Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Rules for H-2B Visas

If you’ve been following the news lately, you may have seen the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed new regulations that aim to modernize the H-2B temporary worker program. Among the proposed changes, temporary workers with H-2B visas would be able to stay in the U.S. up to three years.

Also included in the reforms:

• Employers would file applications directly with DOL, instead of first filing with the State Workforce Agencies.
• Employers would be required to attest, under threat of penalties, that they have fully complied with all program requirements, instead of the current, more cumbersome process.
• Enhanced worker protections
• A process for appealing a DOL denial of a labor certification

You can read the proposed regulatory changes published in the Federal Register, or if you’re short on time, an overview of the proposed changes is available here.

Seasonal businesses, such as those in the attractions industry, often rely on a temporary international work force to make up for a shortfall in American workers. Up until last year, returning workers under the H-2B visa program were exempt from the annual 66,000 cap on visas; however Congress failed to renew that provision in the current 110th Congress. IAAPA supports the reinstatement of the returning worker exemption program. While the new rules ease some of the burdens on business, they are by no means a replacement for the returning worker exemption.

IAAPA encourages members who use the H-2B visa program to file formal comments on the proposed rules with the U.S. Department of Labor. You may submit a comment electronically here. Comments are due to DOL July 7, 2008.

IAAPA will also be submitting a formal comment on the proposed changes. Should you wish for us to include your feedback in our comments, please e-mail them to us by Friday, June 20, 2008.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Successful Steps to Planning Themed Attractions

For the "M&S Minute" feature in June’s issue of FUNWORLD, I talked with with Mark Weston, president and co-owner of Funtraptions, a theming, design, and manufacturing company. I really enjoy articles like these which allow me to see into the heart of a manufacturer’s operations. During our interview, Weston offered valuable insight on the process of theming an attraction. He said Funtraptions can take between two to four weeks to create a concept, and anywhere from four to six months to build the attraction. Here, he walks us through the communication process between contractor and operator.

1. First, Funtraptions will talk directly to an attraction owner. Sometimes this can take time and might mean working through other consultants on the project.

Then, Funtraptions will help the client articulate the attractions' storyline. The client may want to replicate a town’s history or take on a Polynesian theme. “This helps us fully integrate the theme with the environment,” Weston says.

3. Next
, with thumbnail sketches and drawings, Funtraptions helps operators visualize the reality of the attraction. Weston stresses the importance of the theme’s enduring appeal for a broad audience. “If it’s a fad, you’re going to invest a lot of money in something that won’t be popular over time,” he says. An early sketch of the Shipwreck Cove WetScape at Dial Family Resorts in Rhode Island is pictured above left.

4. Finally, Funtraptions will show facility operators what the attraction will look like incorporated onto the play structure and the interactive area surrounding it. “There are two factors: the setting and the play equipment,” Weston says. “The latter can bring the place to life with people in it.”

“After that process, we don’t have to worry that we’ll miss the mark,” he says. "We're also savvy to the fact that most developers have a budget—so we work very hard to translate the story and theme into an achievable scenic package—even the parts we have nothing to do with." Weston gives the example of collaborating with a client's rock work company to fill unplanned areas of the attraction. "It's all about how you get the most out of the money," he explains. "We give suggestions and approaches on how to do things with blank space so the whole thing comes together in an integrated package—from the hallway leading up to the attraction—pre-show—to the gift shop afterwards—the post-show." The "Beach Hog" at the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, North Carolina, is one of Funtraptions' most intricate projects, and is shown at left.

Field Trip!
Weston says both park operators and theming manufacturers should be inspired by other successful themed attractions throughout the industry. “Look at icons, they’re everywhere we go," he says, “like the St. Louis Arch, the Statue of Liberty, or a town square. If your town has a unique look or architecture to it, use that imagery in your theming.” He offers the following examples as sources of inspiration.

1. Madame Tussauds – multiple worldwide
2. Universal CityWalkOrlando, Florida and Hollywood, California (the attraction's Latin Quarter is pictured at right)
3. Broadway at the BeachMyrtle Beach, South Carolina
4. Science Museums – “Museums do a very good job of immersive theming,” he says.
5. Any downtown or city center with symbols of the town’s historic roots, culture, or current personality.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The FUNWORLD Evolution: June Issue on the Way

The June issue of FUNWORLD is on its way to your mailbox—or maybe you've received it already. This is an exciting edition for us on many counts, most notably the cover story on Busch Entertainment's new waterpark in Orlando, Aquatica. 

Because the story (which I wrote, by the way), focuses on a specific park, we're trying something a little new and different with the cover. As you can see above, this is the first time in several years we're using something other than a portrait for the front of the magazine. The thinking was simple: Rather than put a person in front of the park, why not let the park speak for itself? We certainly think Aquatica's bright colors and lush surroundings do that job just fine. The image above is of the waterpark's signature attraction, "Dolphin Plunge"; if it looks a little different from what you might expect, you're correct. Our photographer used an unusual technique that pumps up the color to the point where the photo almost looks like a cartoon. Rest assured, though: That is the real thing, with real people waiting in line—I was standing right next to him when he took the picture.

Some of you regular FUNWORLD readers may have noticed changes to the magazine in 2008. Correct again! At the beginning of this year, we worked with our production manager/designer, Michelle Wandres, to examine every facet of the publication and look at ways it could be improved from a design and layout perspective. Not everything changed at once, but over the course of this year's first six issues, there has been at least a slight alteration to almost every single page in the magazine. We are very excited about the June edition, because it seems like all those improvements came together well to provide a cleaner, easier-to-read publication that's even more pleasing to the eye.

But more than just how it looks, we're also proud of the varied and deep content you'll find in this issue, which has a strong waterpark focus. Besides the cover story's examination of how Aquatica impacts Busch Entertainment's presence in the all-important Central Florida market, there are also reports on hotel waterpark growth and waterpark retail trends, as well as tips for helping guests avoid slips and falls at your facilities. 

Also, be sure to watch for an in-depth article on how parks handle alcoholic beverages, and a look at the current economic crunch from our industry's perspective. 

Of course there's much more in this issue, but I'll let you discover the rest on your own. And do remember to leave us a comment below or shoot me an e-mail with any thoughts on the magazine. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

FUNWORLD Follow-up: Cedar Fair's Big Purchase

Last year I interviewed Cedar Fair executives Dick Kinzel, Jack Falfas, and Peter Crage for an extensive three-part series on their company's purchase of the former Paramount Parks chain (you can read those stories here, here, and here). When I spoke with them, Kinzel & Co. were entering their first full year as sole owners of the former Paramount chain, which includes Kings Island in Ohio, Kings Dominion in Virginia, Carowinds in the Carolinas, Canada's Wonderland in Toronto, and Great America in California. They were still working through a lot of transitional issues and figuring out exactly what they had in their new properties, which represented a major, major addition to the Cedar Fair family of parks.

So I read with interest this week's Associated Press Q&A with Kinzel, published a little more than a year after my interview with the CEO. Some things haven't changed at all in the intervening time: He's still focused on paying down the company's rather sizable debt load it absorbed as part of the purchase; he reiterates Cedar Point probably won't be looking to break any coaster height records anytime soon; and revisits the idea of building hotels at some of Cedar Fair's new properties.

As for things that sound different in the past year, one of the things Kinzel mentioned to me was how his team was exploring ways Paramount utilized season passes, which Cedar Fair hasn't overtly emphasized in the past. This season it seems they're reexamining that model and looking for ways to maximize the season-pass potential.

He also speaks to the difficult decision to close Geauga Lake, and the interviewer asks Kinzel several questions about waterparks and their place in the Cedar Fair business plan.

Read the entire Q&A here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Promoting the Industry's Safety Information

Do you have ride safety or accessibility information on your web site? IAAPA is creating an “Attractions Safety and Accessibility Information” web page where IAAPA members can promote their facilities’ safety and accessibility information. The web page will serve as clearinghouse of information available to the public. This program has the support of the IAAPA Safety and Maintenance Committee.

While this is not a mandatory requirement for IAAPA membership, we hope all members will choose to participate. It is an excellent way to promote the industry’s safety programs and record.

We hope to launch the new “Attractions Safety and Accessibility Information” web page during Attractions Safety Awareness Week, May 31-June 8, 2008.

If you would like your facility be listed on our web page, please e-mail us the link to the web page you’d like us to display, as well as the name of your facility as you’d like it to appear in our listing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Record-Breaking Expo Hall for Asian Attractions Expo 2008

As an IAAPA staff member who is getting to know and understand this industry, it has been exciting and fascinating for me to watch the growth of Asian Attractions Expo.

According to the “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2007-2011, Theme Parks and Amusement Parks” published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, attendance at parks in Asia is growing at an annual rate of 3 percent, higher than any other market worldwide. This is an impressive statistic for a healthy and dynamic industry that is experiencing significant growth in markets such as waterparks and family entertainment centers, and explosive growth in Dubai and throughout the Middle East. With all of that movement, Asia is still the main market to watch!

Asian Attractions Expo, which will be held 16-18 July in Macau, S.A.R. is already—with just over eight weeks to go until show time—a record-breaking event and the credit has to go to our supplier partners and our exhibit sales team. You know them if you’re in the manufacturer and supplier community. They’re the ones that you hear from more than your own mother.

When I got Pete Barto to slow down for about 10 seconds to talk about his perception of Asian Attractions Expo, IAAPA's director of exhibition marketing and sales commented, “Asian Attractions Expo is the best global representation of the attractions industry of any show that I know of or have attended. We have 30 percent of our exhibitors from the United States, 30 percent from Europe, and nearly 40 percent from Asia. It is truly a global marketplace.”

Asian Attractions Expo is growing, that’s for sure. There are already more than 140 exhibitors on the show floor, and nearly 3,000 square meters of space sold. Even at this early date, that tops a great show in Bangkok last year. But what Pete is referring to, beyond this overall growth, is a trend that we’ve been watching for this show. While participation from Asian vendors and suppliers remains strong and steady, more and more exhibitors are making the trip from the United States and Europe to make contact with buyers from the region. After all, Asia is now home to more than a third of the world’s top 25 attended theme parks and the show brings a diverse group of buyers from these parks, family entertainment centers, waterparks, themed entertainment facilities, fairs and carnivals, shopping malls, and investors and developers.

As a staff who loves this industry, we are excited by the number of rides and product displays that will be on the show floor this year, the chance to have a show at the amazing Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel, and, most important, to be a part of the excitement of the attractions industry in Asia.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Get Involved with Give Kids The World’s Golf Tourney

Plans are falling into place for the Sixth Annual IAAPA International Charity Golf Tournament to benefit Give Kids The World Village (GKTW) on Sunday, Nov. 16, prior to IAAPA Attractions Expo 2008.

Though registration doesn’t open for another couple weeks (we’ll let you know right here at “In the Queue” when it does), it’s not too early to get involved in another very important way: Sponsorships.

Ripley Entertainment has stepped forward as the Gold Sponsor for the fourth straight year, and the tournament committee is currently looking for additional Silver sponsors. There is already a waiting list for the popular single-hole sponsors, who have added a bit of levity in past tournaments by “dressing” up the greens while surprising golfers as they approach with gifts, food, drinks, and more. In addition, a new level of sponsorship has been added this year, “Patron,” which will carry a low fee of only $200. Those interested in becoming a sponsor should contact IAAPA’s Diane Williams at dwilliams@IAAPA.org.

The GKTW tournament is a fabulous event to be a part of at the Expo. Not only does it benefit a tremendous charity, but it provides a moment of respite prior to a hectic week at the trade show. Mystic Dunes Golf Course in Celebration, Florida, will once again host the tournament this year, and only 144 playing slots are available; last year's tournament sold out several weeks prior to the event! Worldwide industry leaders traditionally arrive early to network, and participants hail from North America, Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, and Australia.

The tournament includes a round of golf, golf shirt, golf hat, and other gifts, as well as breakfast, lunch, after-golf social, and prizes. Awards will be presented following the festivities.