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May 31, 2022

New Product in the Current Uncertain Time

New Product in the Current Uncertain Time

This week we recap Licensing Expo 2022, discuss Ocean Park Hong Kong’s new water park, Hersheypark’s 2 new rides, Rocky Mountain Construction’s apprentice program, the Milwaukee County Zoo requiring masks, and the Drive-thru zoo experience returns to...

This week we recap Licensing Expo 2022, discuss Ocean Park Hong Kong’s new water park, Hersheypark’s 2 new rides, Rocky Mountain Construction’s apprentice program, the Milwaukee County Zoo requiring masks, and the Drive-thru zoo experience returns to San Antonio Zoo. Show notes:


Philip: OK, from our studios in Los Angeles and Indianapolis, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm one of your co-hosts, Philip from Gantom and Haunted Attraction Network, and I'm joined by my other co-host, Scott Swenson, from Scott Swenson Creative Development, and I just got back from Licensing Expo, and I thought we could talk a little bit about the recap and what that was like.

Scott: You get to go to all the cool places and all the cool shows.

Philip: Indianapolis can be cool. I heard that there is a big event there outside your hotel.

Scott: There's a little thing going on here like as we're recording this and it's a car race you may have heard of, I don't know. It's Indianapolis that's got a number in it. I'm afraid to say it for fear we'll have to pay licensing fees, but...

Philip: I don't know. I've never heard of it.

Scott: It's a big deal and it's going on here. Unfortunately, I'm working. Well, fortunately, I'm working, I like working, it's a good thing. I'm here for the grand opening of a brand-new dolphin presentation at the Indianapolis Zoo, which I wrote, directed, and produced. So, I'm very excited about that. But you get to go to things like licensing fairs. You know, you get to like, see what are all the Ips. What's the IP, or the intellectual poo, on all of these new these new licenses. How was the show?

Philip: I really was just there very briefly, but the reason I went, this year's theme by the show organizers was LBE and was really trying to draw attention to LBE. I think it's something that we've been talking about forever on the attraction side, licenses, but that's not how the conversations have been working on the licensing side of things. They really have been, I guess, I don't know even how to out it, but they've always been coming at it from the more classic approach to looking for, you know, partnerships for merchandise and for distribution and that kind of thing. LBE is really new to those folks, so the convention organizers were really trying to open their eyes to the possibility, and the opportunity, of doing in-person experiences, extensions of their licenses, and developing packages for that. So, that was the theme this year, so not everybody there kind of was friendly. It's one of those things where you can tell it's very new and a lot of people have no idea. You know a lot of them, just are not prepared for that type of avenue. I actually went to some people to get comments on the LBE and quite a few of them even refused to comment, which is not something that usually happens, I will tell you, but they just straight-up refused to make any comments.

Everyone is not jumping on this, you know, bandwagon but there are some early innovators into the space. I think some of the biggest ones are Felled with their Monster Jam and Hasbro, of course, with we've talked about their Monopoly and their hotel experiences, whatnot, and Crayola. We know a few of the folks that have worked on Crayola and that their experience was the one that started at the Franklin Institute and now is touring around. We did an interview with Crayola, I did it with InPark Magazine and it's out, we'll link to in the show that you can watch it on YouTube, to just kind of discuss LBE. Those brands were really like full steam ahead into LBE. They have seen how successful the in-person experiences are, and they're looking to develop a package, like for the one that's at Franklin, develop a package to take it to more locations around the globe, to really diversify it so that it can be step and repeat. But they're even looking at expanding, specifically, Crayola mentioned even expanding into adult markets for some sort of LBE activations, which I'm excited about.

Scott: Yeah, that could be, I mean that could be really fun. It does not surprise me that, and let me oversimplify this, some of these companies who are so used to, "let's find someone else who can put our name onto a product and sell X number of units." The problem with any sort of live interaction or live crossover is, in the books, it doesn't look nearly as profitable or nearly as cut and dried as the sale of hard units, the sale of widgets for lack of a better description. That frightens a lot of businesspeople, especially if they've done their whole life about, "let's sell our name and our brand to mom-and-pop toy company, and they will make toys with our name and our brand and we will make a ton of money, and we won't have to do really anything other than represent the toy and the brand." I think it's interesting because I don't think they also understand that brand recognition, now, is something that crosses well beyond their own market. We have something that we may be getting to in the show later where there is a brand that has absolutely nothing to do with theme park that is being embraced and extolled in a live experience. So, I think that it's shortsighted thinking, but I do understand why it's there.

I even find that locally with some of my clients when I try to engage the culinary or the merchandise team into an existing festival or event, and they just don't understand that by being part of the event it benefits and draws more attention to them. They're like, "well, I just can't afford to have my popcorn stand open, or I don't want to do flavored popcorn that's themed to your event, because what do I do with the extras?" Or, "I don't want to create T-shirts for this event, because what do I do with the extras?" They're thinking of it like standard retail, and as we've talked about multiple times, standard retail is changing significantly, and retailtainment is becoming a whole monster in and of itself. So, this is sort of entertail? I don't know. I know that wasn't even close, but this was this is more of the flip side of that where you're leading with the entertainment side and attaching to it some licensing of a retail product, like Crayola for example.

So, anyway, that's kind of my take on it, I think I understand why, but the reason they're leery of it is because they don't understand how it works and they don't see that it's a great way to leap forward and eventually sell more widgets, as opposed to, "let's just focus on selling widgets."

Philip: Yeah, that's exactly right and I will say, we are seeing progress and I think that was why that the show organizers put that theme together, to draw attention to it. There were quite a few attractions industry and entertainment professionals there. Falcons was exhibiting there, Falcons Creative Group, with their own extension there, their booth and extension, that was a big step. Even some of our friends that we know, like Nico from the Gaylord Palms, he was there. So, I think, kind of the innovators in our space are aware of this and they are there. I would say to our listeners, there are a lot of people that were there that were open to the concept but just didn't know, and I think there's a lot of opportunity to maybe pick up an IP or pick up something you could build an experience around, and it can be small. For example, there were two that I was shocked at, one was the Elf on the Shelf was there and they are debuting a physical show called Elf On The Shelf Magical Experience, with elves. They had elves there that were dressed as the Elf on the Shelf characters that were doing acrobatics, and it's like a magical Christmas show. It was one of those things where they couldn't comment to me about it, so I couldn't get anything on it because they didn't want to talk about it until they had details for the experience already kind of nailed in. But, you know, they already had developed that type of concept.

There was a Hunter A Killer which really got popular in the pandemic, but it's like a box killer puzzle game that you get mailed to you, and you do it with your friends where you hunt a killer. Well, they're doing an in-person experience with sets that you walk through, it's escape game-ish that's up in San Francisco, and they also were not available for comment.

Scott: Well and again, you know it sounds like you were getting no comment from both sides. Like you're getting no comment from people who are afraid to try it and you're getting no comment from people who were so bleeding edge that they didn't really want to, you know, share all the details quite yet because they're, probably, still be developed, probably still being fine-tuned. It's interesting that you mentioned Gaylord Palms, Gaylord Palms has been in the forefront of activation, whether it is licensed or not, even if it's just branded to them or if it's a generic thematic concept. Their approach, I think, is brilliant. It's like, "if we give people more things to do we will sell more rooms." It's that simple. We both know, Philip and I both know, several companies that have been very much involved in the installation of these kinds of things and they have had great success, so much so that they're spreading it to all their properties. So, yeah, it doesn't surprise me that they were there. So, good for you Nico, good job.

Philip: Well, the big takeaway then is, don't be afraid to reach out and consider attending next year so you can see the people, or look now at the list of people who are there and available. We'll move on now. Our next story is back to Ocean Park. I feel like we should have a little que or like an audio clip.

Scott: Just have a wave that comes across. Here we are back in Ocean Park.

Philip: So, their new water park is kind of set up and running now, and there is a great deep dive from Michael Switow. Michael co-wrote the previous book about that area, so he's a great journalist in the area. He wrote a deep dive into the construction of the water park for Fun World. It's great, and what I especially like about it is it goes into some of the challenges that they were facing with the design and construction. I'm going to read just a few excerpts from it here to give you an idea.


"Viewed from the air, Water World Ocean Park Hong Kong is an unrivaled, amazing feat of design and construction, anchored onto the slope of a mountain along the shore of the South China Sea. A decade in the making, this all-weather, year-round water park is built vertically over 700,000 square feet of land and features 27 indoor and outdoor attractions spread across a series of terraced platforms and wave pools."

Philip: In terms of the challenges for the construction, some of the specific challenges:

QUOTE: "Valley streams needed to be diverted, a challenge made more difficult by seasonal typhoons. Even more technically taxing were the geological conditions; the hillside rocks were intrinsically poor, consisting of places with completely decomposed granite.

The project would have been “virtually unbuildable,” says Gammon’s Ho, if not for the latest digital technology of the time, including modeling built on photogrammetric analysis. Gammon’s team took thousands of overlapping photos with drone flyers, conducted laser scans, and then ran them through a sophisticated scheduling and simulation app called 4D Synchro Pro."

Philip: We kind of talked about this whole saga right of Ocean Park where they've changed leaderships, they've gone back and forth, and the nutshell was kind of like the old model they decided wasn't working. So, what they did was they closed down some of the pieces of it, and they were going to make part of it into like a Universal CityWalk type of thing, and the other part they were going to develop into this water park. I think it wasn't clearly spelled out as to exactly why, but what I would hazard to say is really just competitive edge. They want to lean into the natural environment, which is why they put it on the cliff, and they also need to contrast with Hong Kong Disney, which is rides and IPs, and all those kinds we've been talking about. So, if you can't do that, or if you can't outcompete Disney, what can you do? Well, you can lean into the natural area, and you can create a year-round water park, which is the only year-round water park in this area. For us, on this side of things, it may seem not that innovative because we have year-round water parks, but Hong Kong does not have one. This is the first one. The guests are not trained for this. It does sit, competitively, very different from the other attractions in the area, I think, now, and especially with this. So, I just think it's such a great idea. I'm always impressed by the strategic planning. I guess we'll see how well it does because, unfortunately, Hong Kong is still closed to visitors. So, people can't come in yet. They're anticipating a million visitors once the lockdown is lifted and people can come visit. But I think that the overall positioning and them investing to create something that is a whole unique experience is very differentiated. I think this is all very smart.

Scott: Yeah, and it's clear that Ocean Park, they're building when Hong Kong is closed, so it's clear that they are gambling on the fact that when it opens, they need to be ready, present, accounted for, and ready to welcome these new guests with open arms. So, you know, it's a challenge because we still don't know exactly what's going to happen, you know? We've still sort of waffled and vacillated on what's really going on with this pandemic, and not just here in the United States, but obviously around the world. So, I think this is, as you say, I think this is a very interesting strategic move. It appears to be wise based on all the things that we've seen.

The other thing that I think is interesting is when you say, there were three things that you mentioned in the read-through, year-round water park, built vertically, and terrace platforms. So, it's like, basically they've taken a steep slope and turned it into a water park. That in and of itself is going to get some press, it's going to get notoriety, and one of the things that I've noticed of attractions just in general, more and more attractions, and I think this is especially true outside of the United States, but more and more attractions are getting attention just because they're unique architectural structures, and like really unique architectural structures. There are places that are just really cool bridges that people go to, really cool observation points that have water flowing from them that are really popular on social media and they get all kinds of social media buzz. So, this sounds like it's kind of falling into that same category, and then adding a layer on top of it, which is a year-round water park. Which, again, hopefully, they'll be able to quickly train their audience, and it sounds like, once Hong Kong is open again, will be relying heavily on tourism. So, it sounds like a good move. I think we need to keep our eye on this because we've kind of been ushering this through since the shutdown of this area, and now that it's being redeveloped, hopefully, it will have a very happy ending. I think that's really cool.

Philip: I do want to underscore something that you brought up, which is the unique landscape. That's another reason I think that this is so smart. I think they're noticing, definitely, that trend of people liking nature and liking just unique experiences, architecturally unique experiences, and building that into it. Also, I think it's a takeaway for us and for the listeners. The part about this not being possible until recently, I mean, of course, yeah, building something on a steep cliff like that, where pieces of the granite just erode, that's crazy and it would have been impossible just not that long ago. So, I think it's also a reminder to us and other attractions listening that technology has advanced, so if our parks are 30, 40, 50 years old and there was stuff that we couldn't do 30 years ago, we might be able to do it now.

Scott: Yeah, I've always been with the ilk, never use the excuse, "well, we tried it before, and it didn't work." Because that excuse, especially now, because technology is growing and changing ever, ever so quickly. If you've got a good idea, sometimes it's OK to sit on it for a while. So, if you're looking for what's next and what's new, go back to what you didn't do before and see if the situation has changed. That may be a real strong benefit, especially to parks who have a lot of creativity, but not a lot of capital, or don't have the ability to do a lot of capital investment. Go back to some of your old ideas, because now they may be affordable, or they may be possible.

Philip: I don't know, it doesn't really fit into the things that are possible, well maybe it does.

Scott: Alright, I'll take this, I'll make this transition for you Philip.

Philip: OK, do it.

Scott: So, this kind of ties us back to licensing and what is now possible. If someone had said to you, "we're going to build a roller coaster that is themed on candy." Somebody would say to you, "you're going to what? That's the IP?" And of course, if you're going to do this where would you do it? Hershey Park, makes total sense. So, Hershey Park is going to be debuting two new rides, and here it says: "members of the media and special guests got a sneak peek of the two new attractions opening at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania on Saturday. The Jolly Rancher Remix Roller Coaster is a reimagined version of the park's Sidewinder ride, featuring new elements, while the new mixed flavor by Jolly Rancher will have arms that lift and drop riders while spinning backwards and forwards."

So, here are two new attractions themed off of a sugary treat, and of course, it makes total sense, it's on-brand for Hershey to do it. But this is that example I was talking to you about where a while back you go to a candy company, unless you happen to be Hershey Park, but you go to a candy company and say, "we want to build a rollercoaster that's based on your product." And they'd look at you like, "wh... what? You what?" But it's happening, and you know, Hershey Park's built a whole park on Hershey, but I honestly believe that something like this would fly in any park. We are so going past only looking at IPs that are entertainment related. We are looking outside of that realm, we're looking at things like Crayola, we're looking at things like M&Ms, we're looking at things, you know, looking at things like Jolly Rancher, and having the opportunity to create new product and new synergies between the retail world and the entertainment world that will benefit both. I think this is just a great example of a couple of things that we've talked about here.

Philip: There's not much else, it's a pretty short story on that one to say, so I think we should move right on, move right along.

Scott: With all of this new stuff, obviously, staffing is still an issue and it's still a huge issue. Philip, you found this great story about an Idaho Coaster Company and how they're fighting their labor shortage.

Philip: This might be my favorite story from this week because I just love it, I think it's so simple. So, this is from the Rocky Mountain Construction, and basically, they're having a labor shortage still that's affecting their businesses nationwide. Their president said, "the company has had the most trouble hiring for skilled trades like welding, which is a critical step in the coaster manufacturing process." Of course, it is, and these kinds of high skilled things are something I think that we forget about often in theme parks, that there's really high skilled pieces that come together to create all this, and it's not done by the parks. I think a lot of fans have that misconception that, you know, Disney makes everything themselves. They do not.

Scott: And in fairness, neither does Universal, nor Six Flags, nobody.

Philip: Nobody does.

Scott: In fact, the parks don't even make up the regulations, the rules and regulations, that comes from the manufacturer because they're the experts. So, it requires this level of skill. "[President Darren] Torr said this was not a problem before the pandemic. Once business started to increase after shutdowns lifted, RMC has not received nearly the number of quality applications as they were receiving pre-pandemic." And just to comment on that too, that is exactly also something that Scott and I were talking about. Pre pandemic you had this level of interest, right? And then now, that level has just is just not there. You know, there are so many reasons, everyone has their own theory as to what the reason is, and I'm going to say it's usually it's a mix of everything. Every reason you've heard out there from some of them have passed away or some have moved, or some have retrained, and some are still at home with their kids, et cetera et cetera, et cetera.

Scott: Some have decided they just don't want to work as hard as they once did, some have discovered a new interest that is just as profitable for them.

Philip: "The company decided to take a unique approach to the recruiting process to offset their trouble hiring." This is also key too. "In addition to raising rates, extra vacation, improved benefits and sign on bonuses..." So, they did everything that everybody else did. They're also starting a welding apprenticeship program. "They will hire people with little to no welding experience, with the intention of training them to become certified welders. After announcing the new program, RMC received over 150 applications. Torr said that was dozens more than they typically get every week."

Scott: Yeah, again, it sounds like...

Philip: It's brilliant!

Scott: I mean, it sounds like the right way to go. Let me put it this way, it's cheaper than offering tuition reimbursement.

Philip: Yes, it is.

Scott: And it's training them specifically for the job that you need them to do. On a much, much, much, much smaller scale I've even done this when it comes to auditioning if we can't get performers to audition. I've actually gone out to local universities and taught an audition course where the last segment of the workshop or the training program was an actual audition for whatever project that I happened to be working on. So, they got not only how-to but also practical experience in auditioning. So, this whole idea of mentorship and mentorship to become certified is so important, so great, and I'll be honest, not really new. I mean, in many cases with theme parks, if they were hiring somebody to be a tram driver or they were hiring someone to drive a forklift, the companies would pay for these individuals to get their CDL to get their certification to drive whatever. So, it's always been done, but to lead with it, and to do it before you're even hired, to me, that's great. I think it's great not only for the individual who is looking for jobs, but I think it's also really good for the company because as they're training these people, they're going to train them exactly the way they want them trained, they're going to make it so that these people, when they get their certification, they know exactly where they got their certification, what they had to go through to get it, what certifying parameters there were, what criteria there was. So, they're going to get better employees and more of them. Good for you guys that's smart.

Philip: I think that, to your point, that's been around a while, this is like an old idea that is repackaged in something new, which we talked about a lot. Those of you that are listening, take advantage of this. This is, like to Scott's point, something anybody listening can do, anyone can do that. I was just thinking too, even haunted houses, you could do a scare actor apprenticeship program, you could train them to be scare actors. Because there's all this perceived nonsense it gets in a way when people are looking to apply to a job, right? Some of that is, I'm not a trained actor and I've never done this before, so I blah blah blah. Even for us at Gantom, we can train the person in our products, we can handle all this, but a lot of people don't, or they may be psyche themselves out. So, if you can change that perspective and you can tell them upfront, "this is an apprenticeship program, you will be handheld, and you'll be taken..." A lot of people want that, a lot of people they want, especially now, I think the way that employment has changed, a lot of people miss that mentorship. Telling them upfront that it's a dedicated mentorship program, I think that that's a big deal too.

Scott: And if you're afraid to do it completely on your own, reach out to your local community colleges or universities and see if you can sort of piggyback on what they're doing. Some will tell you absolutely not, they won't be interested, but there are some out there who are very interested in getting practical application for their students. I know a perfect example is my friends at the University of Tampa in their dance program. The person who runs their dance program also does choreography for many theme parks and zoos and attractions, and she's always trying to give students the opportunity to audition and get some practical professional experience under their belt before they graduate. So, couldn't hurt.

Philip: OK, well, we have two stories left, and our last two stories both have to deal with kind of the aftershocks of what we're still dealing with pandemic. The first is that the Milwaukee County Zoo is now requiring masks inside all buildings. The zoo is requiring all its visitors to wear masks inside all zoo buildings beginning Monday. The news comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention transitioned Milwaukee County into the highest level for community transmission. That's basically it, the only other note is that the local health department put out, kind of, a recommendation that people wear masks, but they didn't require anything. So, this is specifically an attraction that is going beyond the local recommendations and instituting a mask policy on property. So that's a thing to be aware of.

Scott: Yeah, I think you just need to be aware of it, because again, we keep thinking that we're out of the woods, we're not. The numbers show it, being based in Florida, the numbers show it in a very scary way. So, I think it's important to recognize that you need to be aware of what's going on regionally, locally, so that you cannot just say, "well, nobody in the country is wearing them." Well, but here's a situation where it's spiking in this area, so the Milwaukee County Zoo has made the choice and has communicated it very clearly, this is our policy. Everyone is afraid to do... well, not everyone, some people are afraid to do that because they're afraid it's going to hurt their attendance, but I would venture to say there are just as many out there who are like, "OK, I'll put on mask. I feel good about that." I'll throw my personal note out there, they don't require masks on planes either, but you see that I'm not in Tampa, I didn't walk here, and I still wear a mask whenever I travel in the air. Mainly because I've traveled through most of the COVID whenever I could travel, I was required to because of my job, and I was masked or double-masked in many cases. I have not [knock on wood] gotten COVID, and I've not gotten any other the strange diseases that I normally get when I travel, so you know no flu, none of that. So, I'm going to continue to do it, it's a personal choice, and I think it runs along the same lines as the Milwaukee County Zoo making that institutional choice. So, feel free to do that if you want to.

Philip: Our final story is that the San Antonio Zoo is bringing back their drive-through zoo experience for select nights in June. The zoo says that tickets to the original 2020 experience sold out within two hours. The high demand led the zoo to keep the program going months longer than it had originally intended, and they shared this concept with other zoos and theme parks across the globe, and they're bringing it back now in 2022. To me, it looks this is actually a little another one of those small, brilliant innovations because it looks like they're almost making the second gate because the timing is a little bit later in the evening and it's a price per car. So, it's almost like a second gate that they're able to add in by just really moving things around so people can drive through, closing it to daytime visitors, and then charging you per car. So, it's almost like they're turning their zoo into like a little mini dark ride that they can open later at night so they can do a second gate. So, I think it's brilliant.

Scott: And people who are concerned about being in large crowds, obviously...

Philip: We just talked about it.

Scott: Also, if you have small children, having been in a zoo for the last two days surrounded by a bunch of families with very small children, keeping them in a car might just be the easiest way to go to a zoo, just saying.

All right well, we are out of time. So, thank you for being here for yet another week of Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. On behalf of Philip and myself, tell all your friends and we'll see you next week.

Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

For over 30 years, Scott Swenson has been a storyteller, bringing stories to life as a writer, director, producer and performer. His work in theme park, consumer events, live theatre and television has given him a broad spectrum of experiences. In 2014, after 21 years with SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Scott formed Scott Swenson Creative Development LLC. Since then he has been providing impactful experiences for clients around the world. Whether he is installing shows on cruise ships or creating seasonal festivals for theme parks, writing educational presentations for zoos and museums or directing successful fund raisers, Scott is always finding new ways to tell stories that engage and entertain.