Friday, April 30, 2010

Tax Benefits Available to U.S. Companies That Hire Unemployed Workers

The "Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act" (HIRE Act) created tax benefits to encourage U.S. employers to hire workers. The good news for the attractions industry in the U.S. is that these tax incentives may apply to eligible summer hires.

Employers who hire unemployed workers this year (after Feb. 3, 2010 and before Jan. 1, 2011), may qualify for an exemption from the employer's share of Social Security tax on wages paid to those workers after March 18, 2010. Even better news if your business is not seasonal: If an eligible new hire is retained for at least a year, the businesses may claim a "new hire retention credit" of up to $1,000 per worker on their 2011 return.

So who's an eligible employee?
According the IRS, qualified employees are individuals who start work with a qualified employer after Feb. 3, 2010, and before Jan. 1, 2011, who have been unemployed or employed for less than 40 hours total during the 60-day period ending on the date such employment begins, and who are not family members of or related in certain other ways to the employer.

Do students or recent graduates qualify?
Yes, if the employee meets the above qualifications. It is not necessary that the individual was previously employed and has lost his or her job to be a qualified employee.

What does an eligible employee need to do for my business to qualify for this tax credit?
Qualified employees must certify by a signed affidavit, under penalties of perjury, that they have not been employed for more than 40 hours total in the past 60 days—ending on the date they start employment with your company. The IRS plans to issue a model affidavit that can be used for this purpose.

Do I need to fill out any paperwork?
Yes, employers need to complete an IRS Form W-11 and submit it with the signed affidavit to take advantage of this program.

For information about the HIRE Act, including other FAQs and the tax form that must be completed to qualify for this tax credit, please visit the IAAPA Government Relations web site.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Animals in Captivity Subject of Congressional Hearing Tuesday

Yesterday a U.S. House committee held a hearing examining the educational benefit of marine mammals in captivity. If you're interested, you can watch the archived footage of the hearing.

Julie Scardina, Animal Ambassador for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, testified before the committee along with a representative from AZA, several scholars, a representative from the Humane Society of the United States, and the director of the recent documentary "The Cove" (who repeatedly called marine mammal exhibits "dolphin circus shows"). IAAPA submitted a letter for the record on behalf of its zoo and aquarium members. Additionally, several IAAPA member facilities submitted letters discussing the educational, environmental, and economic benefit zoos and aquariums provide.

IAAPA members know how seeing dolphins, orcas, polar bears, and other marine mammals (and more generally, all wildlife) inspire children and adults to learn about science and conservation because they see it first-hand. Moreover, we know the benefits zoo and aquarium facilities provide by allowing visitors to see animals that they would otherwise not be able to see in an up-close, safe, family-friendly environment.

Overall, the hearing was informative for the subcommittee and the public. SeaWorld did an excellent job explaining the many ways it contributes to education and conservation in the U.S. It is unclear if any "next steps" will come from this hearing, but as always, we will keep members updated on the issue.

Monday, April 26, 2010

FUNWORLD Update: College Students Getting More Involved with IAAPA

Here is a post on young professionals in the industry from Andrew Hyde of the Future Theme Park Leaders Association at the University of Central Florida:

In its October 2009 issue, FUNWORLD published an article highlighting several young professional organizations at college campuses across the United States. The article detailed our desire to help make the attractions industry more aware of us, as we share great passion for the industry and, as students, we all are doing everything we can to use our schools as a foundation to help create a career in the attractions business.

Over the past few months a lot has happened within the organizations and the plan to work together grows stronger and stronger. Myself and leaders from the other groups have been talking and e-mailing with IAAPA in hopes of furthering the young professionals program within the association. We plan to post updates here on the In The Queue blog in the future.

In the meantime, here are some updates from several of the organizations:

The University of Cincinnati Coaster Cats was founded in fall 2008. Starting off as an engineering group, it has since grown into a more well-rounded organization that focuses on all aspects of the attractions industry. The group has been on several facility tours and had one-on-one sessions with several regional businesses such as Kings Island, Holiday World, and The Gravity Group. Some recent projects include the design and modeling of a coaster to hypothetically be placed on campus. The group's future plans include marketing talks, more tours, and a CoasterDynamix project.

Theme Park Engineering Group at Ohio State is working on a pneumatic-powered robotic bird that can be controlled by their own software; the bird will be able to move and synchronize with various music or audio feeds. The group is also working with CoasterDynamix doing product development and testing for a potential coaster model. They will be going to high schools this quarter to get feedback on an educational presentation they created, which showcases their 10-foot-tall steel launching tower model.

Future Theme Park Leaders Association at the University of Central Florida recently spent several days in California meeting with leaders of Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Universal Studios Hollywood. The group is made up of students looking to work their way into leadership in theme parks and many are already participating in leadership internships at the Central Florida parks.

We're all looking forward to IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010 in Orlando, but in the meantime if you have any questions or ideas for how IAAPA can serve the young professional community please feel free to e-mail me and I will pass it along. Also, please send me any information on what other schools are doing to embrace the attractions industry.

Friday, April 16, 2010

IAAPA Webinar: Go Mobile

Mobile sites. Native applications. Apps. If these are foreign concepts to you or if you’d like to learn more, attend IAAPA’s next webinar, Wednesday, April 28, at 1 p.m. EDT.
Damien Lasater, design manager with the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, will be discussing the use of mobile applications (iPhones, etc.), mobile sites, and other tools that can help drive interest, sales, and attendance at your facility. Lasater shared some insight into what participants can expect from the webinar.

How prevalent are iPhone and other cell phone applications in our industry?
New applications within our area are becoming available everyday in both native format (downloaded onto a device) and mobile web (available within a browser on a mobile device). Almost all of the major attractions have some type of app providing wayfinding and visitation information.

What are some of the benefits to having a specific app related to a park or attraction?
There are multiple benefits to creating an app or mobile web-based area related to an attraction. Apps that empower visitors with tools for wayfinding, entertainment, and social media can improve the overall experience and allow visitors to share it. Alternatively, entertainment-based apps can build awareness for a new attraction within a park and deliver fresh content to keep that attraction top of mind.

Who will the webinar be geared toward?
The webinar will be geared toward groups considering an app or creating their first app.

Aside from the iPhone, what other app uses will the session cover?
Beyond the iPhone this session will explain the differences between native applications and mobile web based applications/sites. For example, a native application is one that must be downloaded onto a device by a user and often provides a much richer and faster experience. A mobile web application is one that is accessed through a web browser within a phone and does not have to be downloaded to be experienced. We’ll also look at a few trends within apps—such as augmented reality (AR)—and how they are changing how consumers interact with their devices and surroundings

What can attendees expect to take away from the discussion?
Attendees can expect to be able to answer the question “Is an app the right solution for my attraction?” and have a solid understanding of the different devices, technologies, and processes involved in creating an app.

To register or learn more on IAAPA’s e-learning programs, click here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

May's FUNWORLD Is All About Holidays

What is this, Christmas in April? Maybe so.

I've been a FUNWORLD editor since October 2004, and the new May 2010 issue is easily among my top five out of the 60 editions I've helped publish. I posted the digital edition today, so click here if you want a sneak preview before the print version lands in your mailbox.

This month's magazine, as the headline says, is all about shoulder-season success. Even though we haven't even hit the peak summer season yet, everyone knows it's never too early to start thinking about Halloween and Christmas events, which take months of planning to do right. This ENTIRE issue is dedicated to helping you make those events better than ever this year.

Topics include:
• How to navigate the sensitive politics of the holiday season (should you use the word "Christmas" or just "holidays"?).
• Is it possible to be too scary in your Halloween events?
• How can you maximize incremental holiday revenue through food, souvenirs, etc.?
• What can zoos do to set themselves apart from the crowd during Halloween?
• What are the benefits for FECs and other attractions to open on Christmas Day?
• What impact do holidays have on charitable fundraisers at attractions?
• How LEDs are changing the way attractions decorate for the holidays.
• Why warm-weather facilities are finding success with cold-weather activities.
• How FECs use the holidays to boost group sales.

I love this issue, and I hope you do, too. In fact, I hope you pass this around through your whole office, then rip it up and pin some of the pages to your bulletin boards to help in your planning for this year's post-Labor Day bonanza.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions/comments, please e-mail me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

GKTW Featured in New Movie, 'Letters to God,' Out Today

"Letters to God" is a new movie opening today, and the story is based on a Wish child named Tyler who visited Give Kids The World in 2004. Tyler's father, Patrick Doughtie, wrote the story for the film, which will hit 900 theaters across the U.S., said Susie Storey, communications director for GKTW.

The production set up shop for an entire day at Give Kids The World last May (4 a.m.-7 p.m.!), filming scenes for what ended up being the last seven minutes of the movie, Storey said. GKTW President Pam Landwirth made the final cut, as did a scene in the Village's theater; Landwirth is also featured in the behind-the-scenes promo video at the top of this page. Scenes were also shot at Universal Orlando, Storey said.

Doughtie was inspired to write the story, Storey said, when, following Tyler's death, Doughtie found a notebook his son had filled with "letters to God"—essentially prayers. For more about the movie's storyline, click here.

Storey said GKTW is definitely "proud to be a part of ["Letters to God"]." She said GKTW officials hope people who may never have heard of the Village before will be intrigued and want to find more about the organization after they leave the theater.

For more about "Letters to God" and see a preview, click here. For more about GKTW, click here. To find a showing near you, click here.