Friday, October 30, 2009

More From FUNWORLD: The latest and greatest from Warner Village Theme Parks in Australia

In November's FUNWORLD, I wrote about trends in the Australian waterpark industry, among them RFID technology; attractions like swimming lagoons, aimed at all ages; and possible plans for indoor waterparks.

Now, in an extended interview with Bob White, general manager of Wet’n’Wild Water World in Gold Coast, Australia, In the Queue readers can catch up on marketing stretegies (think Krispy Kreme doughnuts!) and important issues (don’t forget sunscreen!) that keep the park relevant and successful.

Over the past two years, how has Warner Village Theme Parks been innovative and grown as a waterpark?
Warner Village Theme Parks has seen steady growth in attendance at Wet’n’Wild Water World, its flagship waterpark, in recent years. Wet’n’Wild saw over 1 million visitors through its gates in a 12-month period for the first time in 2007. This achievement was repeated in the following financial year, with strong attendance figures also projected for FY 09-10.

What new attractions or programs have you recently added—or plan to add—and what was the motivation behind each decision?
Over the past two years Wet’n’Wild has seen the introduction of a number of new attractions. In October 2008, Wet’n’Wild opened “Kamikaze”—a Sidewinder MK-1. “Kamikaze” was introduced to Wet’n’Wild as it appealed to both the teen and family markets and it was a first for the southern hemisphere. "Kamikaze" (right) also offered a high capacity through-put to assist with the park’s growing visitation. In addition to new attractions, Wet’n’Wild also has an intensive marketing strategy focused on driving attendance and keeping the brand relevant. Marketing activity, included giveaways of Krispy Kreme doughnuts before they were available for purchase on the Gold Coast, and cooperative promotional campaigns with corporate Partners like Coco-Cola. Wet’n’Wild will continue to seek innovative, high-capacity attractions to meet growing operational and consumer demands.

How do you cultivate new ideas—do you let staff brainstorm together, watch other parks throughout the world, or ask for guest feedback?

Warner Village Theme Parks uses a variety of techniques to generate ideas for new rides and attractions. These include market research such as focus groups and observation of other Water Parks. Wet’n’Wild is also fortunate to have a diverse range of staff members with a huge amount of experience on various levels. This makes brainstorming new ideas very effective. Whilst the park is somewhat isolated due to location, staffers have an excellent networking system with operators and industry bodies throughout the world. Additionally, a good communication plan for gathering guest feedback from frontline staff is essential for future planning. These staff are the eyes and ears of our business and their input is invaluable. The theme park team utilizes the strategic depth of the marketing team based at Village Roadshow’s head office to further develop new ideas.

Are there any longrunning priorities or initiatives Wet’n’Wild followed that continually contribute to its success?
Wet’n’Wild has a number of initiatives that help contribute to its continued success. Of note, Wet’n’Wild’s advertising campaigns steer clear of "formula." They are contemporary, vibrant, and cutting edge—assisting to keep the brand "cool" and appeal to the teen market. Advertising schedules also aim to dominate share of voice. In conjunction with advertising, the marketing team utilizes numerous national publicity opportunities to raise brand awareness and deliver key messages to the target market. These opportunities can range from a full outside broadcast with a national breakfast television show to segment-hostings with a national music video show—this all helps to keep the brand relevant to the target market.

Management also works closely with other major aquatic institutions to promote safety to guests. Management implemented a joint initiative with the Royal Lifesaving Society called the Keep Watch program, designed to educate parents and guardians about their responsibilities within the park and around the water. And Wet’n’Wild has an in-house radio station which plays a variety of appropriate songs throughout the day. This medium is used to advise guests of any in-park promotions, upcoming events, or offers available to them—the radio station has proven very successful.

Are there any trends you see throughout the world or specifically in Australia you feel are strongly affecting the waterpark industry?
Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and consumers are increasingly seeking more shade. Subsequently, the Wet’n’Wild team continually reviews shade plans to increase the available shade in the park. We are also finding guests want greater challenges and thrills, increasing the demand for slides that meet this criteria. They want the oohs and ahhs of slides and the ability to share the experience with a group of family and friends.

Are there any potential challenges you must continually prepare for and consider?
Another potential challenge is the recruitment of aquatic staff given the seasonal nature of Wet’n’Wild. Every 12 months a large percentage of the work force is new employees, hence there is an enormous focus on recruitment processes as well as training requirements for new staff. All of these need to be completed prior to the influx of guests in the first holidays of spring. Queensland’s subtropical climate offers perfect waterpark weather, however it can be challenging for staff. Management works hard to ensure staffers are equipped to beat the challenges of sunburn, dehydration, and other heat related illnesses.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

FUNWORLD's Year-End Double Issue Now Online

Every year in honor of IAAPA Attractions Expo, FUNWORLD publishes a giant double edition for November/December. The 2009 "trade show issue" is a highlight of our year, featuring a wide range of articles from around the globe. The magazine should be hitting your mailboxes soon (if it hasn't already), but if you'd like to start reading immediately, you can check out FUNWORLD's digital edition here.

Leading off is my exclusive interview with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo, who talked with me at length about the past, present, and future of the Disneyland Resort, and what the massive overhaul under way at Disney's California Adventure will mean for the park and the tourist destination as a whole. Then, I went behind (and under) the scenes with several Imagineers to talk specifics about what's coming to DCA over the next three years, most notably the "World of Color" nighttime show, set to debut in spring 2010.

Nov/Dec also features two major three-article sections: The first is a regional profile of the attractions industry in Japan (including this awesome story about a Ferris wheel inside a building); the other is a global look at waterparks, including spotlights on Malaysia and Australia from Departments Editor Marion Hixon.

News Editor Keith Miller has three trend-oriented reports in this issue. He examines:
• The growth of sports resorts around the world.
• The booming popularity of mazes.
• How U.S. parks reach out to members of the military and their families.

All in all, there are nearly 30 articles in one of our favorite issues of the year. Read on, enjoy, and let us know what you think!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Webinar: Put Your Web Site Front and Center

In these technologically focused times, customers rely on informative, user-friendly, and eye-catching web sites to make critical purchasing decisions.

During the next IAAPA webinar, Thursday, Oct. 22, at 1 p.m. Eastern, Sharon Swendner, president of .Com Marketing, and Norris Clark, director of sales and marketing, at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, New Jersey, will discuss why and how you should focus on your web site as your core marketing vehicle. Topics will include evaluating web traffic, using search engine optimization (SEO), employing social media tactics, and learning basics of web design, plus more.

In the Queue editors recently caught up with Swendner, who shared a few insights into what webinar participants can expect to learn from this session.

What will be the main focus of the webinar?
We’ll be providing an overview of what we’ll share in more detail during the whole-day seminar at IAAPA Attractions Expo (see details on the Institute for Marketing: Nuts and Bolts of Internet). We’ve got eight topics areas: online strategy, web design, e-mail marketing, SEO, pay-per-click, social media marketing, online banners, and future trends. In each area, we’re giving a taste of the content in the full-day seminar.

What is the best audience for this content?
It’s really geared toward people who are responsible for or executing online marketing—the business owners or marketing/PR people. It’s not for the technical person who’s writing code.

Why should today’s marketing departments be thinking seriously about online and social marketing strategies?
Especially in the travel industry, people care more about what other people say that what you say through user-generated content. Tripadvisor developed around sharing what people think. Nowadays you’re not in control of your brand; your brand is what people perceive it to be, not what you want it to be.

What can marketers expect to take away from this session and apply to their businesses right away?
They’re going to walk away with a better understanding of the core online tools and fundamentals and what’s important in developing an online program from a strategic level and an integration level.

What lessons from this webinar would be helpful for small, family-owned operators who might not have a full marketing or web department?
The basic things they can do themselves. Everybody needs a web site; we’ll give them a lot of backbone in how they think about their online presence and how they use it.

Expo Discount: All webinar participants will be eligible for a $50 discount off registration for Institute for Marketing: Nuts and Bolts of Internet Marketing, which will be held Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009, at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Be sure to attend the webinar to find out how to get your discount.

For more on IAAPA’s e-learning programs, click here.

Three Questions: AIMS Safety Seminar

The Amusement Industry Manufacturers and Suppliers International (AIMS) Safety Seminar will be held Nov. 15-19 at New York New York Las Vegas in conjunction with IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009.

The seminar features instruction from top safety experts from throughout the industry. To find out more about the event, I asked Premier Rides' Jim Seay, a member of the AIMS board of directors, these three questions:

Who in the industry is ideally suited to attend the seminar?
The typical attendees are individuals who are recognized by their facilities as either being leaders in the areas of maintenance and/or operations or are seen as a future leader whose value to the organization could grow more rapidly with the training being offered. Those who are good communicators are especially well suited, as such people not only learn from attending classes but can then share their newly acquired knowledge with their peers upon returning to their home bases.

What can attendees expect to learn at this year's conference?
With more than 250 classes, there is a wide array of subjects regarding safety in our industry. Classes include—but are not limited to—hands-on reviews of ride inspection, understanding the new ASTM F24 regulations, and gaining an appreciation for the new ADA laws. Areas of specialization include maintenance, operations, aquatics, leadership, and crisis communication.

What else is AIMS working on right now outside of the safety seminar?
AIMS recognizes every facility cannot send every employee to the seminar, even if cost was no object. So we've been working with the AIMS Education Advisory Board (which is made up solely of operators) to find opportunities to expand the organization's reach. So far there has been great success with "AIMS On The Road," where teams of instructors go directly to a facility and teach an entire staff at the same time. Additionally, AIMS Online was established to allow individuals who cannot attend the seminar to still participate in safety education in an online model. This approach is especially appreciated as it offers a resource to maintain certifications.

To find out more about AIMS, click here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking Ahead: FUNWORLD and Disney’s California Adventure

Photo courtesy The Walt Disney Company

The year-end November/December issue of FUNWORLD will be making its way to your mailbox over the next couple weeks. On the cover is Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, who discussed with me the massive overhaul at Disney’s California Adventure, Disneyland’s sister park in Anaheim, California.

My exclusive interview with Rasulo is part of a 10-page section highlighting all of the changes coming to DCA through 2012 and the impact the re-Imagined park will have on the Disneyland Resort. But there was still a small topic I didn’t have room to address in the magazine: The Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar.

The Blue Sky Cellar is a small building right in the center of the park. Inside it offers guests an extensive preview of what’s to come at DCA. Themed to look like an Imagineer’s office, the cellar offers models, concept art, and preview videos of future attractions such as the “World of Color” nighttime show and the renovations already under way along Paradise Pier.

“We’re relatively quiet, behind-the-scenes people,” said Bob Weis, executive vice president, creative, for Walt Disney Imagineering, during my visit to the park this summer. “But there’s a side of us that gets so excited about the research, artwork, and designs we do. At the beginning of [the DCA project], we wanted to communicate more frequently with our guests because they bring so much to our process.”

The Blue Sky Cellar, he said, is a way to “communicate less formally, more frequently, and bring people into the process much earlier than we’ve ever done before.”

Photo courtesy The Walt Disney Company

And the experience isn’t limited to guests in the park. This summer, Disney took the Blue Sky Cellar to the Internet with the launch of, an online version of the physical location. The site is filled with concept art and videos of Imagineers—including Pixar’s John Lasseter—discussing the many projects happening at the park.

“We wanted to come up with a way for guests who aren’t physically here in the park to stay in touch with what’s happening, and also for us to stay in touch with them,” said Mary Lowery, director of Internet strategy and business management for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online.

Look for my full report on the DCA extreme makeover in the November/December issue of FUNWORLD.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How'd They Do It? Holiday World Sets Attendance Record

New ride "Pilgrims Plunge" was one of the keys to Holiday World's record-breaking season.

Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana, closed the doors on a record season Sunday, finishing 2009 with a new attendance high of 1,039,359 guests. That marks a growth of 3 percent over 2008, and the fourth year in a row the family park topped the 1 million mark.

That would be outstanding news for any year, but it's especially significant given the economy and weather the industry faced in North America in 2009. After the news broke, I asked Holiday World's PR guru, Paula Werne, a few quick questions to find out what made the park stand out in a difficult year.

How big of a role did your new record-breaking water attraction, "Pilgrims Plunge," play in the success this year?
"Pilgrims Plunge" was definitely a “marquee attraction” for us. Starting with the amazing animation by Keith McVeen at Virtual Image Productions Inc. (read FUNWORLD's award-winning article on McVeen here), a successful announcement, a live construction cam, big “topping” ceremony, and all our social media tweets and posts, we kept the story “hot” during the winter months. Then our advertising kicked in and the park opened, so the world’s tallest water ride spoke for itself. Of course we also have to thank our amazing Hosts & Hostesses who keep our guests coming back for more of our award-winning friendliness and cleanliness. And with the economy so tight, our budget-friendly "Free Unlimited Soft Drinks" program helps families afford a fun vacation.

Other parts of the country reported lousy weather this season as a major hurdle. What was the weather like in your area and how did it impact your season?
We had our share of rain! And all except a scorcher week in June, we never really hit those toasty waterpark temps. We’ve noticed that families are increasingly sensitive to the weather and often put off trips when mornings are overcast. We’ve nicknamed this the Year of the Procrastinator!

With four consecutive years topping 1 million guests, obviously it's more than just one ride that's made the difference. What is the common thread linking this period of outstanding success?
With all due respect to what I do and what our marketing and sales teams do, if you don’t have strong positive word of mouth, you’re missing a big piece of the pie. Families have been coming to Santa Claus, Indiana, for more than six decades, and they know what to expect when they get here. We really feel it’s our owners (the Koch family), and our staff of 85 full-timers and 2,000 seasonals, who make all the difference in creating lasting memories—we hear it all summer long from our guests. New rides are important, but there’s something to be said for a satisfied mom recommending us to the other moms on the block.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Busch, Disney Launch Theme Park Blogs

In the past two weeks, two of the industry's biggest chains launched their own blogs to reach out to fans and potential guests with exclusive content.

Busch Entertainment Corporation launched its Worlds of Discovery blog Wednesday with a message from President Jim Atchison discussing the huge news that The Blackstone Group will purchase the parks from Anheuser-Busch InBev (read his post here). He's also featured in a video welcome to the site, which introduces the 10 WOD parks across the United States. According to the site, the goal is to provide "an insider's look into our adventures and experiences and the conservation work we do throughout the world."

The idea is much the same at the new Disney Parks Blog, which launched last week. According to its "About" page, the new site will provide "the latest, official information about Disney destinations as well as behind-the-scenes looks at what makes Disney Parks the most magical places on earth."

The Disney blog covers Disneyland in California, Walt Disney World in Orlando, and The Disney Cruise Line. In just a few days, it's already featured posts about a next-generation Audio-Animatronic that can "hear, see and sense whether or not you’re in the room," and this pretty awesome video of a day at Orlando's Magic Kingdom via "tilt-shift" photography.

For those of you who still haven't broken into the blogosphere, check out this story from the October issue of FUNWORLD for some advice.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Scaring Up New Tricks, Treats, and Thrills for Fall

Labor Day no longer signals an end to the traditional operating season for many of America’s theme parks and attractions. A recent informal IAAPA poll illustrates the growing popularity of fall and Halloween events.

The IAAPA Communications team issued a press release highlighting events taking place at more than 65 U.S. parks and attractions this fall. And the story is finding traction; after one week of distribution, more than 3.5 million impressions have been generated in publications nationwide. Read the AP story by Beth Harpaz based on our release at

The release is the fourth in a year-long proactive media campaign to help generate positive publicity for IAAPA members. The other three campaigns: “What’s New in Amusement Parks and Attractions,” “What’s New in Waterparks,” and “30 Tips to Save Time and Money” have generated more than 47 million impressions. Thanks to all those who participated to make these efforts possible, and we hope even more will join in next year!