Ideas that Elevate
As people continue to receive the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine, owners and operators around the world begin to visualize the end of the pandemic that has consumed virtually every facet of their lives for over a year.
Håkon Lund, the fourth-generation owner of Lund Gruppen, is among those who believe his Scandinavian company—and countless others—will emerge from this dark period stronger than ever.
“We’ve been open since 1895,” he says. “We’ve been through the Spanish flu, World War I, and World War II. We were clear with our staff and guests: We survived all that, and we’re definitely going to survive this together too.”
As the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be in sight, Funworld examines practices forged out of necessity during the pandemic that can aid in recovery too.
To get to this point, Lund and his team began planning in the pandemic’s early days for what the world may look like on the other side. They made the tough call to furlough the entire staff during the initial lockdown, the first time they ever took this drastic step in the company’s long history. (Lund has since brought back all his employees.)
The management team also developed common COVID-19 safety protocols and procedures across all of Lund Gruppen’s locations, secured “as much cash as they could muster,” and threw out their old budgets and strategic plans for their nine facilities in Sweden and Norway.
“We changed the way we work,” shares Lund. “Every day is a new day where we experiment. Finished are roundtable discussions for hours and hours about a new system. Anything that can be implemented in one day, we’ll do it in one day. If you need more than 20 days to plan something, then forget about it. We made a lot of mistakes, but that’s the whole game. We said to each team member, ‘If you don’t fail,
we won’t survive.’”
Some ideas that came out of these vital brainstorming sessions include moving to a dynamic pricing structure and online ordering only; increasing attractions’ limited food and beverage capacity—and supporting local businesses—by bringing in food trucks; and with many area hotels closed, partnering with a glamping company to provide overnight capacity for Kongeparken and Skånes Djurpark facilities. “They sold out in five days,” he says. “It was a huge success.”
Thousands of miles away in Balneário Camboriú, Brazil, Cícero Fiedler also sees “uncertainty” as one of the biggest adversaries connected to the pandemic. That’s part of the reason why Fiedler dove into opening FG Big Wheel in December 2020.
The president and CEO firmly believes the entertainment industry will return in full force and says his industry colleagues shouldn’t waver on making difficult decisions to get there.
“Over time, the strongest isn’t the richest or the biggest,” he says, “but it’s the one who adapts faster to new situations.”
Amid the pandemic, Ocean Park Hong Kong has been flexible and looked into creative ways to entertain guests, says Timothy Ng, executive director of operations and entertainment. For example, Ocean Park developed “An Ocean of Extraordinary Experiences” to take advantage of the park’s natural hillside terrain and picturesque views of Hong Kong’s southern coastlines.
“We reoriented the park’s events direction and theme toward well-being,” Ng says. “This rejuvenates our offerings and also encourages locals to get active and embrace the great outdoors for those periods where we were allowed to reopen the park.”
Activities include yoga on stand-up paddleboards, meditation sessions at the Grand Aquarium, hiking along the trails underneath the park’s cable cars, and glamping on the park’s summit, he says, noting the park is also exploring cultural tourism and developing new tourism initiatives with stronger elements in education and conservation.
For the times Ocean Park had to temporarily close, it sought to engage guests virtually, he says. Staff created a wide variety of fresh social media content, including fun educational posts with little-known facts about the park’s animal ambassadors, behind-the-scenes snippets of the daily lives of the penguins and capybaras, and insights on husbandry efforts from Ocean Park’s animal care team.
Ocean Park also started a YouTube channel in February 2020. With nearly 8 million views since its debut, it features over 60 videos that provide experiential learning for children.
“The channel was a hit and was widely adopted by teachers to complement their school curriculum and the students’ e-learning experience,” Ng says.
Urban Air, with more than 200 worldwide locations, has found success with posting on YouTube and working with schools as well (albeit in different ways). With YouTube, the company developed a playlist of “instant testimonials” where staff ask satisfied guests to record a raw video about their time at the trampoline and adventure park, says Michael Browning Jr., co-founder and CEO. Hundreds of customers agreed to share their positive thoughts, with most clips clocking in at under a minute.
“A mom can see a mom just like her say, ‘It was great. My kids had a blast. It was clean and safe,’” says Browning. “That helped propel us.”
To address the issue of virtual schooling, Urban Air implemented a program early in the pandemic called “Learn and Fly,” he says. Kids could come to their facilities during the day with their laptops or mobile devices and be assisted in person by a state-licensed teacher.
With a sizable portion of the population returning to in-person learning in some capacity, the program pivoted to a fleet of Urban Air buses that picks up kids after school, Browning says. Students receive homework tutoring, complete an enrichment exercise, eat a snack, and play on the attractions until their parents arrive after work.
“It taps into a market segment and makes us an essential business,” he explains. “Parents still have to work, and they need help. Plus, Urban Air is much cooler than your traditional day care.”
By implementing resourceful measures like these, Browning says he’s “exhaustedly optimistic” about the industry’s future. “I keep telling our franchisees and operators: ‘Now is not the time to quit. We’re closer than ever to the light at the end of the tunnel.’”
Contact Funworld Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at [email protected].