Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More from May's FUNWORLD: Madame Tussauds Waxes On

OK, we all know they’re not real, but the depictions inside Madame Tussauds Wax Museum sure are convincing; guests can’t help posing and interacting with the figures (to the right, the real Jonas Brothers band members pose with their wax counterparts). Before I even started working for IAAPA, I was mesmerized by the museum’s coupling of history and fun, so it was an extra special treat to interview Shameka Lloyd, the marketing manager at Madame Tussauds in Washington, D.C., for May’s Quick Hits. Below is an extended interview with Lloyd on how the museum utilizes its features to draw in customers.

FUNWORLD: How does Madame Tussauds extend beyond a museum to become an interactive attraction?
Shameka Lloyd: Unlike a traditional museum, Madame Tussauds DC (MTDC) is highly interactive—nothing is kept behind glass, rope, or stanchions. We invite our guests to touch the lifelike wax figures and actually get a sense of what it would be like to stand among such great historic icons in the world of politics, music, film, sports, and more. We also allow guests to capture their visit by taking photos, which is typically taboo in most museums. Visitors can sit next to President Abe Lincoln in a replica of his box at Ford’s Theatre, or sit on an actual bus seat next to the mother of the modern civil rights movement, Rosa Parks. Visitors interested in pop culture, celebrity, and sports can dance with Beyonce, be proposed to by George Clooney, or stand toe-to-toe with Evander Holyfield.

FW: You’ve said that launching new figures is one of your favorite parts of the job—what will MTDC introduce next?
New figure launches are definitely one of the most exciting elements of this job. Since we are still a fairly new attraction (less than two years old), we rely heavily on building greater brand awareness through our public relations efforts by launching new figures.
Typically, who we launch is kept secret until the last possible moment, but the media was savvy enough to get wind that Madame Tussauds had a wax figure of First Lady Michelle Obama (left) in production. After launching Barack Obama in February of 2008, it was a natural fit to add Michelle Obama, given the historic nature of her new claim to fame as the first African-American First Lady, not to mention her enormous influence as a style maven in the world of fashion. She is very relevant to our attraction in terms of what is new and current. MTDC always wants to be forward thinking with the individuals we select to immortalize in wax—it’s part of our tradition, which is more than 200 years old.

FW: Tell us about some of the special events MTDC has hosted and how you put a twist on the experience.
MTDC hosted several parties during our first year and each was very different. One group from the hotel management industry was brought over by bus and enjoyed a fun evening of heavy hors d’oeuvres and drinks, pictures with President Obama in his Oval Office (or his wax likeness and a replica of the Oval Office), and a souvenir of their own hands immortalized in wax.
Another group from the financial industry wandered around the attraction while dining on a buffet dinner and sitting with their favorite A-lister, U.S. President, civil rights leader, or sports figure. The attendees admitted it was difficult to decide where they wanted to be seated, but were all smiles during the event.
DC Lottery invited their 150 top clients to launch its “Pathway to Change” event. Guests were each presented with a Black History month poster which honored Dr. Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama among many other African-American icons. They were served light snacks during the two hour affair.
During the presidential election, student groups loved to see the great figures we have, and their teachers enjoy the opportunity to let them learn about famous icons—past and present—while enjoying a fun scavenger hunt. They also celebrated with a pizza party, which helped them save time during their day touring.

FW: What advice can you give to attractions holding such events and what lessons have you learned from planning for these?
I’ve learned to be flexible and know your audience. Someone from the museum meets and discusses goals and objectives with each group’s meeting planner to ensure we know who their clients are and what objectives they have for the event. Then we match that with our everyday operations to provide them with a personalized experience. All have bee pleased with our results!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Manta' Glides into SeaWorld Orlando

“Manta” may be SeaWorld Orlando’s newest attraction, but the flying coaster looks and feels like it was part of the park’s foundation plan, so seamlessly is it integrated into its luscious surroundings.

The ride makes its presence known, that’s for sure, as it swoops right by the midway at the end of the park’s entrance plaza and dips its wing into a lagoon as jets spurt water high into the air.

“We wanted it to clearly be SeaWorld when you walk in that gate. Here’s a thrilling ride, but here’s how we make it SeaWorld,” Brian Morrow, the park’s director of design and engineering, told me this morning during “Manta’s” media preview day. The ride’s been in soft opening for several days now, but tomorrow marks its official grand opening.

“Manta” is actually two attractions in one: There’s the Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster, obviously, but before guests get on the ride, they file through a queue that’s actually an exquisite aquarium. Guests that don’t want to test their mettle on “Manta” can skip the line and enter on the other side of the tanks for an entirely separate aquarium experience. There are more than 3,000 animals swimming through 250,000 gallons of water in the attraction, including one spot where guests look straight up through a viewing window to see the underside of rays as they glide past.

“We looked at what we’d done in the past, threw that away, and started over,” Morrow said of the aquarium. “We’ve reinvented the aquarium experience at SeaWorld. No longer are there big 20-foot-wide corridors with carpet and walls—it’s not that. It’s unique and special.”

The coaster's pretty special, too. For those that may not be familiar with a “flying” coaster, it means guests ride beneath the track in a headfirst prone position, as if they are actually flying, Superman-style. “Manta” opens with a 140-foot climb before diving 113 feet back toward the ground. It then rises again, offering a nice little pop of weightlessness before plunging into its most extreme element: the pretzel loop.

The pretzel loop is a drop where, at the bottom, the track tucks under itself so riders end up “on their backs” before coming up the other side. Because of the facedown positioning on a flyer, you can see the loop below you as you come up on it; every lap I took on “Manta,” I distinctly heard squeals of anticipation before the loop—once you hit it, well, it's hard to hear what everyone else is doing over your own shouting.

On “Manta,” though, the pretzel is just one of several elements that leave people buzzing afterward (I know from personal experience). After a brief midcourse break run, “Manta” zooms out in front of its main building, to the aforementioned lagoon across from the entrance plaza. Here the train swoops down toward the water and banks to the right, skimming across the water. As it pulls out of that move, the train skirts within three feet of a waterfall cascading off the queue building (when you’re on the ride, it feels like about three inches separate you from the waterfall); Morrow calls this maneuver the “Manta Kiss.” “Manta” then makes one last inline roll before diving back to the ground and then careens into the final brake run.

It’s a rush—and one you can actually kinda control. Riding up front offers a slightly more serene experience; hanging out in the back is full-on speed all the time—cresting the lift hill feels almost like a launch coaster from back there.

SeaWorld officials are understandably thrilled with their new attraction. “It’s a home run for us,” Morrow said.

I’ll have more on “Manta” in the August issue of FUNWORLD as part of our annual New Rides and Attractions special section, which highlights several of the biggest and brightest new additions to the industry from around the world. I’ll leave you with this interesting little tidbit of info, though:

In a way, “Manta” has been around since the beginning of the park—part of it, anyway. Several of the gorgeous trees that now surround the ride have been around since SeaWorld opened. According to Morrow, they were originally in an attraction called “The Rainforest,” that has since closed. The trees were moved to a nearby tree farm, then brought back into the park for “Manta.”

Sorta closes the circle, don’tcha think? Morrow certainly does. He called "Manta" "the next generation of thrills and animal experiences at SeaWorld."

For more on “Manta,” visit

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There's Wet, and Then There's … Drenched

I'm in Orlando this week for the grand opening of SeaWorld's "Manta" roller coaster. More on that in a few days.

Since I'm here, I dropped by Universal Orlando this afternoon to get a look at the progress on the Studios' new coaster, "Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit," as well as the construction for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at Islands of Adventure.

A few thoughts on each:
• "Rockit" is going to provide tremendous views not just from inside the Studios, but especially, surprisingly, outside. It comes right past the Blue Man Group theater and out to the main sidewalk beside the big Studios entrance. The track makes some twisty maneuvers right there in front of everybody—you can even see the loading station. It should be the equivalent of a big sign that reads: "See those turnstiles over there? Go through them and get over here."
• The Hogwarts castle building back near the Jurassic Park section of IOA is just gigantic—and it doesn't even have any towers on it yet.

The real reason I'm writing, though, is to tell you it's absolutely POURING in Orlando today. The locals tell me they're pretty happy (with apologies to tourists), because it hasn't rained much at all for awhile and they're desperate for some sky liquid. Still, this is a lot of rain—you know, the raining-so-hard-it's-bouncing-off-the-street-type downpour.

Your humble correspondent decided to head out into the storm anyway, armed only with a windbreaker and an umbrella (ponchos rarely work for my 6-5 frame). I'm here, I have spare clothes, how bad could it be?

Uh, bad.

I was soaked from the knees down in five minutes; from the waist down within about 15. After taking a look at the "Rockit" track and wandering by "The Simpsons Ride" (50-minute wait! Yes, that ride's a hit, in any weather), I hid out in the Hard Rock Cafe for awhile as the rain died down. It was just kinda sprinkling when I went over to IOA.

In all my visits to that park, I've never ridden "Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls," because I'd heard it's a water ride in the true sense of the word—it gets you wet—and I've never been in a position to get soaked. Well, what better time than now? I was already drenched, so I presented myself before the friendly employee at the front of the queue:

"Can I get any wetter than this?" I asked.

"Well, I don't want to say no, and I might want to say … yes," he gamely replied. "But if your feet are already wet, you might as well."

So I might as welled.

Let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen, I now know there's "rain wet," and there's "water ride wet." I walked off that ride soaked—and it wasn't even the big final hill, I don't think, that really did it, but one of the little ones inside the structure which sent water pouring over the sides of my boat.

On my way out, I went back over to the nice fellow in front of the queue to let him know he now has his answer: You may think you're drenched, but a good water ride—like, for instance, "Ripsaw Falls"—can always get you, uh … drencher.

Monday, May 18, 2009

CoCo Key's Keys to a Successful Marketing Campaign

Today CoCo Key Water Resorts launches a new marketing campaign targeted at the YouTube generation. The indoor waterpark company is asking its customers to submit their own versions of CoCo jingle as part of a nationwide contest. Finalists from each of the company's 10 resorts will be posted online June 19, and the winner—as selected via online voting—will be featured in a real commercial later this summer.

You can find all the details about the contest here. In the Queue recently asked CoCo's corporate director of marketing, Michelle Hoffman, about the promotion and what she hopes to achieve with it.

In the Queue: How does this promotion work?
Michelle Hoffman: CoCo Key Water Resort is looking for the most creative rendition of its jingle for a chance to be in an upcoming commercial. Sing, dance, hula hoop—the most creative entry as voted on by America will win.

ITQ: What made you decide to go in this direction?
MH: CoCo Key is a fun place for families to escape their everyday lives. We are always looking for new and exciting ways for guests to interact with our brand while having a good time.

In the Queue: Have you done anything like this before?
MH: CoCo Key hosted the "Ultimate Staycation Challenge" in 2008 and consumers loved it! It gave them a chance to express the most creative way they have “staycationed” in the past for the chance to win the ultimate staycation—a trip to CoCo Key.

ITQ: What do you hope to accomplish with this idea?
MH: We want to interact more with our consumers. When they think of fun, we want them to immediate think of CoCo Key.

ITQ: How much time/energy do you anticipate the contest taking over the next month?
MH: We started implementing our plans for the jingle contest in early 2009. We will be hosting open auditions at the end of May and voting in June/July. It took some time to put the program together initially, but now, executing the program is more fun than work!

ITQ: What will make this effort a success for you?
MH: Again, we want to interact with our consumers and be a part of their summer plans for family fun.
More specifically, our goal was to be at 1,000 Facebook friends prior to the official launch of the contest today, and 5,000 friends by the end of summer. As of May 11, we were already at 1,000 fans.

ITQ: How does this promotion fit in with your other social media endeavors?
MH: CoCo Key launched its social media efforts in full force at the end of April. The jingle contest gives us an additional topic to talk about casually with our consumers. It’s also a great way for us to communicate all the exciting opportunities we have to offer this summer, which includes our jingle contest and the new GetWetAWay program, which is our take on the “staycation” concept. It’s all about vacationing close to home at an affordable price.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Guest Service: Monterey Bay Aquarium

During the next IAAPA webinar, May 20, at 2 p.m., David Rosenberg, director of Monterey Bay Aquarium, will discuss the aquarium’s Guest Experience Division, a new model that blends education, mission, and entertainment. In tough times, it’s more important than ever to ensure your guests are happy and served well by your team. This model highlights a collaborative approach within the organization that offers guests a level of service beyond the basics. Here’s what Rosenberg had to say about the program and the upcoming webinar:

In the Queue: What aspects of the Guest Experience model will you focus on during this IAAPA webinar?
David Rosenberg: We will discuss the many ways we exceed guests’ expectations after they enter the aquarium. Everyone expects to see animals and receive a basic level of customer service. However, we provide compelling interpretation, live programs, unique staff interactions, and impromptu opportunities for guests to interact within our exhibits. Our guests quickly realize there is more to experience than what they anticipated when they first purchased their tickets.

ITQ: Why do you think a focus on customer service is so important during a tough economy?
DR: We have found that any negative experience during a visit has an impact on all other aspects. If someone receives poor customer service, or no service, they are more hesitant to engage in other opportunities throughout the facility. Likewise, our aquarium relies on communicating the deep knowledge of our staff and volunteers. If a guest receives a lack of customer service, they will not seek out communication opportunities during their visit. This ultimately leads to a lower perception of satisfaction.

ITQ: Who should log in this webinar and why?
DR: Our session will be good for all levels within an organization. We hope to spark some new ideas, or help re-enforce some concepts that are already in place. Since we will focus primarily on front-of-the-house operations, this will benefit managers who oversee mid- to large-scale operations.

ITQ: What tools and ideas can attendees expect to take away?
DR: We will discuss three primary areas:
1. How we organized our operation to achieve maximum guest contact and the ability to enhance the guest experience.
2. How many programs and staff/volunteer training, including live theatrical shows, adds up to exceeding guests' expectations and building overall perceived value.
3. Some best practices that our gift and bookstore uses to achieve continued sales growth.

To register for this webinar and to find out more about future sessions, click here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Safety Update: CPSC Noms, Safety Week, and More

President Obama announced he will nominate two individuals to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Inez Moore Tenenbaum will be nominated as the chairman of the CPSC and Robert Adler will be nominated as a commissioner. The word around town is Obama wants a full commission (five members) in place by August. This is important because these new commissioners will almost certainly be involved in ongoing implementation of the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act (CPSIA), Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Sfety Act and other consumer protection issues facing the attractions industry.

Tenenbaum's background is mostly in education (having recently served as superintendent of education for South Carolina), health care, and the environment. Tenenbaum ran unsuccessfully against Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) in 2004.

Adler is a consumer protection veteran, serving in positions both within the CPSC and on the House Energy & Commerce Committee (which has jurisdiction over the CPSC) before joining the faculty at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to teach consumer protection, product liability, ethics, regulation, and negotiation at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Adler is a member of the board of directors of the Consumers Union and served on the Obama transition team for the CPSC.

In other safety news, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing Thursday (May 14), examining the challenges faced by small businesses in complying with the Consumer Product Safety Improvements Act. I'll be monitoring the hearing to see if anything comes out that could offer some relief to IAAPA members trying to comply with the CPSIA.

Finally, as the summer season starts to pick up, I hope you'll think about incorporating some of our safety education programs into your park's lineup. Attractions Safety Awareness Week (May 30-June 7) is a great way to showcase the diligence that goes into creating the safe fun found at amusement parks, waterparks, and other attractions. Take 25 (May 25) is a program aimed at increasing awareness of children's safety issues. Information on both programs, including tips and resources, is available on our web site.

Hope everyone has a fun, safe summer!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More from May's FUNWORLD: Zoomars Expands the Petting Zoo Sector

A big perk to my job is learning about unique attractions I never would have come across had I not gotten to interview operators for FUNWORLD. One of those is Zoomars, a mini-farm turned full-scale children’s petting zoo in San Juan Capistrano, California. Here’s an extended version of May’s Q&A with co-owner Carolyn Gonzalez. (Below: Omar and Carolyn Gonzalez, Zoomars' owners, with previous owners Gil and Millie Jones, Jones Family Mini-Farm)

FUNWORLD: What challenges have you faced while growing Zoomars?
Carolyn Gonzalez: Uncovering a petting farm in one of the most glitzy counties in the country was the perfect platform to create something really special. The unexpected surprise was the amount of support we received from the community. Families who had been taking their kids here for years were so happy we “saved the farm” that we were soon labeled town heroes. Still, it was challenging to figure out how to modernize an old barnyard in need of serious repairs without diminishing the “good old-fashioned” feel. It was in need of serious repair and many of the animals were in poor health. We had over 100 meetings with city planners, council members, and committees before we could even paint the barn. Also, I knew I had to change the name to better represent the attraction that it was. The careful re-branding of a 20-year-old establishment was two-fold and has taken time to catch on. Townspeople still call it “the farm,” but it gets them here.

One of the greatest rewards is when my visitors tell me they remember taking their children here and now get to take their grandchildren. They always say, “Thank you for saving the farm. We need more wholesome places like this.” Being able to continue the tradition the Joneses started has been a real honor.

Like big parks, our main focus is on safety. Animals are unpredictable and we take pride in being overprotective of both our visitors and animals. We have zookeepers on guard at all times, showing guests how to properly pet and feed the animals, and group visits require a lesson in animal behavior and handling before entering the pens.

FW: How do you balance running a business with maintaining a familial staff?
CG: Caring for all these animals means surrounding yourself with a caring staff. I do little things to motivate my team and keep the lines of communication open. Showing appreciation is key, especially when it’s sincere and heartfelt. My staff knows if the zoo succeeds, so do they. The concept sounds simple, but it’s not always apparent and it’s only attainable if people really love what they do. It’s a delicate balance to be the boss and maintain friendships with my small staff, but we work it out.

FW: What program has been your biggest success story?
CG: Our birthday party business has grown tremendously from three each month to 30! And our online reservation system was a huge move. We continue to grow by offering an outdoor experience surrounded by sweet-natured animals and a staff with a “whatever-it-takes” attitude to create the best birthday ever. We’ve learned to keep our party packages affordable. Originally we had only one party area that would be rented all day. I created two more and doubled up on time slots after discovering that people just needed a few hours, anyway. Now we can handle up to six parties a day—some weekends selling out!

FW: How do you advertise Zoomars, and what are your plans for the future?
CG: With every dollar going back into building the zoo, we have no money to advertise, so we attract new customers through community events and hosting events. We load up the animals and take them to every local event we can. We put ourselves out there wherever and whenever we can.

We also host a lot of events and donate party baskets to local charities and schools looking for auction items to raise money. We are hosting a fund-raiser for Project Cuddle, a wonderful organization that helps abandoned babies.

We primarily depend on word-of-mouth advertising. For many of our guests, all it takes is one of my pony walkers taking an extra minute to pose with their young rider for that oh-so-important “My First Pony Ride” photo (like the one to the left).

One of my goals is to create a learning center at the zoo and maybe find a sponsor to fund it. I want to educate kids through animals. By petting a baby goat and gently feeding her carrots, I see how the children open up emotionally, learning about respect, trust, caring, and love. They are not judging or being judged. And all this happens organically without them even knowing it. Kids today are growing up in a fast-paced, complicated world that’s kind of scary. Animals make us more human—something I think we all need a little more of these days.

Also, I just finished hosting a "tweener show" for Pets.TV, a new web channel. It was so much fun and I think there may be more of this kind of thing in our future. Who knows, maybe we’ll even have a TV show one day!

FW: Tell us about your introduction to the attractions industry and what you enjoy about the business?
CG: Coming from a career in the pet industry, running a petting zoo sounded similar, but I soon found myself feeling like Alice in Wonderland in the wondrous world of the attractions business. It was a bright new challenge for me and I’ll never forget walking into my first IAAPA show a few years ago; there I got my first taste of what the industry was about—I was so excited to embark on this journey.

I scraped together money to attend after we had just spent every cent we had and maxed out our credit to buy the zoo. Looking back, going to that show was the smartest thing I ever did. I attended Frank Price’s Birthday University and came back with a new focus on increasing my party business. It’s been the key ingredient to our success. Thanks, Frank!

One thing I really love about my attraction is that it’s pretty easy to satisfy the needs of our market, which are “little ones,” ages 2 to 7. Just give a 4-year-old a basket of carrots and a baby bunny and it’s a joyous moment no mechanical ride or video game can match. I really love this business and love what I do; and I’m just getting started—I may not have a roller coaster, but I sure feel like I’m riding one!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Travel Matters

This week, hundreds of cities, states, and businesses across the United States will participate in National Travel and Tourism Week, organized by our friends at the U.S. Travel Association. National Travel and Tourism is an industry-wide effort to promote the economic, cultural, and social benefits created by travel and tourism to policymakers, the media, and the public.

This year will mark the 26th annual Travel and Tourism Week, but U.S. Travel has planned some fresh new events to coincide with the occasion. The first U.S. Travel Rally Day will be staged in multiple communities nationwide tomorrow with members of local government, businesses, and tourism bureaus uniting to promote the "Meetings Mean Business" and "Travel Matters" messages.

U.S. Travel has prepared a "tool-kit" and has many resources available (including that nifty graphic on the right) to help you organize a rally or recognize Travel and Tourism Week at your facility. You can even look up your city to see if a rally is already planned. Scanning the list I saw both the Orlando/Orange Country CVB, which hosted us at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2007 & 2008, and the Las Vegas CVA, which will play host this November to IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009.

If you participate, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail and tell me about your experience. I'll make sure it gets passed along to U.S. Travel. Have fun!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Snapshot: The Korean Attractions Industry

As part of our marketing outreach for Asian Attractions Expo 2009, which runs 10-12 June in Seoul, my colleague Linda Gerson and I made the journey to South Korea to visit a number of parks and resorts and invite their officials to the show. The trip proved a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the industry in the region.

What an experience and what a beautiful country. We couldn’t have been welcomed with any greater hospitality. And, the food! Yes, the food. (How is it that all of my blog posts include some reference or another to eating?)

I hope everyone coming to Asian Attractions Expo 2009 will take an opportunity before or after the show to experience the vibrant industry in Korea. The parks we visited were incredible and the people are so passionate about the business.

There was major construction at Ocean World waterpark at Daemyung Resort that was impressive in its scope and innovation. And you should see their spa!

Everland was humming along with bus after bus of school groups—and adults excited as if they, too, were still in school. Everland’s safari adventure was truly thrilling.

Yongpyung Resort was between ski season and waterpark season and still packed in visitors and resort guests. The facility is so incredibly beautiful with chalet-style timeshares and the Arctic-themed Peak Island indoor waterpark. And, Seorak Waterpia has the most unique outdoor spa baths and wave pool.

Lotte World offered great fun, an entertaining show, and delicious ice cream cones as we watched the crowds enjoy indoor rides and ice skating. Finally, Seoul Land and Seoul Grand Park were just pristine. Surrounded by mountains and full of flowers, this park was a sight to see in the spring.

More to come on our adventures in Korea as we met with industry leaders and Asian Attractions Expo 2009 speakers in advance of the show!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Update: Single Riders for GKTW

A couple weeks ago I posted an item about the Single Riders event at Kings Dominion in Virginia to benefit Give Kids The World. Well, the results are in, and the Coaster Crew (the enthusiast group who hosted the event) raised more than $3,000 for the beloved Florida charity.

As a recap: Coaster Crewers, along with fellow enthusiasts the Coaster Zombies, sought pledges for how many laps they could make on four Kings Dominion coasters on Sunday, April 26. The enthusiasts waited by the loading platform and when a single seat came available, they filled it.

When everything was done, the Single Riders took more than 400 trips around the tracks. Impressive! The results bring Single Riders' total donations to GKTW to approximately $12,000.

Friday, May 1, 2009

2008 IAAPA Year in Review Now Online

To read all about the association's events, programs, and activities from 2008, download the 2008 Year in Review (and reports from previous years) by clicking here.