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March 28, 2022

Training for New Growth

Supply chain disruptions are back as attractions also struggle with training new staff. Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for a record fall season.


Supply chain disruptions are back as attractions also struggle with training new staff. Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead for a record fall season. 

Stories Covered:

Transcript

Philip:

From our studios in Los Angeles, California, and Tampa, Florida, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip from Gantom Lighting and Controls and the Haunted Attraction Network, and I'm joined by Scott Swenson, my co-host, of Scott Swanson Creative Development.

Scott:

Hello, hello. How's everybody doing? Hope it's a good week for you. I know it's a good week for me, I'm home. I'm back in Tampa. It's lovely. It's great. I've been traveling a lot, so I'm back in Tampa, so that's great.

Philip:

Well, geez. I don’t know how to segue into this. There is no segue. I was going to say, stuff that is not great. No, no, no.

Scott:

From my pleasure to a really tragic situation.

Philip:

Yeah. We can't really not mention this on the show, of course, we don't want to dwell too much on it, but there's the recent tragedy in the Orlando area. The 14-year-old boy who died from a fall on the new Icon Park Ride. Local authorities are investigating the death of a 14-year-old boy who fell from the Orlando free fall attraction Icon Park around 11 PM Thursday. According to the Sheriff's office, the boy was taken to a hospital shortly after the fall, where he died from his injuries. The attraction, which takes up to 30 guests high into the air before dropping 400 feet at 75 miles per hour, first opened just in January of this year.

Scott:

Yeah, I think, because it is an ongoing investigation there's not a whole lot of solid facts, and we don't want to sit here and report on conjecture. But I think the reason we had to talk about it is number one, it is the elephant in the room this week in the attractions industry. Also, I think it is a very painful reminder that no matter what happens with our staffing or our training, and no matter how much that budget gets rattled or shaken, safety still needs to be job one. Now, we have no information whatsoever as to whether it was a staffing issue, whether it was rider error, whether it was equipment, we have none of that information. But we would be responsible in reporting on it, or at least talking about it, because again, it did happen, it is a big deal, and it's a real black eye to the industry. Secondly, it's a very difficult reminder that no matter what happens in our world, pandemic related or not, safety still needs to be job one. It cannot slide. Even if we're having, you know, banner years, actually, especially if we're having banner years with attendance, we still need to maintain our attention on the safety of everyone who enters our attractions, period.

Philip:

There are a few other stories we can link this to. Again, we don't have the full report, but I think, regardless of what comes out, staffing is something that I think a lot of people lose sight of it. Like, we're thinking now about the demand of this coming year, and about what we need to add. Then we think about next year and what we're going to have to open to keep those guests coming back. But throughout all of this, we have to be thinking about really the time that it takes to truly train well, our staff members. Having just gone to Disneyland for my mom's birthday, I can say firsthand as well, there's still a lot of... The trams are recently running. There were some safety misses in those tram checks. There was even, yesterday on the Bobsleds, there was definitely a seatbelt check that got missed, and there was little things like that. Those are the cracks that appear when you are trying to train up a whole staff unit to capture demand. I just think it's a good reminder for all of us, like, Hey, we need to give time. We need to give everyone time they need to get used to the positions. Speaking of linking these other stories, we remember Glenwood Caverns, which was another recent tragedy, and that was definitely a lack of staff training. When the police report came out about that, it mentioned it directly. Again, having to do with seat belts and just understanding the ride vehicle and the warnings on the ride vehicle, because they're complicated, and that kind of stuff.

Philip:

Similarly related, or is also from this week, which is one we don't want to dwell on either, but Disney got a lot of flak for a group that performed at Walt Disney world this past week, and they had some racist bits in their performances. This has been making news again in the industry, all over, and people are all upset. From what the park said, basically the park said that those segments were not present in the audition tape, but you really can just go and look on YouTube and see recordings of their previous performances, and you can see this bit in there. So, I think that is one of those, as well, I'm going to chalk up to staffing. In that, you know, that should be something you should vet, but I'm sure that because Disney, again, is still dealing with staff, we all are, that maybe some of that vetting kind of fell by the wayside. that should be definitely, you don't just go by what they say their word is in their audition tape, you look up to see what their other performances have looked like. Right, Scott?

Scott:

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think you're absolutely right. I don't want you guys to think that this is a staffing issue, it's a training issue. Having worked in theme park for many, many, many, many years, I know that when budgets get cut, the first thing that gets cut is training

Philip:

They don't need two weeks, just three days.

Scott:

Three days. Exactly. they can read stuff online. They can learn from the YouTube videos. So, the attractions industry is already, I won't say notorious, but it is kind of standard operating procedure in many, many parks that training is the first thing that gets cut because it's not believed to be guest facing. Which I just don't understand, but they claim that it's not truly guest facing and doesn't generate revenue. It may cost revenue if it's not done correctly in the form of, you know, lawsuits and refunds and that sort of thing. But, if we have any HR professionals who are listening who are in the industry, you guys know it probably better than anyone. You're the ones who've been fighting to maintain those training budgets, and to maintain the training time and the training expectations. Filling a position is not enough. You have to train the position so that it can actually do what it's set off to do.

Scott:

Do not think about staffing as a checklist, do not think about staffing as, "we have 15 positions to fill, we have 10 people who are sitting in the waiting room, looking for jobs. Great. Now we only have five positions to fill." Wrong. Wrong, because just placing bodies in there, I know there are parks who will argue with this and say, "we have no choice. We have to place bodies in there," and I'm going to argue back, and that is that you don't have a choice not to properly train because it's going to come back and be detrimental to, not only your guest experience, but also perhaps your financial wellbeing as a company or a park. So, staffing is where it starts, training is what we'll fix that.

Scott:

Anybody, I think, who's ever worked in the industry will know it is better to have three well trained, appropriate people than five people who are just sitting there pushing buttons who don't know what they're doing. Three people can accomplish more than five, if they are properly trained, and if they have the proper motivation. Everyone's going to say, "Scott, you're not working for a park anymore. You just don't know how it is anymore." Well, that's crap, because I worked in park for a very long time, and we had the same issues 20 years ago. So, you just cannot ignore the training, that's really what I want to hammer home here. You cannot ignore the training, because it will be detrimental to your park or your attraction financially, period.

Philip:

Another thing that will be detrimental if you don't think about it and don't plan for it is, the further supply chain disruptions that are going to be caused by the lockdowns in China.

Scott:

You kind of have some personal experience with this, don't you Philip?

Philip:

I do. I do. Before I get into my personal experience, though, I'm going to read an excerpt here from the story that we'll link to, which is from the New York times.

QUOTE — https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/15/business/covid-china-economy.html

China’s Covid Lockdowns Set to Further Disrupt Global Supply Chains — "Trucks are being delayed by the testing of drivers. Container rates are rising as ships wait for many hours at ports. Products are piling up in warehouses. As Chinese officials scramble to contain the country’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 since early 2020, they are imposing lockdowns and restrictions that are adding chaos to global supply chains. The measures in China, home to about one-third of global manufacturing, are disrupting the production of finished goods like Toyota and Volkswagen cars and Apple’s iPhones, as well as components such as circuit boards and computer cables." ... "Ports in China now require workers to live and work at the docks for as long as two months at a time, away from their families, to prevent infections. That has allowed the ports to keep operating even during sustained outbreaks, in contrast with severe shipping delays last spring and summer when infections forced extended closings of big container terminals in Shenzhen and near Shanghai."

Philip:

They don't mention theme park stuff in there, but let me just tell you, theme park components and theme park pieces are also going to be delayed. That it's because we are specialty manufacturers, all of us that provide services to that, and most of the specialty manufacturers do have some sort of component, piece, or a factory of some kind that is in these regions. The Gantom example is that our factory is in one of the areas that was shut down, and they start with a two week shutdown and it could be extended even longer by the time that they do the testing and the contact tracing, and all that kind of stuff. The shutdown, it's just done. They just show up and they're like, "this building is shut down." Actually one of our factory leads was there when they did the shutdown, he was not allowed to leave the building. Same as what they're saying here. So, he's sleeping there on the floor for two weeks. I mean, it's, it's crazy.

Philip:

It's not just the people too, that was a big piece of this is. he's still there, so he's working, and we have product there that he's trying to get out, but they won't let anything leave the quarantine zone. It's kind of like they're still treating it as if it's an infection that can be passed on a non-living matter. So, you know, we can't even like take our lights and like roll them on a cart outside of the quarantine zone, or have someone come meet them or whatever. Nothing can pass between it, they just deliver his meal like once a day, and that's it. So, it really truly is a lockdown, and on top of the port slowdowns and all this other stuff. So, I'm just saying, that's a minimum two weeks, you know, sorry, Universal Hollywood, that thing that you are trying to open, it might be a little, two weeks late. Not our fault, not our fault, not all our fault.

Scott:

Well, and just a couple things that I want to shine a little bit of extra light on that Philip just said. First off, I know that this particular article does not mention specifically theme parks or attractions. However, when you see something that says about one third of global manufacturing, that's one in three folks. So, look at three things on your desk right now. One of them probably has a component that came from China. Chances are good it's the way you're listening to us or watching us right now. So, you know, one in three, one third of the global manufacturing is either under lockdown or slow down. The other thing I want you guys to recognize is, as Philip said, the factory in the microcosm of Gantom, the factory is still producing, but it's not able to ship it out.

Scott:

So, once all of these factories are all of a sudden ready, there's this huge glut of material that has to get shipped, which means there's going to be a shipping slowdown as well. It's a domino effect. So, I just want everybody to recognize how this really is going to affect us. You know, we've said it before, I don't want to sound like a broken record, if you have the opportunity, in some cases there aren't, but if you have the opportunity to have multiple supply chains or to explore multiple supply chains, don't think that just because the pandemic here in the United States seems to be waning, you're still going to have these issues in the future. You're going to have, whether it's pandemic driven or who care, it doesn't matter what it's driven. You know, I live in Florida, it could be hurricane driven. The multiple, multiple supply chains is the really, the only way you can prepare for something like this, and you need to do it now, you need to do it really yesterday, sooner rather than later, so that you can minimize the effects of these kind of situations.

Philip:

Yeah. I want to add too, because I've talked to some people about multiple supply chains, and I think the answer I get sometimes is that the attraction says that the vendor promises or, you know, they have a history with the vendor. I'm going to just say, it doesn't matter if the person you're buying from like promises you that they will get it there, because they may not have a choice in the matter. That's the big difference here. The thing is, the person you're talking to might be just, you know, the US rep or whatever, and maybe everybody in the US office will do what they can, but then the government comes in and shuts down the shipping facility in China, you have no recourse. So, I'm just saying, even if everyone around you is telling you, we're going to have it there, it's going to be okay, it's going to be fine. Have a backup plan anyway, because they may not have a choice in the matter.

Scott:

I will just tell you, from a design standpoint, that's exactly what happened this past Christmas with two of my clients. We had situations where the decision was made that they needed either a giant tree or a, this or a that, which simply was not available. So, what we had to do is to find a creative solution to create something that was equally as impactful, but utilized what was already in the United States, and what was already sitting in a warehouse that could be purchased without being drop shipped. So, I think multiple supply chains is probably your first, let's say, layer of defense. But secondly, rely on creatives.

Scott:

I always say that as a creative director, which is what Scott Swenson Creative Development does, as a writer, director, producer, creative director, my job is to usher the concept around all of those rocks and barriers that will come up. Sometimes they're supply chain issues. Sometimes they're casting problems. Sometimes they're weather related. Sometimes they're unexpected construction. There's a gazillion and one things, but you need to make certain that you, somebody who can manage that creative pathway around and through all of those challenges, so that when you have these kinds of things come up, not if, when you have these things come up, you have somebody who's already focused on, "Okay, well, we'll tell the same story, but will tell it this way. Or we'll make the same guest impact, but will do it this way." So, you don't have to put all your eggs in one basket and say, in my past example, well, we can't get a big tree. So it's going to be a big empty space in our park. That's not an option, and quite honestly, not a wise choice.

Scott:

So recognize, put a little more weight on your creative teams, or your outside creatives, and have them figure out, "what can we do? We don't have this, so what else can we do?" I always say, give yourself a little time to mourn the loss of that idea, and then embrace what you can do. Sometimes you'll even find that the new idea is more impactful than the old one was. So, lean on your creatives and, and make them come up with something new and fun that can use what you got, as opposed to what you thought you were ordering and is now sitting in a crate in the middle of the ocean.

Philip:

Well, that is a great segue into the next section of the show. So, now that we've talked about out some of the issues with training and the issues, of course, still with the supply chain.

Scott:

We'll call that the bummer section of the show. That was kind of the downer section of the show.

Philip:

But you know, the takeaways being, lean on your creatives and have backup plans. The reason you need to lean on your creatives and have backup plans is because the fall and winter season are rapidly approaching.

Scott:

And it's going to be huge!

Philip:

It's going to be huge, and there's a lot of announcements kind of coming for that already. Of course, the biggest one that that came this week is that tickets and packages are now on sale for Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando.

QUOTE — https://chipandco.com/dates-and-details-revealed-for-halloween-horror-nights-at-universal-orlando-resort-467189/

"For a record-breaking 43 nights from September 2nd through October 31st, Universal Orlando Resort presents Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida." The event , "will boast 10 new, movie-quality haunted houses inspired by everything from cinematic greats to unfathomable original abominations, five scare zones filled with hordes of gruesome creatures lunging from the shadows, and two outrageous live shows that will showcase compelling performances. "

Philip:

So, I am just, there are no details, and yet there are many details in this. 43 nights is a lot of nights. September 2nd is what we were assuming they would go to, which is an expansion, a logical expansion, but it's still an expansion. It is still one of the earliest times they've ever started. Two shows, two live shows, we just talked about the training. That means that they need to have two groups of performers ready to go for two shows. We had theorized that they would be back to running two shows, and now it's here. So, this is a lot, it's a lot of entertainment. It's a big event. This is a big event. Big, long event. It's going to be huge. Other parks also announced, I don't know why they announced at the same time as Universal, that was just silly because no one's talking about them. But, you know, that's just me and my gripes for the PR department at Knotts and SeaWorld, but you know, what can you do?

Scott:

Well, but here's the thing. At least in the Florida market, I can't speak for nationwide, but in the Florida market, how goes Halloween Horror Nights, so goes everyone else. If you don't announce at the same time, then you are somehow an "also ran", you know, you're somehow something that is secondary to Horror Nights. You can use your own opinion as to whether they are or not, because I mean, there was a time when Busch Gardens Tampa—and I'm not bragging, I'm just going with what the stats told us—was holding its own from a guest enjoyment standpoint against Halloween Horror Nights. It didn't spend the money, it didn't make the money, I'll be honest, but it was still, from a guest standpoint, a contender. In fact, there were some people who actually preferred the event.

Scott:

So, I understand completely why they did it, because they're all looking going, "when is Horror Nights announcing? And once they do, we all have to, to, to get out there too, and we have to get out in front just like everybody else." I know they're going to be some people listening who are not Halloween folks, and for those of you who are not Halloween folks, and you're thinking, why in the world would they do 43 nights of a Halloween event? And the answer is really simple, because they will fill every single one of them.

Philip:

Yeah, they will.

Scott:

You have to recognize that when you do a Halloween event, that is a separate ticketed Halloween event, this is like adding 43 days to your operational a calendar. Because it's over and above what people pay to come during the day. This is not a mix in, and I know a lot of you know this, but this is for those of you who are new to this, or don't even think about the Halloween industry, as part of a theme park addition. We used to joke, back at Busch Tampa, that from a revenue standpoint, we could make as much, we called it our 13th month. We could make as much in the, the 13 to 16 days as we did in a month of, of regular operations. Now they're going to virtually three times that. So, I totally understand why they're doing it. It will be full every single night. I can just promise that. And going up to 10 houses, you know, new stuff. The 10 houses, five zones, two shows, they are fully packed to the gills. They're ready to take people off the sidewalk, so to speak, and they're eager to get those people back in the door and they want to give them something to do. So, it makes total, total sense.

Scott:

So, what does this mean to everyone else in the industry who's not Halloween Horror Nights? What it means is, if you're doing Halloween, be prepped for a big year, get out in front of it, don't make it secondary, get your decisions made quickly, because now you know who you're going to be competing with—talking about your supply chain issues—for the goods that you need. And that's these parks that have gotten out in front of it.

Philip:

Yeah. Just a massive event. What I will say too, in terms of thinking about competition wise, I think it's actually a good thing that they are starting so early. Not just because I love Halloween and I will obviously be there on opening night, duh. From a competitive standpoint, you know, basically what this allows is, by the time October rolls around there should be some guests that are tired of Horror Nights. So, you can capture them for those first few nights that your event is opening. So, Universal can have the first two weeks in September to get all the crazy Halloween nuts out there, whatever, and then you can open a little bit later, it could be like a staggered opening.

Philip:

Because let's face it, we just talked about this with the training, it is hard to run an event that big. I think most other events are not going to have that long of a run, even a lot of the professional haunted houses that Scott and I know, they don't have that long of a run. Now, on the flip side, I think in the Orlando market it's a good thing because they get started out early, which means you can just let people go do that and have that, and then they'll be kind of bored. You know, it basically creates more opportunity because they're open so much that people are not choosing between Horror Nights and your event, because honestly there's...

Scott:

There's no fuse lit, there's no limitation of time. You can go for, you know, two full months.

Philip:

Yes, and that's a big deal, because it would be very hard for anyone to compete on the same metrics as Horror Nights in Orlando. It's probably the biggest event in the country, I would feel comfortable saying. So, on the flip side, where I kind of like poo-poo, is if you are not in that market, like Knott's announced their dates as well, and they're not opening until what, like September 23rd? I'm like that is too late. So, in my opinion, if you're in these other competitive markets, if you are a professional haunted house, or you are an attraction that has an event or whatever, and you're trying to make a big event in a different market that doesn't have Universal kind of soaking up all this stuff, they are proving that the demand is there, and we all know the demand is there. So, opening earlier is fine, even if you just open on a Saturday/Sunday to just get your team trained and get ready. Because I'm thinking that is too late, that September 23rd day is too late. They're going to be competing against Universal in Hollywood and everybody else.

Scott:

Well, Philip, when does Universal in Hollywood open?

Philip:

They haven't announced their dates yet, but they generally open the week after the Florida location.

Scott:

Okay.

Philip:

That would be like September 9th. So, I guess you're right, they'd get two full weeks of opening Hollywood before Knotts opens.

Scott:

Here's the thing, you know, everybody thinks with Halloween events, and Philip you've done the metrics on this significantly more than I have, but my experience has been, with Halloween events, unlike Christmas events, it's not an either-or situation. If they go to one Halloween event and they really enjoy it, they want to get scared again, they become adrenaline junkies and they want to go other places. I mean, Philip, you are the true Halloween, not only professional reporter, but also professional fanboy really. I mean, you adore Halloween, and you go to every single Halloween event you possibly can. What's interesting is, you're not alone. You know, there's a lot of people out there who don't report on it, who are phenomenal Halloween fans. If the quality of your event is high, even if you are in a competitive market, people will not necessarily go to the same one over and over again. I know there are, those died in the wool fan fans who will only go to Halloween Horror Nights and never go to SeaWorld or Busch Gardens, or any of the other local haunts. But that's a minority, and it's getting to be more and more of a minority. More and more people are starting to become like Philip, where they want to experience variety in fear. So that's why I always say, you want your local competition to be good, because if it's not, then no one's ever going to come to your haunt because they had a bad experience at a haunted attraction. So, you want it all to be good because it will continue to build business for the industry as a whole.

Scott:

That said, this early opening of Universal Florida and potentially Universal Hollywood, let's get those wild and crazies out there. What I think, to be honest, the real reason they're doing it is because they have heard for so many years from local independent haunters, "we can't ever come and enjoy your product." If they open on September 2nd, there's going to be folks who aren't going to open until the end of September, there's going to be folks from local haunts who can come down and enjoy it. I swear to you, they're trying to get that. They're trying to get a little bit of a leg up on that very avid, rabid market that will spend more in the gift shops than they did on their ticket, and will spend more on the upcharges than they did on their ticket.

Philip:

I agree more with the avid market. I don't really agree with, like the other haunt community.

Scott:

But they are the avid market. They are the rabid market. They are the one.

Philip:

I agree with that. So, I guess to summarize, what my point is, just think about, before you even announce your dates, the stacking component here. Don't compete. I hate this as a Halloween reporter, do not compete for the same weekend. Stop it. Because someone's going to get left out, you're going to make people choose, we never want to make people choose. We want to, "yes, and" everybody for our Halloween events. We don't want to make people choose, including media. Do not have your media night on the same night, then you're going to make everybody choose, you're going to get less coverage than if you had opened the weekend before for one night. It's okay. It's okay. Also, all the things we said in previous episodes, having a longer run allows you to secure staff for longer periods of time. Just there, there's a bunch of reasons. Anyway, I don't want to...

Philip:

There's one more story I want to get to, which is not Halloween related, because I don't want to end out the Halloween note, but Expo 2025 has announced, Expo 2020 will end on the 31st of this year having completed its six-month run. "The larger, six-month world’s fairs occur every five years, and the next is currently taking shape in Osaka, Japan. Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai will run from 13 April to 13 October. Its theme is “Designing Future Society for our Lives.”" They're projecting 28 million visitors. And the sub themes include “Saving lives,” “Empowering Lives,” and “Connecting Lives.” The expo organizers said this about the theme. “The Expo will offer visitors an opportunity not only to explore and observe, but also to take action themselves toward a sustainable future society. Thus, Expo 2025 will be more than an event in 2025. It will give courage and power to visitors for the future, as well as for the future generation at home and abroad. We look forward to meeting and working with the world toward Expo 2025.”.

Philip:

I like the theme, I feel like it echoes some of the trends that we've been seeing in entertainment, but it's interesting to just see them put it out there in a much more larger general way. But we've been seeing all this, like what are you doing at your attraction that is going to inspire people when they keep inspiring them when they go home? And Scott's talked about this ad nauseum. I really just like this thread of like, we want you to take action home with you and keep doing something.

Scott:

I think it's kind of going back to the, I'll call it the golden era of world's fairs, of world's expos. You know, if you visit any major city, like Chicago—growing up in Chicago I have perfect examples—there are permit museums in Chicago that were built as part of the world's fairs, and they still continue to be the key hubs of either culture or art or science. So, I agree with you, Philip, I love the idea of creating a theme that may not be a brick-and-mortar thing that will go on forever, but it will be a concept that the people who participate in this expo can continue to live and incorporate into their lives for years to come.

Scott Swenson Profile 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.