Wednesday, March 31, 2010

'Undercover Boss' Revealed! Part 2 of Our Interview with Herschend CEO Joel Manby

Last week, I had the chance to talk with Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, about his experience on the CBS reality show, “Undercover Boss,” in which he went undercover to work frontline jobs at Herschend properties.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the show, you can see the full episode here on the CBS web site. Be warned—you may want to keep a box of tissues nearby.

In our discussion, Manby (below, right) divulged some great lessons learned from the experience which we weren’t able to talk about until after the airing. Here’s part two of our interview:

IAAPA: Why did you choose those specific locations to visit (Ride the Ducks at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia; Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri; and Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey)?
Manby: I’ve visited Dollywood so often that I knew they might recognize me. Even at Silver Dollar City, I’ve worked the gates there, so we had to wait for the people who knew me to go on break for 20 minutes and we filmed in that small window of time. Also, we just recently purchased the aquarium, so I hadn’t really gotten to know the workers there yet. And with Ride the Ducks, if you don’t go on tour with that particular captain, you might not meet them.

What reactions did you get from workers who appeared on the show as well as park employees after the big reveal?
To see the look on the hosts’ faces when they met me and realized who I was—it was so much fun. What was really meaningful was when I got to reinforce what I saw in them and how great they were. People don’t get enough encouragement in life, so the chance to do that was really fun.
As far as the rest of the Herschend staff, since filming, we’ve experienced a huge morale boost.

Is there anything you want HFE to do differently, or objectives you’ve reevaluated since stepping into someone else’s shoes?
The main changes we implemented were those to programs that will help our employees.
We really beefed up the marketing for our Share it Forward program to motivate people to apply for it. As a leader, if you see someone who has just lost their health insurance or has a family crisis, it’s your job to help them through that time.

We added a component within the Share it Forward Foundation, as well. Mercedes and Jennifer, who were both on the show, are single parents. This inspired us to create a new program for single parents. If you make under a certain income level and you’re a single parent, you’ll be able to get a financial stipend for medical or daycare needs to help pay for expenses like childcare and health care. Seeing things firsthand helped me to see the need for this.
Another thing we did was establish a scholarship in honor of Jack and Peter Herschend. We’ll annually fund a full-time educational scholarship during their school year, and while they’re in school, we’ll pay them half of the salary they earn over the summer, so they don’t have to go part time and work.

Also, we have a sub-program of Share It Forward called an Emergency Needs Program for people in financial crisis. We gave Richard [from the show] the catastrophic limit of $10,000 and went in there with a construction crew and redid his doors and heating system. For me, that was truly one of the highlights of being with Herschend. It was a really gratifying moment, and he has such a sweet family that it was all really meaningful.

Albert, who you saw on the show, would have had to work for seven years to get his undergraduate degree. In the summer, they’ll make their full-time wage, and then when they’re in school and not working, they’ll still make half of their salary.

That’s what I got when I worked with General Motors during college. Harvard was still expensive back then, and I never would have been able to afford it. But they paid me half my salary as I lived in Boston and worked for them. Also, when I was in high school, a man funded my private education, so I’ve had both a company and an individual help me go to private schools. This is a way for our company to give back—and everyone can apply.

How do you feel about the outcome of the show and the decisions you made because of it?
The decisions we’ve made as a result of the show are all difficult, because they all cost money. But it all goes back to what we’re trying to create—a culture of servant leadership. The guest experience can never rise any higher than the passion of your employees. It is our responsibility to take care of them.

One thing I was really trying not to do was a lot of "one-offs." I wanted to do something systemic throughout the whole company. We didn’t have much time so that was hard. We literally shot the experience, and they came to do the reveal the next day. I had to decide what we could and should do in a very short period of time … it was exciting!

Photos courtesy of Herschend Family Entertainment

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Space Allocation 2010: Final Numbers/Thoughts

Space Allocation 2010 is over. The committee placed 604 booths across 301,650 net square feet of exhibit space.

I spoke with several committee members today, and they all said it was another challenging year but they were happy with the result. Monty Lunde, principal for Technifex Inc., felt as I did the committee was never able to quite settle into an extended groove, where the booth assignments really flow at a regular pace, but as I addressed in earlier posts, all of you out there following along have made this a more interactive experience for the committee, so this type of pace is to be expected now. Lunde said overall this improves the process because people have what they want now and are able to immediately work out the details of their booths with their appropriate committee member, rather than having to wait until after the fact to try and sort things out.

Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides Inc., spent most of his day walking back and forth in front of the big board, making suggestions and helping to keep the flow going as well as possible. Despite the stop-and-go pace, the committee placed almost 50 more booths this year than last in the same amount of time, which Seay said had a lot to do with returning to Orlando's Orange County Convention Center, a place the members are obviously familiar with.

"It was nice to get back to a well-known environment," Seay said. "The convention center is set up so well for our show."

"It was good and worked out well," Committee Chair Jack Mendes said after assigning the final booth shortly before 3 p.m. "Everybody hung in there, did a good job, and we got it done on time. It was a good meeting, and the show's looking good."

All right, so that does it from another long, hectic, and productive IAAPA Space Allocation. This is always an exciting beginning to the IAAPA Attractions Expo season; it's easy to start imagining how all these booths are going to look on that big ol' convention center floor.

From here on out, if you have any questions about your booth, or for those of you following along who might not actually have space reserved yet, the Exhibit Sales Team can help if you e-mail them at

Space Allocation 2010: Day 2, Afternoon Session

2:45 p.m.: The committee will be DONE with booth assignments momentarily. The members will only be here until 3 p.m., so if you have a booth move, it must come in RIGHT NOW!

Thanks to everyone who followed along this year—we had our third straight year of record readership. I hope it was helpful.

2:33 p.m.:
Still having in-depth discussions right down to the last. Been working a solution for the past 15 minutes, but I think we're about to start up again.

2:15 p.m.:
Getting very close to the end now. Just placed No. 575, CES Sales Inc.

1:47 p.m.:
The committee just placed No. 541, Space Dome Technologies Ltd. (Simulation), which means they've now assigned booths for all returning exhibitors. Now they hit the home stretch, comprised entirely of first-time exhibitors. This section typically goes rapidly.

1:25 p.m.:
During the lunch break I spoke with Alan Ramsay, president/CEO of CLM Entertainment Inc., who's participating in his first Space Allocation as a committee member. In 2009 Ramsay sat in the back of the room observing what he calls "the science behind the chaos," and he said that experience definitely paid off this year now that he's part of the procedure, watching over companyies that fall in non-traditional amusement categories—vaccuum cleaners, for instance.

"It gave me an idea of how the process goes," he said. "It's very organized, there's a logical method to it. Fundamentally, the ultimate 'science' is to ensure the good of the show in everything that's done."

The committee's been on pause for a few minutes dealing with booth moves, but they're about to start up again on No. 518, Alpine Products LLC.

1:06 p.m.:
No. 500 is on the floor! AAAG was just placed. About a hundred to go.

12:46 p.m.:
The committee's back from lunch with booth moves to handle before assigning the final 120 booths.

Space Allocation 2010: Day 2, Morning Session

12:02 p.m.: The committee's breaking for lunch, with the last booth placed No. 481, Janus International Hospitality Student Exchange. Booth moves caused the past 45 minutes to bog down, but the committee remains ahead of last year's pace.

11:11 a.m.:
Hanging out in the Space Allocation meeting reminds me of my former life as a newspaper reporter. There's nothing like a busy newsroom on deadline, with phones ringing, conversations going back and forth, challenges and solutions being debated. It's a glorious, constant, productive racket.

Space Allocation is like that.

I've had IAAPA V.P. of Exhibit Sales Pete Barto in my ear all morning as he works the phone trying to get exhibitors coming up for placement in the best possible position. Down the table from him is the rest of the Exhibit Sales Team, keeping in constant contact with the committee to make sure everything's flowing correctly, while Director of Operations Diane Vidoni mans the massive physical floor plan over on the other side of the room.

The committee members are constantly on their own cell phones touching base with their constituent groups, then talking among one another to ensure no one's stepping on another's virtual toes. Some of the members stay stapled to their seats and man their personal virtual trade show floor layouts, while others prefer to stalk back and forth in front of Diane's big board as they look for spaces. And all the while, Committee Chair Jack Mendes' voice booms over the room's sole microphone keeping everything moving, confirming assignments and moving on to the next company.

Yeah, it's busy in here. Shouldn't be any other way.

Just placed Polin Waterparks & Pool Systems, No. 466. We're now into the companies with two year's exhibiting seniority.

10:54 a.m.:
Less than 150 booths left to assign today.

10:52 a.m.:
The committee paused a few minutes ago to let the IAAPA Exhibit Sales Team catch up on confirmations after that flurry of assignments in the past half hour. During the break I talked to Bob Domkowski, marketing manager for ITT Water & Wastewater, about this morning's session. Talk to 14 different committee members, you'll probably get 14 different takes on how this process goes. Domkowski, participating in his fourth Space Allocation, said: "This is the most challenging portions, I think, the fill-ins, trying to satisfy requests and come up with unique space sizes and placements."

The committee continues to move right along in what is certainly the most consistent hour of this entire process, though booth moves and a few larger booth placements pop up occasionally and halt the process. They just placed No.450, Amusement Insurance Resources, with three years' seniority.

10:17 a.m.:
The committee is CRUISING right now: Just assigned No. 433, Unlimited Snow, with three years' seniority.

9:51 a.m.:
Just assigned No. 400, Seasafe Inc., with five years' exhibiting seniority.

9:38 a.m.:
We're getting close to another milestone, as the committee approaches No. 400. Right now they're working on No. 395, Eworks Pro Inc.

9:00 a.m.:
OK, going back a little bit, the committee took some time this morning to redraw portions of the floor plan because they looked ahead and saw there are several large booths coming up for assignment. To accommodate the exhibitors as best as possible and maximize traffic flow on the show floor, a few portions of the floor plan were adjusted; often these things have to be done on the fly as the committee sees how the floor shakes out. Check here for the updated online layout.

The committee just assigned No. 379, GEP Productions Inc.

8:53 a.m.:
Google's been having technical difficulties for the past half hour, and it just came back, so sorry about the lack of posts. Will update what's been going on momentarily, but for now the committee is at No. 375, InPark Magazine.

8:19 a.m.:
Still working on booth moves/floor plan adjustments. I will post again once new booths start going on the floor.

7:57 a.m.:
Getting ready to start up again this morning. A handful of booth moves to take care of first, then on to new assignments, starting with No. 360, International Currency Technologies Inc., with six years' exhibiting seniority. There are currently 359 booths on the floor covering 226,900 net square feet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Space Allocation 2010: Day 1, Afternoon Session

6:02 p.m.: The committee just wrapped after a long day. The last booth placed was No. 358, Max-R, with six years' exhibiting seniority. Although it ran a bit later than last year, the committee nevertheless placed more booths today than it did on Day 1 last year, which was another challenging session.

As a reminder, the committee will start at 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow, instead of 9 a.m.

5:35 p.m.:
I spoke with Jack Mendes again quickly between assignments and he echoed Tim Timco's comments from earlier on why this afternoon has taken more time than anticipated.

"We got bogged down in a lot of special issues and problem childs, and it took us longer than normal," he said. "We've had more inquiries, and a lot of it is the exhibitors are watching it online and getting back with us, changing things and changing their booth sizes. It's a good thing, but every time we do that we stop and go."

Mendes said he likes to hit about No. 400—or two thirds of the total companies—on Day 1, but they probably won't hit that before having to break tonight for dinner (the meeting was scheduled to stop at 5:30). He said the group will come in an hour earlier than planned tomorrow, meaning assignments should start at 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday. Mendes hopes assignments should click away at a good clip tomorrow.

"Historically, as you get to the smaller booths it's less of a problem with moving things around and finding spaces for them and not being near competitors," Mendes said.

Then again, nothing this year has gone exactly as we'd thought.

4:51 p.m.:
Art Attack, No. 301, was just placed. "I call that the halfway point, guys!" Jack Mendes said into the microphone.

4:37 p.m.:
The committee's starting up again, with, yep, another booth move. Now it's on to No. 285, Ideas Extremas S.A. de C.V.

4:19 p.m.:
I just spoke with Tim Timco, vice president of sales and marketing for Worldwide Ticketcraft, about the, uh … deliberate pace of this afternoon's assignments. He believes it's a result of this new IAAPA Information Age—namely the online floor plan and this blog.

"As more people follow things on the Internet, it gives them an opportunity to call in right away where they didn't in the past," Timco said. "It helps us all address things immediately, rather than after the fact. It may cause us to go a bit slower, but in the long run it serves its purpose and is worthwhile."

The committee's taking a short break, but will resume the proceedings shortly. The last booth assigned was No. 283, QubicaAMF Worldwide, with 10 years' exhibiting senority.

3:46 p.m.:
Pace is better the past half hour, though it seems like every time I go to write that very sentence, something comes up to slow the process down. In general booths are moving faster now. Just assigned No. 272, Novelty Inc., with 10 years' seniority.

3:15 p.m.:
Sorry for the lack of updates over the past hour, but there's just not that much to report other than things still are going very slow this afternoon. It's not any one thing, just booth moves that require a lot of discussion, checking of the floor plan, etc. We're behind last year's pace in Vegas at the moment, which is surprising but it just shows the committee is working every question thoroughly. We're still hanging around the 250 mark in seniority.

2:24 p.m.:
The committee's back, and seems things are settled. Just placed Tapeswitch Corporation, No. 239. Right now we're in exhibitors with 12 years' seniority.

2:13 p.m.:
The committee is taking another break, in light of discussions popping up all over the room. The committee's seeing some potential upsizing in booths and it's about time to start placing inflatables, so in light of several requests coming in at the same time it's bogged down the process for a little while.

1:47 p.m.:
Back in session. Price Chopper, No. 228, just went on the floor.

1:38 p.m.:
The committee's taking a short break as a few members continue to discuss some booth assignments.

1:24 p.m.:
During the lunch break I talked with Committee Chair Jack Mendes, who said the morning went well.

"Normally it's a little slow getting started trying to get everything in place," he said. "I think this afternoon will move a little bit quicker."

Dan Kroeger, president of Gold Medal Products Co., concurred with Mendes that pacing was good, and said he was surprised there wasn't more feedback for booth moves. "Maybe it's a bit too early for that," he said.

Mendes said coming back to Orlando for 2010 does help the allocation process "because it's a big square with a minimum amount of columns. We don't have multiple levels or ceiling height issues, so it's a pleasure."

"We're all used to the Orlando facility," Kroeger said. "People can say, 'Put me in the spot I was in two years ago,' so it simplifies things."

Kroeger believes the pace will quicken this afternoon, as further into the process the newer exhibitors typically take less space, so it's easier to place them. At the same time, however, it gets more complicated to accommodate requests as the floor fills up. "You still try to fit people into the general vicinity of where they want to be," he said.

The most recent booth assignment was Tornado International Ltd., No. 215.

12:52 p.m.:
Committee's back from lunch, starting with a few booth moves that came in, and then starting up fresh with Ragtime at No. 192.

Space Allocation 2010: Day 1, Morning Session

12:16 p.m.: Stats update: 195 exhibitors are on the floor as of now, covering 130,700 net square feet.

12:10 p.m.:
The committee is breaking for lunch. The booth just assigned was Professional Rides AG, No. 191. The lunch break is set for a half hour. We're about a third of the way home.

11:34 a.m.:
We're plowing past the two-hour mark now, and the committee just placed PEM Fountain Co., No. 163. That means the committee's hovering around the 50-booths-per-hour pace they like. There's a lunch break coming up in an hour or so, and then I expect the pace will quicken a bit this afternoon.

11:16 a.m.:
BOOTH UPDATE: American Coaster Enthusiasts, No. 153, was just placed.

11:12 a.m.:
During the break, I talked with committee member Dick Mason, president/CEO of Mason Corporation in Brentwood, Tennessee. This is Mason's first official stint on the committee, but he participated in Space Allocation several years ago as an emergency alternate. I asked him the difference between then and now:

"At the time, it was not as computerized," he said. "It's a lot more efficient now. There was a lot more pencils and erasers before. This is like a war room—it's fascinating. It does justice to the members; everyone's trying to give people the booths they want."

10:47 a.m.:
OK, they're back. Dealing with a booth move first, then back to assigning new spaces. This is a good time to remind exhibiting companies to watch for your confirmation e-mails and send in any changes ASAP.

10:33 a.m.:
The committee's taking a short break. Up next when they return: No. 130, WorldRide Service & Supply Inc.

10:29 a.m.:
It's still not too late to submit a contract for Space Allocation. A contract just came in a few minutes ago from a company that decided it wasn't prudent to miss out on this week's activity. The committee can't guarantee immediate placement, but the company will be worked in and it's certainly better to be in the mix today than wait until after the dust settles and pick up what's left.

To that effect, a few minutes ago a committee member called a member he knows isn't in and should be to let that potential exhibitor know how important it is to be involved today. For companies with significant exhibiting seniority, waiting until after Space Allocation is like throwing money away.

10:11 a.m.:
Just a refresher on how this process works: The 14-member committee is comprised of members from different disciplines throughout the industry. Those committee members are then charged with keeping track of exhibitors in their respective areas. Everyone has a printed list of exhibiting companies, ranked in order of seniority and including preferences for potential booth spaces.

So the individual committee members look down the list for companies in their areas ahead of time and determine best possible booth locations based on those specified preferences. That way, when Committee Chair Jack Mendes calls out the company's name for assignment, the associated committee member is ready with an recommendation. When it works like this, the assignments come at a quick clip.

Discussion ensues, though, if a company's request is already taken, and the committee works to meet the exhibitor's expecations as best as possible given what's available on the floor. An e-mail confirmation of that assignment is sent immediately, so the exhibitor can respond in kind if it would like a different booth.

9:57 a.m.:
It's been a sluggish start this morning, catching up with those 25-plus exhibitors, but now things are rolling right along. We're approaching No. 100, Safari Thatch Inc.

9:46 a.m.:
A few technical difficulties out of the gate, but the committee's wrapped up with the few 25-plus holdovers, so now we're going to start running in order. The committee just assigned No. 85, Lil' Orbits Inc.

9:27 a.m.:
OK, we're under way! All exhibitors with 25 years' seniority or more are assigned prior to Space Allocation, but a couple of those are being dropped in first, then the committee will resume regularly scheduled programming. By tomorrow afternoon, 602 booths will be on the floor!

9:20 a.m.:
Going over some IT stuff, but we're getting close to go time.

Good morning, all. The Space Allocation Committee is getting settled here in Reston, Virginia. Committee Chair Jack Mendes of Bob's Space Racers is going over a few notes and then we'll be off and running.

Remember to refresh this page often to see my updates throughout the day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Space Allocation 2010 Starts Monday Morning

The IAAPA Space Allocation Committee is gathering in Reston, Virginia, today (near Dulles International Airport) in preparation for two busy days of IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010 business.

The fun begins tomorrow morning at approximately 9 a.m. EDT, when booths will start filling the floor plan of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, the home of this year's conference and trade show.

For the third consecutive year I'll be covering Space Allocation wire to wire (it should wrap sometime early Tuesday afternoon). Keep refreshing In the Queue for the latest updates on how the booths are progressing, what number is up next, and in-the-room discussion by the committee members on how they feel the meeting goes this year.

So, rest up and get ready for an exciting couple days—I'll be back tomorrow morning!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Health Care Reform Becomes Law

The U.S. Senate-passed version of the health care reform bill (H.R. 3590) was approved by the House of Representatives on Sunday, March 21, and signed into law by President Obama Tuesday. Also, both Houses of Congress considered and approved the Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872), which makes changes to the first bill agreed upon in advance by both chambers and the president.

The final bill was nearly 1,000 pages long and we want to thoroughly analyze it before we say what impact it will have on the attraction industry. Many parts of this law are yet to be decided, as they are subject to the regulatory process.

We do, however, want IAAPA members to know we are working on a comprehensive description of provisions likely to impact them, as well as a timeline for when these provisions go into effect. We will also monitor all legislative and regulatory developments and alert members when action is needed.

While we are working to distribute this information to members as soon as possible, we want to reassure members that they have some time, as the employer responsibility provisions take effect in 2014.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Duty: What the CEO of Herschend Learned from Going “Undercover”

A clean-shaven executive by day, Joel Manby, president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE), recently donned an experimental scruffy beard and horn-rimmed glasses for an episode of CBS’ “Undercover Boss” (see his before and after photos below). The reality show places company executives in frontline positions alongside unsuspecting employees and lets the cameras roll.

Manby, whose episode airs this Sunday, March 28, at 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central, took on jobs at Silver Dollar City and Showboat Branson Belle in Branson, Missouri, Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, and Ride The Ducks at Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia. I had the chance to talk with Manby about his experience.

What background did you have with the job positions you portrayed on the show? Manby: I did not have any experience because I came to work from Herschend directly from the automotive business. So I took the opportunity because I hadn’t worked the frontline jobs before and wanted to see what it was like.
Certainly the jobs were hard—you’re dressed with heavy clothing and standing in the sun as a Showboat operator … and you’re getting up at 3:30 a.m. to wash the streets of Silver Dollar City. But it was the level of connection I had with the employees and their stories that surprised me the most and made it a really compelling experience.

What did you learn from the experience about your employees or facilities?
While I certainly learned of things we could tweak at all the properties, what I was most unaware of going into it were the employee’s personal stories.

One of the people I met along the way was Richard, a maintenance worker at Silver Dollar City. I was washing streets with him and found out he had experienced a catastrophic event in his life and was going through financial troubles but hadn’t told anyone.

Then at Adventure Aquarium, I worked with a fantastic young lady named Mercedes who has an amazing story. She and her son Carl were homeless and living in a temporary shelter. She looked for a job for nine months before the Adventure Aquarium hired her. Since then, she’s done a great job and has been promoted a few times. During the show, I also met Jennifer, another single mother and a server on the Showboat. Through these women, I learned the tremendous needs of single parents in our company.

Signing on for this was potentially a risky decision—going into an uncontrolled environment and not knowing what you were going to find out.
Exactly! You’re completely unable to control the outcome. The show chooses where you’re working and who you’re working with, and they edit it in any way they want. You sign off on it from the very beginning. But I had such a belief in our folks, that I was comfortable doing it.
We did not do it for PR reasons. Our brands are all regional, and while there may be a marginal affect from the publicity, I don’t think the show will grow our national audience much. As far as the quality of our employees, I knew what I would find when I went out there, so I knew I could take the risk. One of our big missions is to create a culture of “servant leadership,” and I wanted to see if that was alive and well at the front lines like we say it is.

This experience was also about reinforcing to our hosts that they work for a great family and a good company that cares about them. The Herschend family has always run this organization well, and there’s a real balance between the guest experience and how we treat our employees.

What did you learn about being attuned to the needs of employees?
As a company, I learned there are programs HFE has available to people that they weren’t taking advantage of. There were some things we should be providing them that we were not.

I also realized that I personally withdrew a bit during the recession. We were making so many difficult decisions that no one enjoys making—like pay cuts—and I care so much about our folks. I withdrew into my office too much when making those difficult decisions.

The show forced me back out to the front lines and totally re-energized me to be the cheerleader for our workers. During this recession, there’s so much pain out there; it’s all of our responsibilities to get involved.

As far as internal operations go, the show reaffirmed what we all know—that leadership needs to always over-communicate. Any leader who wants to do a good job, needs to make sure everyone understands where the company’s headed—have a clear vision you believe in and constantly communicate it to your staff so they understand where you’re trying to take the company. Show them a realistic plan to get there; hire and surround yourself with great people who can execute that plan; and then let them go and do a great job. They’ll do anything for the company as long as they know where it’s headed and that they’ll contribute to its success.

Would you recommend the same opportunity to other park leaders?
If anyone gets a chance to work the frontline jobs without the employees knowing you’re the CEO, it’s a great gift. You can certainly still learn as much about the guest experience without being incognito, but going undercover gives you some anonymity. When you’re in a higher position of leadership, you’re treated differently whether you want to be or not. In this case, I was just another person to them—I got some of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Don’t do it if you’re just looking for the publicity. But if you want the truth and to learn about your company and yourself, and you’re willing to take some risk—do it.

Watch a preview of Sunday's episode here. And check back on the IAAPA blog on Monday to hear how the show had a lasting effect on HFE and its employees.
All photos courtesy of Herschend Family Entertainment.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Health Care Reform Update: Final Language Released

The language of the final health care bill was released yesterday afternoon. This bill is actually an amendment which makes changes to the legislation the Senate passed on Christmas Eve, so to see what the entire law says, you have to go back and forth between the two bills (and existing U.S. Code). For now, the House appears to be sticking to its promise to give legislators and the public 72 hours to read the bill before the House votes on it. The vote is currently scheduled for Sunday.

Throughout the health care debate, IAAPA has primarily been concerned with how the bill will treat the part-time and seasonal workers upon which the attraction industry relies heavily. Here are the provisions that relate to those employees:

• Employers are not required to provide coverage for employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week.

• Employers of 50 or more full-time equivalents will be considered a “large employer” and will be subject to penalties for not offering qualifying coverage to full-time employees. A full-time equivalent is determined by dividing the aggregate number of hours of service of employees who are not full-time employees for the month by 120. That number is added to the number of full-time employees. If the number is greater than or equal to 50, a business is considered to be a “large employer.” For example, if your business employs 18 full-time employees and 50 part-time employees who work 20 hours a week (or 80 hours a month), you will be considered a "large employer".

• If you have fewer than 50 full-time equivalents, you are not subject to penalties for not providing coverage. If you are a very small business, you may be eligible for tax credits.

• A new provision disregards the first 30 workers employed by the employer in calculating the amount of the penalty.

• If you are a “large employer” and do not offer health care coverage AND you have at least one full-time employee who receives a premium tax credit or cost-sharing subsidy, you will be assessed a penalty of $2,000 per full-time employee. However, you may subtract 30 from the number of full-time employees and only pay the penalty for the remaining number of employees (e.g., if you have met the definition of “large employer” above and you have 32 full-time employees, you will only pay the penalty for two of them).

• If you are a “large employer,” do not offer “affordable” coverage, and you have at least one full-time employee who receives a premium tax credit to purchase coverage in an exchange, you will be assessed a penalty of $3,000 per employee who receives a credit.

• Employers have 90 days to enroll full-time workers in a health care plan before the penalties begin.

IAAPA is part of a seasonal worker coalition that has worked diligently to secure a fix for temporary and seasonal workers. We consider the 90-day delay a small victory. However, we would still like to see a clarification of full-time employment as 390 hours in a calendar quarter. We will explore the possibility of clarifying this further in the regulatory process if this bill is passed.

For the health care legislation to become law, the House will first pass (or "deem and pass") the health care bill the Senate passed in December. That bill will go to President Obama for his signature.

Then the House will pass a second bill, which will be the final language of the health care bill (referenced above). The Senate would have to vote on the second bill. If the Senate parliamentarian agrees the amendments are appropriate to be considered under the reconciliation process, the Senate will operate under special rules where only 51 votes are needed for final passage. The second bill will essentially replace the original Senate bill, which by that point will be law. The actual changes the legislation makes will not be effective for three years, during which time they will go through the regulatory process and be considered by different agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service.

If you would like to voice your opinion on this legislation to your elected officials, we encourage you to use our grassroots action center.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Space (Allocation): The Final Deadline Is Near

Tomorrow is your last chance to submit an exhibiting contract in time for IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010 Space Allocation. Any company that doesn't get in under Friday's deadline will have to wait until after the allocation meeting, March 29-30, and take remaining space on a first-come, first-served basis.

For those who may not be familiar with this whole Space Allocation thing, here's how it works: Companies who submit their contracts for Expo ahead of time are ranked according to seniority; those who have been participating in our shows the longest get first dibs at booth space for this year's trade show floor in Orlando.

Booths are assigned by the IAAPA Space Allocation Committee, which is made up of companies from all different segments of the industry—everything from ticketing systems to redemption games to themed design to roller coaster manufacture. Over the course of two days, the committee places every company who submitted a contract prior to the meeting, which this year will probably be more than 500.

If you'd like to learn more about the process, you can check out my coverage of the meeting from last year in Las Vegas. This year we'll be going live again here at In the Queue, so you can follow along and keep tabs on when your booth is due to come up.

More to come as we get close to two of the fastest-paced days of the Expo calendar. For now, check out the official Space Allocation page for all the basic info you need for the meeting.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The CPSC's Focus for 2010: CPSIA and VGB

Over the past few weeks we’ve attended several meetings regarding the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and garnered some valuable information for IAAPA members.

Since 2008, the main focus of the CPSC has been implementing the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act (CPSIA) and the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB). As IAAPA members know, both laws have had a sweeping impact on the attraction industry in the United States.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s activities will continue to present a number of challenges for IAAPA members and many other industries this year. The CPSC has published 41 Federal Register notices (essentially 41 rules) concerning the CPSIA, and will publish 12 more rules in the next few weeks, including a revision of the definition of “children’s products,” and a rule on testing for children’s products. The Commission is also looking at cadmium limits under the CPSIA.

In 2010, the agency will turn from implementation of the laws to enforcement. The proposed FY2011 budget (which will take effect in October 2010) includes requests for additional compliance officers, field investigators, technical specialists, attorneys, and a coordinator for state and local authorities. The agency has also requested an additional 16 employees for import surveillance, and $100,000 for the destruction of goods refused at ports of entry by CPSC.

One of the most significant issues that will occur in FY2011 is the creation of the public database under CPSIA. This will allow reports by consumers, health care providers, and safety officials. Manufacturers will have an opportunity to comment on items in the database. CPSC will prioritize safety issues within the database. Potential problems with this database include duplicate submissions, misidentifications, malicious reports from competitors, and other misuse.

VGB Update for Waterparks
Another piece of legislation that has had a big impact on IAAPA members is the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (VGB). The CPSC is also wrapping up implementation on this piece of legislation and shifting priorities to education and enforcement.

On March 1, CPSC Commissioners cast a series of votes on the implementation of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. We’ve uploaded details on the votes and statements from Chairman Tenenbaum and Commissioners Moore, Adler, and Northup to our Waterpark Safety Page and encourage waterpark members to read them.

The CPSC’s FY2011 budget contains an additional $1 million for pool and spa safety education, to bring the total amount to $8.1 million since the law was enacted. The CPSC is expected to roll out its grant program to help states and municipalities enact model pool legislation and educate citizens about pool safety.

The CPSC will vote on the state grant program and the model legislation in the coming weeks. IAAPA waterpark members should watch their e-mail boxes for a notice when those votes take place.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Health Care Reform: Getting Close to a Final Bill

As Congressional leadership and the White House wrap up discussions on the final health care reform bill, details about the treatment of part-time and seasonal workers are starting to surface.

The White House fully supports a 90-day delay in auto-enrollment, meaning employers have about three months to sign their employees up for their health insurance plan. For now, that provision has made it into the final bill.

As far as part-time workers are concerned, Inside Health Policy (subscription required) is reporting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has secured a concession to include part-time workers in the soon-to-be-released health reform bill. The extent to which part-time workers are included is still unclear: there is a rumor that employers would be required to provide health insurance benefits, but we’ve also heard that part-time workers will be added together to count towards the 50 full-time employee threshold that defines small employers. For example, two part-time employees who work 20 hours a week would count as one full-time employee.

Since part-time workers are also critical to the attractions industry, we are now working to exempt part-time workers from any insurance mandate. Friday, IAAPA partnered with 18 like-minded industries to send a letter to Speaker Pelosi, reiterating our concern with including part-time workers under the employer mandate.

It is widely assumed that when the President called for an “up or down vote” in his speech on Wednesday, he was telling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring the health care bill to the floor under budget reconciliation rules. To do this, Speaker Pelosi will bring the Senate bill to the House, amend it with the White House package of amendments and pass the amended bill with a simple majority. Then the Senate would take up the amended bill under reconciliation, where filibusters and amendments are not allowed and the bill only needs a 51-vote majority to pass. Since both chambers passed identical bills, there would be no need for a conference committee and the bill could go straight to the president.

President Obama has said he would like to pass a health care bill before Congress goes to Easter Recess on April 6. IAAPA members should watch their e-mail boxes for Action Alerts as the situation unfolds.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Way to Connect: Mentoring Program

One of the key benefits to IAAPA membership is the opportunity to connect with peers, colleagues, and friends through a variety of ways such as trade shows and networking events. Over the past year, the association added a dimension to that for the small parks and attractions (e.g., standalone attractions) community: the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program. This member benefit is a formal way of opening the door for peers to share ideas, contacts, and advice.
John Norris (Seabreeze Park, Rochester, New York), a member of the IAAPA Small Parks and Attractions Committee, shares a few thoughts on this important opportunity.
For those who might not be familiar with it, please explain the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program.
It’s an opportunity for a small park or attraction member to have an ongoing dialogue with a mentor in the small parks and attractions community. Mentors can share their experiences, contacts, and knowledge about the industry, and they can act as a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Mentors can help point mentees in the right direction when they are looking for help from consultants, suppliers, and other industry services. Mentors and mentees enter into a written agreement that they’re going to work together, and the relationship lasts as long as both parties agree.

How did the program come about?
It’s a pilot project. During our Small Parks and Attractions Committee meeting last winter, one of the goals we had for the coming year was to continue to have open lines of communication with our constituency. My thought was that I really wanted to make sure members know if they ever have any questions or comments—about public relations, a supplier, a marketing idea, safety issue, anything at all—they can always feel free to e-mail or call any one of the committee members. And if we don’t have the answer, we’ll help point them in the right direction. So we discussed that concept, and it developed even further into this mentor program. And it really ties in well with IAAPA’s goal of “The Power of Partnership” program.

Why is this new program so important for small or independent parks and attractions in particular?
As a committee, we’re trying to fill the needs of the constituency. There may be some park owners out there or attractions that are looking to expand their business. They might already have a facility and they’re looking to get into a new angle, like an attraction that is looking to add rides or water—those types of things. Or they are fairly new to the business and are looking for some guidance going forward.

What level of park employee is this program best suited for and why?
There’s a group called Young Professionals in the association, and they might want to look at the mentoring program. Also, owners of parks and senior-level managers might be expanding their facilities or looking for more input.

What can participants expect to take away from the experience?
I think they’ll gain both personal growth and growth for their facilities, and over time they’re going to develop stronger relationships with people in the industry—get to know more people, more contacts. That’s really what the association is all about: bringing people together who are in a like profession and can share ideas and goals as a whole industry. For mentors, over the years they’ve received a lot of support and generated a great number of contacts and information from people in our association as they grew in the industry. Now it’s a chance for them to turn around and provide that for younger people growing up in the business. The mentees today will be mentors down the road, helping the next person along. We are not only looking for mentees—we’re looking for volunteer mentors as well. 

For more information and to sign up for the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program, click here , or contact Heidi Aulakh at +1 703/836-4800 or

To view this article on the FUNWORLD digital edition, click here.

Photo courtesy John Norris

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gearing up for the 3rd Annual Middle East Safety Institute

I recently conducted an e-mail interview with Richard A. Carroll (otherwise known as "RAC") regarding his participation as a speaker at the upcoming 3rd Annual Middle East Safety Institute in Abu Dhabi. Excerpts from our e-mail are below:

Tell me a little about yourself and your role at Jeff Ellis and Associates (E&A).
My role as SR.VP/COO encompasses oversight and direction of all E&A services. As a senior consultant for the firm I lead a team of six client managers to deliver quality programs and client services to more than 450 facilities participating in the one-of-a-kind Comprehensive Aquatic Risk Management Program worldwide. E&A also provides aquatic safety consulting, accident investigation, litigation support, and site plan reviews within the consulting framework.

What can attendees expect to learn from your session on waterpark safety?
Attendees can expect information on foundational waterpark safety and best practices for lifeguards, lifeguards operations, and facility management of lifeguards.

This is IAAPA’s third safety conference in the Middle East. Why do you feel this program is important for the industry in that part of the world?
The emerging growth and establishment of the Middle East as an amusement and tourism hub underlines the importance of foundational safety and operational best practices. In order for the region to grow as an amusement destination, safety and effective operations must be a hallmark of all facilities.


To learn more about the Middle East Safety Institute, visit our web site. Here are the basics: March 15, 2010, at the Radisson Blu Yas Island Hotel Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The Institute will cover best safety practices and allow attendees to share their own experiences through a combination of roundtable discussions, lectures, and networking opportunities. The cost is US$99 and includes lunch and an exclusive tour of Ferrari World. To register, complete this form and return to Angela Kernan (Fax: +1 703/738-7409) or register online.