Monday, January 28, 2008

Legislative Summit: More Than Just Ride Regulation

If you’ve been reading this space regularly in the past couple months, you know the U.S. amusement industry is dealing with important legislative issues right now on several fronts. Federal ride regulation is obviously at the top of the list, but there’s a lot more happening on Capitol Hill that can affect the business, especially in indirect ways.

Trouble is, life inside the D.C. Beltway can often seem like a different universe to the rest of the country. To help make sense of the seemingly chaotic environment that inhabits the nation’s capitol, IAAPA is hosting its annual Legislative Summit March 11-12 downtown.

You can find more information about the summit here, but I thought it might be helpful to get a bit more personal perspective on what the two-day seminar has to offer from someone who’s been to one in the past. Last week I spoke with Denise Beckson, director of operations and human resources at Morey’s Piers in New Jersey, to get her take on why she came last year, what she learned, and why she’s coming back again in a few weeks.

Jeremy Schoolfield: Why did you attend the 2007 summit? Denise Beckson: There is a lot of regulation in our industry, and it was important for me to make sure I was aware of legislative issues coming down the pike. I wanted to understand how it all works.

JS: What was your overall experience like last year? DB: I was really impressed with the summit. The first day had speakers from various government agencies that were very informative. Then on the second day we met with the legislative representative from our district, which was really valuable. It gave you a concise summary of the issues, and the opportunity to develop a relationship with your elected officials. You could start to discuss those issues and how they impact your business and the tourism in your area.

JS: What did you take away from last year’s event? DB: It gave me a better understanding of the legislative process and opened the door to a relationship [in Congress] so when I might have an issue approaching, I have somebody in that office I can call. There is a lot that affects our industry beyond ride regulation, such as visa and immigration legislation. The summit summarized everything out there that could impact our business.

JS: Why are you coming back this year? What are you looking forward to? DB: It’s an important step in protecting your business, understanding where you’re going to have to eventually make changes in the future so you can plan and budget appropriately. It was definitely worth attending, and I’ve certainly talked it up to other people. Congress is constantly changing. Next year there will be new legislators in there, and it’s good to understand where the issues are headed and what’s coming down the road. That way we can be proactive, instead of reactive.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Method (and Man) Behind the Apple Store

This week I've been working on the cover story for March's FUNWORLD, which will feature the new Las Vegas Springs Preserve. For the story I interviewed the preserve's general curator, Jay Nichols, who has been in the museum biz for 25 years.

During our interview, I was surprised to learn Nichols was part of the team that helped Apple CEO Steve Jobs launch the first wave of the now uber-popular Apple stores. It makes sense, because the products are put on display in a way reminiscent of a museum: they're well lit, unencumbered by surrounding clutter, and sometimes even have their own pedestals.

“That was Mr. Jobs’ intent, that those stores would be different and a cut above,” Nichols said of the store’s uniqueness. “Literally everything in the store is custom-made—there’s nothing off the shelf—right down to the little wire racks. It’s one of the most expensive retail spaces there is.”

The space is a natural extension of the clean, artistic designs of Apple products, which seem to drip with cool; the store has thus become a popular hangout spot at your typical mall.

Granted, the average retail space in our industry doesn't have the budget to be as unusual and outside the box as Apple, but the idea of treating merchandise like displays in a museum struck me as something others could apply to their own operations with a bit of creativity. It seems to me the overriding idea is if you treat your products like they're something worthwhile and special, the store will cultivate that personality and naturally cause visitors to see the merchandise in a new light, too. Obviously you have to have quality items to back that up, but anything above and beyond can't hurt, right?

I'll throw it out to the readers: If anyone has any other retail-display ideas along these lines or has tried something similar, please share them in the comments. And be sure to look for more of my interview with Nichols in the March issue of FUNWORLD.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

EAS Exhibit Space Sold Out; Exhibitors in Good Spirits

The clock is ticking. A few hours away from the opening of EAS 2008, taking place under the warm sun of the French Riviera in Nice, all 7,800 net square meters of exhibit space is sold out. What's more, this show boasts one of the largest outdoor exhibit spaces at an IAAPA show, and the largest of any EAS show, said Pete Barto, director of exhibit sales, and many exhibitors are already talking about Munich, which will host the year's second EAS this fall.

“The trade show floor looks fantastic, every space on the floor is sold … 7,800 net square meters of jam-packed excitement,” he said.
The exhibitors have brought with them several new rides, unique products, and top-notch services, and they’re looking forward to making key connections with park operators, said Barto: "They’re anticipating a good show, and they’re excited about Munich. They’re looking forward to building more business off this business [in Nice].”

For a detailed recap of EAS 2008-Nice, watch for the March issue of FUNWORLD magazine. Also, keep an eye on this space for more details on future IAAPA events and discussions.

For information on EAS in general, visit

Thursday, January 17, 2008

February FUNWORLD on Its Way

Keep a sharp eye on your mailboxes in the coming days, as the February issue of FUNWORLD is officially in the mail! What you can look forward to in this issue:

• A cover story on Maurer Soehne's revolutionary X-Car
• A look at the challenges and successes Kennywood experienced while hosting a Hollywood film crew for a movie shoot
• Plenty of e-marketing tips in our new column, "Digital World"
• The inspiring story of FEC owners who were forced to start from scratch after their facility was destroyed by a tornado

And, of course, much, much more.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Return of the King: Who’s the Best Elvis? You Can Help Decide

I visited Elvis Presley’s home at Graceland in Tennessee yesterday, reporting on a future FUNWORLD story (more on that in a future post). While I was there, the PR staff mentioned an idea that could be useful for some IAAPA member facilities.

In 2007, Elvis Presley Enterprises (otherwise known as EPE, which owns and operates Graceland and all things Elvis) sponsored its very first Elvis Tribute Artist contest. Elvis tribute artists (more commonly known as impersonators) are a segment of the fan population EPE had kept at arm’s length—until now. Last year, the company decided to embrace the art of tribute and sponsored an official contest in Memphis, Tennessee (a few miles from Graceland, where Elvis cut his first record at Sun Studio).

The 24 contenders were culled from regional contests and festivals held all around the world and sanctioned by EPE. The resulting competition was a huge success, selling out Memphis’ Cannon Center for the Performing Arts and generating a nice amount of national and international media coverage. The winner, Shawn Klush, is pictured above.

The contest was such a hit, EPE is naturally bringing it back for another go-round; this year’s version is again scheduled for Elvis Week, which runs Aug. 9-17, in Memphis.

So here’s where our industry comes in: The PR folks at Graceland believe a preliminary round contest is perfectly suited as a promotion for amusement parks, especially since so many have some sort of musical revue as part of their live entertainment offerings. If this sounds interesting to you, find more information about the 2008 contest here; more information about how to obtain an official contest license can be found here.

It may be worth a shot for some of you out there. After all, who can’t help falling in love with a bunch of Elvis Presleys?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Member Alert: U.S. H-2B Visa Applications Hit Cap for 2008

On Jan. 3, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the H-2B cap for 2008. This was before many potential amusement industry workers were even eligible to apply for an H-2B visa, since applications may be received no earlier than 120 days prior to the date of entry.

For the past 15 years, a variety of factors have hampered U.S. employers' ability to find and hire American workers for short-term positions. Teenagers, traditionally a plentiful source of labor for seasonal businesses such as amusement parks, are increasingly seeking out internships, advanced summer school classes, and cultural exchanges instead of getting summer jobs.

H-2B workers come to the U.S. for a limited period of time and must leave in a timely manner in order to be eligible to return to the United States to work in the future. These foreign workers are critical to staff IAAPA members’ businesses and help them provide safe, quality entertainment for hundreds of thousands of American families.

Only 66,000 visas are issued each year, which are often completely claimed before the amusement industry hits its peak season. To help fulfill the need for additional temporary workers, Congress established a program that exempted returning workers who have received an H-2B visa during the previous three fiscal years from counting against the 66,000 cap. Despite the efforts of IAAPA’s Government Relations department, this program expired at the end of FY 2007.

Reinstatement of this provision is critical to the amusement industry. If it isn’t addressed soon, facilities may face a drastic labor shortage this summer. IAAPA is continuing its lobbying efforts on this issue on Capitol Hill. In fact, it will most likely on the agenda at the IAAPA Legislative Summit in March. Unfortunately, since many legislators have threatened to block any immigration legislation that does not address Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it looks unlikely that the H-2B proposal will see any action this year.

IAAPA members should be advised that if they have relied on H-2B visas for seasonal workers in the past, they should start pursuing other avenues for this summer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Education on an Executive Level

We’re less than a month away from one of IAAPA’s preeminent learning opportunities, as the Institute for Executive Education at The Wharton School runs from Feb. 3-6 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The focus of this year’s program is on technology and guest service—more specifically, how the twain meet in today’s amusement facilities. You can find everything you need to know about it over here at, but we also thought you’d like to hear from someone who’s already planning to attend. Doug Stagner, vice president of park operations for Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, told us the following about why he’s coming to Wharton this year:

I'm very much looking forward to attending the Institute for Executive Education at The Wharton School next month. It will be a great opportunity to meet and network with industry peers and leaders from around the globe.

The “High Tech and High Touch” theme to this year's program is well timed, with the continuing focus on service and rapid expansion of the use of technology in the amusement industry.
Professional development is important to anyone looking to learn and grow.

The Wharton program is unique in that it is offered by one of the leading business schools in the country, yet is tailored to our industry. I participated in the IAAPA Cornell program in 2000 and found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I look forward to the Wharton program to be just as rewarding and exciting.