Industry Standouts Recognized at Awards Breakfast
The tradition of having breakfast on Wednesday morning began with honoring 2022 IAAPA Service Award Winners.
For more than 35 years, Franceen Gonzales has served the best interests of the global attractions industry. On Wednesday, she was awarded the IAAPA Lifetime Service Award. Throughout her career as an operator and as a supplier, Gonzales has helped attractions develop safety protocols. Her dedication to guest safety is further illustrated by becoming the first woman to hold the title of chairperson to ASTM’s F-24 committee—Amusement Rides and Devices. As Chief Experience Officer at WhiteWater, Gonzales simultaneously balances several committee positions at IAAPA.
At age 22, Ryan Stana founded RWS Entertainment Group from the corner of his apartment. Under Stana’s leadership, the company has experienced explosive growth, changing the way several attractions staff, design, and produce live entertainment productions. On Wednesday, he was awarded the IAAPA Outstanding Service Award. Stana continues to develop turnkey entertainment solutions that captivate guests and empower performers to live their dreams.
From serving on IAAPA’s Space Allocation Committee, Membership Committee, North American Advisory Committee, Manufacturers and Suppliers Global Committee, Investment Committee, and Governance Committee, among others, Phil Wilson’s service to IAAPA spans more than a decade. On Wednesday, he took home the IAAPA Meritorious Service Award. Wilson’s efforts continue to have a positive impact on IAAPA members, like the “code of conduct” that speaks to all IAAPA's constituencies. Plus, the strategic initiatives Wilson supports empowers more than 1,000 exhibitors worldwide at IAAPA Expos. As the Chief Development Officer at Extreme Engineering, Wilson continues to advocate for gender and age diversity in positions of leadership.
Excited to begin a career in the attractions industry, Josh Liebman set out to learn as much as he could by working on the frontlines and leadership roles at Cedar Point, Legoland Florida, Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and other regional attractions. At IAAPA Expo, he was named 2022 IAAPA Young Professional of the Year. The annual convention and trade show is a second home to Liebman—who before graduating with a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida—Liebman spent time as an IAAPA Expo Show Ambassador. Today, he regularly provides educational instruction at IAAPA Expos. Most recently, he was appointed “guest experience evangelist" at ROLLER, while continuing as a co-host of the “Attraction Pros" podcast.
Keynote speaker Tom Mehrmann, president and COO of Universal Parks and Resorts, Pacific Rim—which includes the parks in Hollywood, California; Osaka, Japan; and Beijing, China—shared a timeline of his storied career and offered advice to attractions leaders looking to level up their attractions.
Mehrmann is no stranger to sharing wisdom with global attractions industry professionals. In 2018, he co-wrote a book titled “Taming the Mouse: How a Small Hong Kong Theme Park Came to Dominate Disney” with Funworld contributor Michael Switow. Proceeds from book sales benefit the IAAPA Foundation as well as a scholarship fund at California State University Fullerton, which assists the next generation of hospitality and tourism students in achieving their career goals.
The seasoned expert shared a series of tips that attractions leaders can harness to become strong, effective leaders.
Pursue Differentiation to Create Value
Mehrmann detailed best practices for positioning yourself within a competitive market. “I’ve always said, look at your differences. Your differences should be your strength and your differences should be what you value.” He cites Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags, and Universal Studios Beijing as examples of parks that effectively wield their unique offerings to drive attendance.
If You Can Measure It, You Can Manage It
Collecting information from all corners of the company is crucial to guiding decisions that increase overall satisfaction and support the bottom line. “If you’re measuring, you want to measure your team member satisfaction, you want to measure your guest satisfaction, and that will in turn lead to fair and reasonable returns for your partners, your owners … It will lead to great results,” says Mehrmann.
The cultural relevance of the decisions you’re making—and the properties you’re mobilizing—can make or break an attraction or event. Mehrmann suggests playing into the cultural trends that exist wherever you’re situated. What’s popular in Hollywood may differ from what’s favored in Osaka, for example, so it’s important to cater to the preferences of each individual audience.