Thursday, January 28, 2010

Planning a trip to the U.S.? The Scoop on ESTA

If you are a citizen of a visa waiver program country, and planning to visit the U.S. anytime soon (maybe to attend IAAPA Attractions Expo?), you may want to take note:

Earlier this week, USA Today published an article about new requirements for travelers from visa waiver program countries coming into the United States. As of January 20, 2010, these travelers must now complete an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application before traveling or they risk not being able to board their departing flight. U.S. citizens returning from overseas or citizens of visa waiver program countries traveling on a valid U.S. visa do not need to complete this form.

ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel and are usually valid for up to two years (or until your passport expires, if that is within two years). The authorizations are valid for multiple entries into the United States, and the application is currently free, so there’s no real downside to completing a form as soon as you begin making your travel plans—or even now, if you’re planning to attend any spring committee meetings in the U.S. or IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando this November. Even if you are unsure of your travel plans, you can apply and just leave the travel information section blank.

The travel industry is urging the U.S. government and international airports to establish computer terminals where U.S.-bound travelers can complete their ESTA forms, but currently you must apply in advance – before you arrive at the airport. If you do not have an approved application, you can be prohibited from boarding your flight.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has created a web page where travelers can find information, answers to questions, and links to the online ESTA application.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Photo Update: Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

UPDATE 1.28.10: This morning, Universal Orlando partnered with USA Today to premiere an Augmented Reality sneak peek of the Wizarding World. You can read the USA Today story here, or get started on the sneak peek here (you'll need a web cam hooked up to your computer).


I'm a little late on the up-post of this pic Universal sent out due to transportation issues in D.C. yesterday. Anyway, thought you might enjoy this photo of Hogwarts castle Uni sent out this week, as work progresses on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure in Orlando.

Hogwarts is the centerpiece icon/attraction of the new Potter-themed land set to open this spring at IOA. It goes without saying Wizarding World is one of the most anticipated attractions of 2010; in fact, I'd say it's one of the most anticipated attractions I've covered in more than five years with IAAPA.

I am looking forward to writing about all things Wizardly for FUNWORLD this year, so consider this a little taste of butterbeer to whet our appetite.

Monday, January 25, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United Decision: What it means for IAAPA members

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision that substantially scales back previous campaign finance laws to allow corporations, associations, and unions to spend general treasury funds on independent expenditures. Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission overturns a previous ban on corporate spending for campaign advertisements and allows corporations to pay for ads that support or oppose federal candidates.

Simply put, IAAPA or one of its member companies in the U.S. can use corporate money to run a TV, radio, or newspaper ad or send a direct-mail piece to voters, advocating for the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Previously, corporate money could only be used for education pieces that did not specifically tell the audience to vote for or against a candidate.

Corporations that run these ads are still subject to Federal Election Commission disclosure requirements, so if you are thinking about getting involved in the 2010 midterm elections, I strongly recommend you consult an attorney who specializes in election law prior to running any ads. Corporations are also prohibited from “coordinating” with a campaign when producing the advertisements. “Coordination” may even include using the same consultants as a candidate, which is all the more reason to make sure an attorney is reviewing your plans.

The Citizens United decision also does not change the rules regarding direct contributions to candidates. These contributions still must be made in personal dollars (up to $2,300 per year, per candidate) and are still subject to Federal Election Commission reporting. Additionally, contributions to political parties still need to be made with personal money.

All this means Political Action Committees, such as IAAPA PAC, are still very important to the political process, because they allow individuals to pool their personal money together to get the most “bang for the buck.” IAAPA PAC members can give up to $5,000 per year to IAAPA PAC and IAAPA PAC can give up to $10,000 per election ($5,000 for a primary race and $5,000 for a general race) to candidates. The money given to IAAPA PAC does not count against individual limits to a candidate, so an IAAPA member can give both to the PAC and to candidates he or she supports.

IAAPA encourages all of its U.S. members to participate in IAAPA PAC and provides various opportunities for donors of all levels. For more information on these opportunities, please contact me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Healthcare “Game Change”

What a difference a couple of weeks makes!

When I last wrote about the current U.S. health care reform debate, the situation looked rather bleak for seasonal employers. Since neither the House nor the Senate bill specifically addressed the treatment of seasonal workers under the proposed employer mandate, IAAPA and other seasonal industries were trying to convince leadership to define “full-time employee” in a way that excluded temporary seasonal workers. This task was proving especially difficult since House and Senate leadership decided to forgo a traditional conference committee and instead reconcile the two bills through closed-door, private negotiations with the White House.

As you’ve most likely heard by now, on Tuesday (Jan. 19) the voters of Massachusetts elected Republican Scott Brown to fill the late Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat, causing the Democrats to lose their 60-vote “super majority." This election has resulted in a very different environment for the consideration of health care legislation. Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she did not have the votes in the House to pass the Senate health care bill, which would have been the simplest way for the Democratic majority to enact health care reform.

At this point, it looks like both chambers of Congress will have to go back to the drawing board and craft new health care reform legislation that is smaller in scope. While we have heard nothing definite on the contents of this legislation, it may be limited to insurance providers and not contain the employer mandates and increased taxes previously seen.

IAAPA is monitoring the situation closely and will advise its members to take further action when it is necessary. If the new legislation contains employer mandates, we will continue to seek a workable solution for employers of seasonal workers.

Should you have any questions about this or other pending legislation, please feel free to contact us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Call for Presentations: IAAPA Attractions Expo 2010

A couple little things are hard for me to believe today:

1. IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 in Las Vegas ended more than two months ago already. Time is going fast. And, on that note …

2. The IAAPA education department is already planning for this year's Expo in Orlando, starting with the annual call for presentations. By checking that link, anyone who has an idea for a seminar at this year's conference can get all the details about categories, deadlines, content, etc. Deadline for submissions is Monday, Feb. 8.

Share the knowledge!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Six Flags Over Georgia's Job Fair Draws Hundreds

These photos of Six Flags Over Georgia's weekend job fair certainly caught my eye. According to park spokesperson Kendall Kelton, hundreds lined up Saturday morning for the annual event.

Kelton said in a statement there are jobs to fit any applicant and the park will work to accommodate people's schedules, including students. With U.S. unemployment still hovering around 10 percent, seems to me people will be more than willing to accommodate SFOG. As you can tell from the photos below released by the park, the line of applicants stretched literally as far as the eye could see.

Monday, January 11, 2010

More to Learn: Social Media Webinar Wednesday

How big of a deal is social media anyway?

During IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009 this past November, IAAPA reached capacity during an education session on using these ubiquitous online tools to communicate with customers. So we're reprising the content from the trade show into a webinar Wednesday at 1 p.m. Register now and find out what the buzz is about.

In the meantime, I caught up with one of this week's speakers, Paula Werne of Holiday World, who shares some straight talk on how important these tools are and why operators need to be tuned in.

This webinar is a continuation of a maxed-out session at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2009. Why do you think social media is such a hot-button issue right now?
Did you ever see the old movie “The Blob?” That’s what social media is. This ever-growing, oozing, moving glob of scary stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of folks run from it screaming. So when a couple of communicators from smaller parks offer to talk about what chunks they’ve successfully lobbed off of this monstrosity, it catches their attention.
There’s not a social media rulebook or textbook. But we can learn the basics from each other. Sort of like guitar—how many of us actually took guitar lessons? Most of us can play at least a few songs—enough to impress others around the campfire—thanks to our friends teaching us. We want to show how we started our social media programs, step by step, and hopefully reduce the anxiety so many seem to feel.

Why is it so critical for attractions managers to understand and use these networking tools?
This is how people communicate. They’re texting like crazy; they’re on Twitter; they want to be your Facebook fan. They want to hear from you, and if you’re not talking to them, they may move on to another attraction that is actively tweeting, etc. Social media is not a fad; if you’re waiting for it to pass by you may wait yourself right out of those improved attendance numbers your owners want.
Social media is also increasing how members of the news media communicate. Reporters might pick up a story idea from one of your tweets, embed your YouTube video in their article, or you might catch a lead off of a reporter’s Twitter feed. Just be assured that you'll miss out on opportunities if you're not plugged in.

What advice can webinar participants expect to take from this session and apply to their businesses right away?
What I hope everyone carries away is we are not tech geeks. We are communicators. As communicators, we must be determined to learn how to use the tools our audience is using. That doesn’t mean we need a degree in computer engineering. Starting a Twitter account takes about five minutes. A little longer for Facebook. YouTube the same. Fear not the technology, and don’t get all wrapped up in “where will I find the time?” As a communicator, you’ll find time—because it’s fun! And isn’t having fun part of every IAAPA member's brand?

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

Friday, January 8, 2010

U.S. Health Care Reform Update

I have no doubt that as business owners and operators, U.S. IAAPA members have been paying attention to the recent health care debate in Washington. We’ve been paying attention, too, as this legislation has the potential to impact every U.S. IAAPA member. Below are some of the steps we’ve taken on health care legislation:

• In July, IAAPA President and CEO Charlie Bray sent a letter to the entire U.S. Senate highlighting our concerns about seasonal workers. We focused on the Senate because the Finance Committee was working on its bill at the time. The bill passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (known as the HELP committee) contained an exemption for seasonal workers but it was limited to extremely small businesses.

• During August and September, IAAPA joined forces with two other associations that represent seasonal workers to meet with key Senate offices and discuss the problems facing employers. These meetings included the offices of Senators Cantwell, Cornyn, Ensign, Enzi, Hagan, Lincoln, Menendez, Mikulski, Nelson, and Snowe.

• Although many of the staff we met with on the Senate side expressed sympathy for or at least interest in the difficulty of seasonal employers in addressing health care, no champion was identified to press our cause. On the House side, Representative C.A. (Dutch) Ruppersberger (D-MD-2) volunteered to champion our position. He contacted Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the issue.

• Each week during August, IAAPA conducted grassroots activities, facilitating contact between U.S. IAAPA members and Members of Congress. These included a survey to get an idea of how many seasonal employees our members employ, a list of town hall meetings and talking points on the issue, information on scheduling meetings in the district or state, and action alerts for phone calls and e-mails to Congress.

• In October, we expanded our coalition in an effort to gain broader support. In addition to IAAPA, the group grew to more than 40 associations and businesses. This coalition sent a letter to every Member of Congress outlining the issue and supporting a seasonal worker amendment to the House bill proposed by Representative Erik Paulsen (R-MN-3). This amendment was not included in the version of the bill that passed the House. However, Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX-2) included the letter in the record so that it is part of the legislative history of the House bill.


Health care reform is sweeping legislation that will impact most employers in the United States in some way. IAAPA is particularly concerned about the provisions that relate to the temporary and seasonal workers the attractions industry hires during peak seasons.

While both the House and Senate bills are silent specifically on seasonal workers, the treatment of such workers will most likely be determined by the definition of “full time.”

The House bill does not define “full-time employee,” and instead directs a newly created “Administrator” to determine what is “full time.” The Senate bill defines “full-time employee” as working 30 hours or more per week, as averaged over one month.

A related provision that is problematic for IAAPA, and more generally employers of temporary and seasonal workers, is a provision in the Senate bill which requires employers to enroll their employees in their health care plans within 30 days or pay the penalty for not providing health insurance.

Now that both chambers have passed their respective bills, the process of reconciling them into one bill that both chambers can agree on begins. Instead of using the traditional method of reconciliation, a conference committee, House and Senate leadership, along with the White House, opted to use an informal process where leadership will meet to work out the differences in the bills and then both houses will adopt the final, agreed-upon language as amendments to their respective bills.

While leadership has some major issues to work out, including if the bill will include a “Public Option” (a government-run health insurance plan), IAAPA is continuing to work with like-minded industries to address seasonal workers in the final legislation. If you'd like to help our effort, you can contact House and Senate leadership through our Grassroots Action Center.

As always, stay tuned to the blog and for updates on the situation.