central station for constituent relations.

“This allows us to put guests at the center of everything we do,” Cowen said.

Innovative Ideas Drive Water Park Success Stories Around the Globe

These are exciting times for the world’s water park industry, with breathtaking rides and dazzling facilities opening all around the world. So said Chris Perry, general manager of Wild Wadi Waterpark and chairman of IAAPA’s Water Park Committee, during this year’s “Water Park State of the Industry Address” at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2014.

Underscoring his point before a standing room-only crowd, Perry cited a long list of stunning water park achievements. They included “Verrückt,” the world’s tallest water slide located at Schlitterbahn (Kansas City), and Dubai’s Aquaventure Waterpark, which Perry said spent $27 million on its recent expansion.

A host of innovative water park ideas—and examples of how their applications have contributed to water park success—were shared throughout the day during water park-focused seminars, including ways to boost food and beverage revenues and best practices for reviving declining water parks.

Food and beverage sales can be a solid profit-driver for water parks—and indeed all amusement facilities—but only if they are properly managed and executed. This means offering consistently prepared products made in clean facilities with striking signage that can be seen from various angles and distances; all located in high traffic areas.

This was the message in “It All Starts with the Menu.” According to Mike Holtzman, president of Profitable Food Facilities, all water park F&B products must be of the highest quality, fast to prepare, and profitable to sell.

“If one of those conditions are not being met, then don’t sell it,” he said. Holtzman also advised F&B vendors to get their food and beverage material costs down to 25 percent to ensure foodservice profitability: “If it costs you a dollar to buy, then you need to sell it for four.”

When it comes to menus, they should be easy to read and simple to understand, with the items that generate the best margins getting the highest billing.

“Don’t make the guests work hard to spend their money,” said F&B consultant Lawrence Wittenberg. He noted a water park’s guests vote on the facility’s menu strategy every day, based on which items they buy—and don’t buy. To succeed, F&B managers need to take heed of these “votes” and act on them.

Reviving a water park is hard work, but it pays off with strong attendance and positive press. That was the moral of the Monday session “Recovering a Declining Water Park.” It detailed the successful rebirth of Alabama Splash Adventure by Dan Koch, president of Koch Family Parks.

Named VisionLand when it opened in 1997, this embattled Bessemer, Alabama, water park has seen many name and owner changes, hard times, and bad press. But things began to look up when Koch Family Parks bought the facility in March 2014. Rebranding it as Alabama Splash Adventure, Koch has turned the park around by cleaning up the site and improving customer service. The park celebrated eliminating much-hated parking fees by dropping the parking toll booth from a forklift at a much-covered media event. Koch Family Parks has also installed free WiFi, hosted popular stars such as the Disney Channel’s Peyton List (from the TV show “Emma”), and is restoring the park’s famous “Rampage” wooden roller coaster for reopening in 2015.

Collectively, these initiatives reflect the strategy of “one fair price at the gate, and reasonable prices inside,” said Koch. Do this and “you’ve bought a customer for life,” he said.