Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Joe Pine Talks Authenticity

This morning renowned author Joe Pine gave one of the best talks I’ve ever heard at any of the eight IAAPA conferences I’ve attended. His talk on authenticity and how businesses must strive to achieve it was so good, detailed, thorough, yet easy to understand and, hopefully for the audience, apply, it’s difficult to pick out the highlights.

Let’s start with Pine’s basic theory that we’re now in an “experience economy,” which is an advantage for this industry, in one sense, because “the attractions business has always been about experiences.” However, it’s more challenging at the same time because more non-traditional attractions, such as those derived from brands like Coca-Cola and Volkswagen, are springing up all over the place as all companies get in on the experience economy.

“You’re basically now competing against the world for the time, attention, and money of individual consumers,” Pine said. And what types of experiences are those individual consumers thirsting for? Those that are authentic, he said: “People don’t want to buy the fake from the phony. They want the real from the genuine.”

So what does it mean to be authentic? According to Pine, it’s: “Conformance to self image. You reach inside a person and strike a chord and get them to identify with your product.” However, the tricky part comes in the fact that consumers are the ones who decide who’s authentic and who’s not. Businesses that proclaim they’re authentic, well, oftentimes aren’t. And the proof is in the proclamation, Pine said.

Pine gave several “genres of authenticity,” that businesses can strive for. They are:

• Natural—Those that don’t offer anything artificial
• Original—Those that have never been seen before
• Exceptional—Those that are so good at what they do, their business is obviously performed with great care
• Referential—Those that tap into and honor their own history or shared memories
• Influential—Those that call us to a higher purpose, to make a difference in the world

The key to being authentic, then, Pine said, is to truly know what your business is about and then stick to that. Business need to have: understand and honor their heritage; have a sense of purpose; and stick to a consistent set of core values. Then they must communicate those things to the public, though not necessarily through words—again, saying you’re authentic isn’t typically the best way to go, according to Pine.

“Every decision you make, authenticity has to be at the table,” Pine concluded.

Talking Queues at EAS 2008

IAAPA Chair Bob Masterson cut the ribbon this morning on EAS 2008-Munich, allowing attendees to start heading into the trade show floor. I spent most of my time today, though, up in a series of excellent educational sessions, so I'll be posting about those as I finish writing them up, starting with …

The last educational seminar of the day examined queue lines and methods for managing them. Presenters included Leonard Sim, founder of digital queuing system Lo-Q, and David Wilson of Walt Disney Imagineering for Euro Disney.

Sim’s Lo-Q system is in place at several amusement parks including Six Flags and Dollywood. It allows customers to use a Q-Bot to reserve places in line digitally without having to actually visit the ride or wait in its line. When their time is up, they go to a special entrance and get on the ride.

Sim said managing queues is essential to running a successful park, because the technique walks a razor-thin line: full lines mean a park is having a successful day in both attraction demand and overall attendance, but overflowing queues can detract from the guest experience. He believes as our culture gets more and more comfortable with personal digital technology, guests will fully expect to reserve all their rides electronically in the future.

“We’re in a changing industry, and we’re going to have to embrace technology,” he said. “Queuing technology is one of those areas.”

Wilson spoke primarily about how Disney uses queues to its advantage to help enhance the company’s storytelling within each attraction. Referencing such classic rides as “Expedition Everest” and “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror,” he said: “The story doesn’t just start with the attraction. It starts with the entrance and exit sequences. … We look at queue lines as an asset. We entertain our guests and walk them through the narratives of our stories.”

More than that, though, Wilson said Disney queues are designed to increase capacity. They allow guests to preview the on- and offload procedures so they know exactly what to do when arriving at the loading platform.

Disney also utilizes several other tools to help manage the flow of guests and keep wait times down, including: Fast Pass; tip boards that show wait and show times from one central location; Bluetooth applications that allow guests to receive queue info on their mobile units; and Extra Magic Hours, where parks open early or stay open late for select guests.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Auf Wiedersehen! Summer Meeting

Munich-based ride manufacturer Maurer Soehne—of X-Car fame—closed the 2008 IAAPA Summer Meeting tonight by transforming its 100-year-old warehouse (above) into a slick lounge bar, capping the three-day event with music and a laser light show.

The night was a Maurer showcase, opening with a trip through the company’s factory that would make any coaster fan drool. Scattered throughout the coaster builder’s complex were pieces and parts of what will in March become “Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit” at Universal Orlando. This is the biggest coaster MS has built in North America, said Jorg Beutler, the company’s managing director, and it involves an element the manufacturer has never tried before.

I didn’t catch the “official” name, but essentially it’s a non-inverting loop. Beutler said Universal didn’t want the ride to have loops because inversions to ensure it’s a ride the entire family will want to ride together. So what the MS designers drew up is a twisted element where the car starts to rise like it’s going into a loop but then twists back to right-side up as it crests the “loop,” then twists downward again to complete the motion and continue on the journey. It’s a little hard to describe, I know, so you’ll just have to see it to believe it. You might not even think it possible, even then.

As we wandered through the complex, there were various pieces of track in various stages of completion on display. Here are a few shots:

Maurer Soehne also had representatives of two of its biggest clients, Disney and Universal (OK, they really don’t come any bigger than that), give presentations. David Wilson, project director for Walt Disney Imagineering at Euro Disneyland, gave his five rules for creating a successful attraction. They are:

1. Storytelling—“Our parks are known for creating an environment where guests can escape from the real world into a world of fantasy and imagination—and we do that through storytelling.”
2. Make sure you respond to the needs of the park.
3. Add some magic—something unexpected for the guests.
4. Make sure it’s reliable and has a high capacity. “You spend a lot of time, effort, and money to build these wonderful attractions and people come to see them. If they can’t get on because it doesn’t have a high enough capacity or it breaks down in the middle of the day, that’s disappointing.”
5. Safety—The rule that’s so fundamental, “it’s an implicit rule,” woven into the fabric of everything Disney does.

Universal’s Steve Blum then gave a blow-by-blow account of his company’s creation of “Hollywood Dream—The Ride,” which debuted last year at Universal Japan. Blum’s presentation was jaw-dropping in its account of how many obstacles the project team of 20 employees had to overcome to create the instant-classic roller coaster. Whether it was having to build support structure in the midst of existing attractions, dealing with government regulations, or retrofitting pieces of steel once they arrived on site, Blum said the key to the entire endeavor was a flexible, quick-on-their-feet staff.

Finally, the night ended in Maurer Soehne’s No. 1 warehouse to the rhythmic beats of Power! Percussion and a laser light show that sent IAAPA Summer Meeting out on an eye-dazzling note.

Now, bring on EAS 2008 …

Hallowed Ground

Today I visited two of the most revered icons in Munich: The BMW headquarters, and Allianz Arena, where the city’s football (soccer, for you Americans out there) plays.

More specifically, we checked out undoubtedly the coolest car dealership I’ve ever seen. BMW Welt is across the street from the automaker’s headquarters. Here’s a picture of the latter, with the newly refurbished BMW Museum to the right, followed by a pic of the Welt:

People come from all over the world to BMW Welt so they can pick out and buy their German-made automobiles in person, right from the source. Inside, there are 20 rotating platforms where potential buyers can check out their own car; people (like me) actually watch other people buy cars, that’s how cool this place is. Here's a shot:

And here's people looking under the hood, getting ready to close a deal, I assume:

You can get right up close to all the BMW models, as well, and the company is such a big deal here, the Welt has a mini-interactive exhibit of its own, where you can “test drive” a car, and play educational hands-on games that will teach you about what goes into making one of these machines. There’s even a kids’ area where they can become “junior” engineers. Like I said, essentially this is what we’d call in the States a car dealership showroom, but that is definitely doesn’t describe all that’s going on here. No other dealership I’ve been to actually chauffeurs its clients to the door in black BMWs—straight from the airport, I’m assuming. Here’s another look inside the huge facility:

So if there’s anything that can equal the fervor in Munich for BMW, then I guess it would be the city’s football team. On the second half of our tour today we got an inside look at the team’s Allianz Arena, which opened in 2005. The stadium is unique in that it’s covered with a type of hard plastic shell on the outside that allows it to be lit in different colors depending on which teams are playing on a given night. It’s unlike any stadium I’ve seen, certainly. Here’s a photo:

The arena holds nearly 70,000 people. Here’s a look from the upper and lower decks—seems to me there’s not a bad seat in the house:

We then were taken into the bowels of the arena to see the Munich team’s locker room and the tunnel where they enter the field, gladiator-style. Our guide said this is considered nearly hallowed ground. Here’s a look:

Well, that does it for now. I’m hoping to post more later tonight after an evening at the Maurer Soehne plant. Otherwise, more tomorrow, as EAS 2008 begins …

Sunday, September 28, 2008

King Ludwig’s Castle

OK, first off: Unfortunately I’m not going to make it to Oktoberfest tonight, so yesterday's promise for reporting from one of the world's biggest parties will have to wait a few more days.

But, that’s not to say I don’t have anything to write about this beautiful Bavarian evening. Quite the contrary.

Today I loaded a bus with several other Summer Meeting attendees and drove about an hour and a half into the rolling hills of the Bavarian countryside on a quest to tour one of the most famous castles in the world, Neuschwanstein of King Ludwig II. Besides the fact that it’s a popular historical destination, this trip was especially appropriate for our group, as King Ludwig’s gorgeous structure on a hill is said to be the inspiration for one of our industry’s most well-known and beloved landmarks: Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland. Compare the photos below—the first is Disney’s castle, the second two are photos I shot this afternoon. The towers are especially alike.

But that’s not all. “Mad” King Ludwig serves not just as inspiration, but takes a starring role in Busch Gardens Europe’s “Curse of DarKastle” mega-dark ride in Williamsburg, Virginia. Here’s a photo of the castle the Busch folks built in his … honor:

During the half-hour tour we traveled all through the castle, going up and down literally hundreds of spiraling steps. Though it was under construction for 17 years, Ludwig’s fourth palace was never finished because construction ended upon his untimely—and controversial—death in 1886. But what was completed is spectacular, most notably the opera house that takes up most of the third floor; Ludwig was a celebrant of Wagner (the castle is dedicated entirely to the legendary composer), and the idea was to play Wagner’s music in that chamber. Unfortunately, Ludwig never got that chance, as he died two days after it was built; his legacy lives on, however, as concerts are held regularly in the hall today.

Unlike some tours of historic structures (I’m lookin’ right at you, White House), I really felt like I got to see and experience all of the major elements you’d wouldn’t want to miss in a program like this: We stood in Ludwig’s throne room (with its mosaic floor made of 2 million tiles), his bedroom, dressing room, living room (he’s also a big fan of swans, as they are all over this room), as well as several other ancillary spaces (his secretary’s office has one of Europe’s first telephones). Rather than just looking in on these rooms, guests walk right through them, as if we were real visitors of the king.

And what a place to live! I can see why Ludwig would want his castle built there. Though you’re not allowed to take pictures of anything inside the castle, several windows were open at various points, so I took some photos of what Ludwig saw when he looked out upon his land. Here are a couple:

Finally, after the tour I made a brisk, challenging uphill climb to a nearby canyon spanned by a small bridge affording tremendous views of Ludwig’s home. Here’s one (apologies for the scaffolding—the castle is being refurbished):

So, there you have it. Everyone came back a little tired (it was quite a trek up a long, winding road to reach the castle), but it was well worth the forthcoming sore legs.

More tomorrow …

Saturday, September 27, 2008

2008 IAAPA Summer Meeting Underway in Munich

Yes, it’s official: The very last IAAPA Summer Meeting got off to a high-class start tonight in the beautiful multilevel ballroom of Munich’s downtown Bayerischer Hof Hotel.

Tonight executives from all over the world gathered for the event’s Welcome Reception, where a laid-back atmosphere was conducive for networking while reconnecting with colleagues and old friends over snacks and drinks.

And speaking of, tonight’s get-together was basically a very light appetizer for what’s to come tomorrow: the Wine Tent at Oktoberfest. I don’t know exactly what to expect from the world’s largest people’s fair, but somehow I think even if someone told me, it couldn’t do it justice.

More tomorrow …

Friday, September 26, 2008

Follow Summer Meeting/EAS Right HERE!

Just wanted to let all of our faithful "In the Queue" readers know you should keep checking back here throughout the next week as I'll be blogging from Munich, Germany, during the 2008 IAAPA Summer Meeting and EAS 2008.

Even though we're approaching our one-year anniversary here in this little corner of the Internet (hard to believe, I know), this is the first time I'm covering events of this scale almost exclusively on the blog, so your guess is as good as mine as to how this whole thing is going to work out. Starting Sunday night (Munich time), I'm hopefully going to post at least one item every day, so check back often.

See you in a few days!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

After the Storm

Last week, Jeremy blogged about IAAPA members affected by the recent hurricane in the United States' Gulf region. Now that members are returning to their businesses and beginning to assess the damage, I thought I would offer a short list of government resources available to aid in the recovery process:
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration offers both Physical Disaster Loans and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The former is a source of funding for rebuilding privately-owned real or personal property. These loans are available to homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and nonprofit organizations. The latter type of loan is for small businesses only and provides necessary working capital until normal operations resume. Information can be found on the SBA Disaster Assistance web site.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can provide homeowners with temporary housing and money for repair or replacement following a disaster. It also can provide money for medical and dental costs, funeral and burial costs, clothing, clean-up items, and other necessary expenses. To apply for assistance, visit the FEMA web site.
  • FEMA also maintains a list of other agencies that provide specialized assistance like the USDA (this may be helpful for zoo and aquarium members) or the IRS (if you have special tax considerations as a result of the disaster). Legal aid, crisis counseling, and insurance information is also coordinated through FEMA. The list is organized by state.
Finally, Jeremy did hear from one more member in the affected area. Jeffrey Seibert, director of corporate communications and sales for Schlitterbahn Waterparks, e-mailed to say Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark remains closed as park officials assess the damage caused by Ike. A reopen date has not been set, but keep watch here for more info.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Under the Sea! October FUNWORLD Floating Your Way

Last month I posted about my trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas, and now the fruits of that labor (yes, it was work!) should be hitting your mailboxes smack-dab on the cover of the October issue of FUNWORLD.

I feel pretty safe in saying this is the first time IAAPA's official trade publication has ever had an underwater photograph on its cover—I know it's the first one the magazine's ever shot for itself. I didn't shoot the photo, of course (wow, you should have seen the awesome getup our photographer used—he essentially put his camera in a bubble), I was swimming around right above as it was taken (being careful to stay out of the shot, of course).

But enough about the photo, already. The cover story this month focuses on Atlantis' Blue Project, the resort's big-time Bahamian conservation effort focused primarily on maintaining the islands' coral reef, which you can see in the photo (see, there I go again …). The piece also demonstrates how Atlantis has incorporated its tourist-focused Blue Adventures venture into the Blue Project, turning conservation into an actual business. That nice couple on the cover is participating in Atlantis' "snuba" (think a snorkeling/scuba diving combo) adventure.

Now that all is written and done, October has turned out to be one of my favorite issues of the year. There's great, great stuff in this issue, such as:

• An in-depth look at what other amusement facilities are doing to go green.
• An examination of how European parks are investing in hotels to increase length of stay.
• A round-up of casino waterpark projects.

And, in case you hadn't noticed, we have this little event coming up in November called IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008. Maybe you've heard of it? You know, the biggest trade show in the industry? Well, this month's FUNWORLD offers 14 pages of Expo preview coverage, letting you know all about tons of cool stuff going on at the show this year. Grab your calendars now!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

FUNWORLD Update: Hurricane Watch on the Gulf Coast, the Good and the Bad

Last year I wrote a cover story about how the casino and resort industry along the Mississippi Gulf Coast had helped rebuild that community after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though I only spent a week in the sweltering summer heat of the seaside tourist spot, the people I met there and their community will always be with me. Such was the impact of seeing both the incredible destruction and the equally incredible willpower of the people to rebuild.

The flipside of that coin occurs every time a new storm is bearing down on the Gulf Coast; I immediately think of the people and places I visited down there, hoping and praying they'll come through the next one OK. Thankfully, it seems they have this time around.

The past few weeks have been full of hurricane-related news here in the U.S., as storms Gustav and Ike, respectively, barreled up through the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into the southeast quarter of the country. Now that the dust—and water—has settled from those two storms, I touched base with a couple of my contacts from the area, and they said, in general, the Mississippi Gulf Coast fared pretty well:

"Gustav was a nuisance and, yes, the winds caused further pruning of our trees. But, we’re a tough, strong, upbeat bunch down here," said Marcia Crawford of the Harrison County Development Commission, based in Gulfport, Mississippi.

"Gustav and Ike were little more than annoyances to most of the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Janice Jones of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Personally, Gustav trimmed mostly dead limbs from trees on my property and felled one tree that Katrina killed. It was a good cleansing for my family."

Jones went on to say there was some damage to buildings on West Ship Island, a tourist site about an hour's boat ride out in the gulf (see my story for details), but trips out to the island are hopefully going to resume next week. "Other than that, our attractions, golf courses, casinos, and fishing waters are open," Jones said.

It's not all good news, though. If you saw yesterday's IAAPA News Flash, the top story quoted IAAPA member Gulf Islands Waterpark officials saying business has definitely been affected at the Gulf Coast's only waterpark by the storms.

Unfortunately, as is almost always the case in these situations, one region's mercy is another's disaster. At the same time I breathed a sigh of relief over the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I had to hold my breath for my contacts on and near the Texas coast, which was absolutely drilled by Hurricane Ike. I was in Houston about a year and a half ago for a cover story on Landry's Restaurants, which is based in the city and owns and operates member facility Kemah Boardwalk, with its mix of restaurants and amusement rides (including last year's "Boardwalk Bullet" wooden coaster), on the nearby Gulf Coast. Understandably, I haven't heard back from my Landry's contact in Houston, but if you want to see what happened to Kemah Boardwalk, click here for a local news report (thanks to Screamscape for finding the link).

The five-minute piece features an interview with Kemah Boardwalk GM Tim Anderson, whom I met briefly during my trip last year. Standing amidst piles of broken glass and other rubble, he says he's been at Kemah for 10 years and has never seen anything like the fury of Ike (reports say Kemah was hit with a 17-foot surge of water). One glance at the video easily demonstrates the havoc wreaked on what was, just last week, a beautiful waterside development (one of the biggest tourist attractions in Texas, according to Anderson). About three minutes in, Anderson and the reporter move over where the group of small amusement rides are located, and they are just mangled.

"We started from nothing before, we've got a lot of work to do, but we can build this business back to what it was—and possibly make it even better," Anderson tells the reporter. "Some of it is not as bad as it looks."

The interview was conducted Sunday, and at that time Anderson said Landry's hadn't established any kind of timeline for reconstruction. I speak for all of us here at IAAPA in wishing them the best in their recovery efforts.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Safety in the Attractions Industry

Safety is the number-one priority in the attractions industry. One of the things IAAPA does to promote ride safety is participate in the ASTM Committee F24 to create safety standards for amusement rides.

The committee is a consensus-based standards setting body and is open to anyone who is interested in ride safety. Industry members, manufacturers, interest groups and government officials participate in the process and in order for the standard to be adopted, everyone must agree. This ensures the system stays fair and standards are written that benefit everyone.

The next ASTM Committee F24 meeting will be held Oct. 9-11 at the Sheraton San Diego Mission Valley Hotel in San Diego, California. If you are already an ASTM member, you can register on the ASTM web site. If you would like to become a member, you can sign up on the ASTM site, as well. There is a $75 annual fee for an individual membership, but that fee allows you to attend meetings and vote on standards and also allows you to download the standards or order them in hard copy. Generally, a copy of the standards costs $159, so becoming a member is a much better value.

For more information on standards development, you can download the ASTM Handbook of Standardization for free, or just contact us at gr@IAAPA.org.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Give Kids The World: A Testimonial

IAAPA is a big supporter of Give Kids The World in Kissimmee, Florida (just outside Orlando). The charity brings children with terminal illnesses and their families to Central Florida for a respite from the trials and challenges of their lives, and allowing them to spend a week enjoying all our industry has to offer. The good and kind folks at GKTW receive letters of thanks and appreciation all the time for their work, and sometimes they share them with us as a way to show all of you out there who have helped the Village in the past that your efforts are definitely worthwhile. We're running these letters from time to time here on the blog. This one landed in my inbox last week:

Dear GKTW,

I am enclosing a donation in honor of our daughter, Maggie. We were privileged to be guests at your incredible Village Valentine's week of 2008. We were reluctant to take this trip as we never ventured too far from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. We are very glad we did! Your staff and volunteers treated us like they've known us for years. It was a very comfortable setting. Our three children had a wonderful time and especially enjoyed the merry-go-round numerous times every day. Breakfast in the Gingerbread House was also a big hit! My husband and I actually found ourselves relaxing and having a joyous time with our children—something we hadn't felt in two years.

Maggie felt great the entire week—she had the most energy of all of us! Our precious Maggie passed away last week and we received this [$300] from a friend to help care for her. We think it is only appropriate to pass it on to you so you can help another family have a wonderful experience. Thank you again; we have such warm and loving memories from this trip. Please always remember Maggie with a smile.

Maggie's family

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Update from IAAPA Europe

Earlier this year IAAPA hired Andreas Andersen to lead the association's European operations. In an effort to continually communicate with our European members, this is Andreas' first of what we here at "In the Queue" hope will be many updates from his office in Brussels:

What a week! Things are moving at high speed these days, and I have to run fast to keep up with everything happening.

First of all, EAS 2008-Munich is approaching, with less than a month to go. It is the first show I have had (a small) part in planning, and every day is a new learning experience. And while all the operational issues of EAS 2008 take up a good deal of my time, EAS Director of Operations Karen Staley and I are also working on the 2009 show. It is sometimes a little hectic, but altogether a lot of fun.

Munich will be great. The show is really coming together now. I am especially happy with the education program (even though it is really the EAS education committee and not me, who should be proud). The lineup of speakers is absolutely fantastic; the seminars have been planned within three distinctive tracks—safety, strategy, and profit—which should make it easy for all attendees to find the educational opportunities they want. Co-locating EAS with one of the biggest entertainment events in the world—the Munich Oktoberfest—will complement EAS perfectly. But it also means hotel rooms go fast. “Book, book, book!” is what we tell everybody.

And while EAS-Munich is approaching, I’ve also spent a lot of time working on the membership services for IAAPA Europe: improving the web site, addressing the right issues in Brussels, working on better European statistics, etc. Sometimes it is hard not being able to do everything at once, but every day we take a little step toward our goal of one strong voice in Europe. We’ll get there—no doubt about that!