Scott and Philip go on an extended discussion about chaperone policies at your attraction and preparing for violence in the Fall Season. Then, we discuss the ICON park theme recall and the new Halloween announcements from Universal Studios Japan....
Scott and Philip go on an extended discussion about chaperone policies at your attraction and preparing for violence in the Fall Season. Then, we discuss the ICON park theme recall and the new Halloween announcements from Universal Studios Japan. Apply for our Hauntathon before July 29th ( http://hauntathon.info/ ) and Subscribe to all our offerings: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork
Stories Covered In Today's Show:
Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development, and Scott, today we're going to start off by talking about some big policy updates that people have been announcing.
Scott: Big policy updates!
Philip: Big. I feel like we need like a stinger for that, because we've done policy before. Big Policy Updates! So the first one, of course, I'm sure a lot of people hear about this, but Knott's Berry Farm is going to require chaperones on the weekends after fights broke out at the theme park this past weekend.
QUOTE:: "Days after a string of fights at Knott’s Berry Farm, the theme park is requiring that all visitors 17 and younger be accompanied by an adult chaperone on Fridays and Saturdays. Multiple fights among teenagers broke out at Knott’s Berry Farm over the weekend, forcing the theme park to close three hours early Saturday. " "In light of the mayhem, theme park officials are rolling out a new chaperone policy, requiring that visitors younger than 18 be accompanied by an adult who is at least 21 to enter the park. Chaperones must present a photo ID with a date of birth and can accompany up to three guests, according to the policy, which was posted on Knott’s Berry Farm’s “code of conduct” page Wednesday."
Philip: What do you think Scott?
Scott: There's so many twisted things to unravel here, and really, I don't necessarily have a whole lot of answers, but I sure do have a lot of questions. Well, my first statement is it's sad that the park seems to think that this is a reality and this is a necessity. I'm not questioning their decision, I just think it's sad that we are in a state that this is what has to happen. We have heard rumblings from Knotts and some of their sister parks that you know violence is an ongoing problem. This seems to be a very drastic move, but if they've tried everything else I can't be too upset with them for trying to keep the parks safe for everybody. Where my question lies is, this is Fridays and Saturdays only correct?
Scott: So, my first question was going to be how does that work with like school field trips and that sort of thing, but that's clearly not going to be an issue. Woo, yeah. I understand exactly why they're doing it, I understand exactly their thought process but, I think it's unfortunate that it has to happen this way. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. I question whether it's going to work, but I think only time will tell in regards to this.
Philip: Yeah, I don't think it's going to work.
Scott: You don't think it's going to work because?
Philip: Gosh, this is such a... I'm not exactly sure how to explain, so I'll just kind of give you some data points. I think it's very similar, you know I used to be a classroom teacher, and also now running Gantom, those two things may not seem similar but at times they are.
Scott: Your staff doesn't listen to the show anyway, so we're OK. I think we're fine.
Philip: I think it is very similar to like when I was a teacher and I had to take the class on classroom management, and it was like, "oh these are all things I have to do." So, you basically have two schools of thought. One school of thought is like the rules-based punitive measure where it's like any time a kid is one minute late you lock the door, you make them stand outside, you make them walk in with a big shame arrow on them, you take their name, you write it down, you give him a pink slip, you send him to the office, you have a parent teacher conference, you put it in the file, and you document it. I was like, right, for being a minute late, OK? Am going to have time to teach, because it's going to be like a lot of paperwork, you know? There's that school thought. Then there's the other school thought, which is kind of the like reward positive behavior type of thing. You know, if you were here on time and whatnot, then there are positive incentives. So, basically, it comes down to the culture.
It's kind of the same at the office type of thing where I've also been in conversations where it's like, "so, we need to do another presentation on our dress code policy, and we do another presentation on texting during zoom calls and blah blah blah and tell people not to do them." I'm like, that doesn't really work. It kind of never works, it's more like looking at the incentives and figuring out how are the incentives aligned. If people are incentivized in the direction you want, that's always much better. Also, I guess, it also comes down to a culture thing too. You know, if it is the culture at your workplace to dress in violation of the dress code, it's going to be very difficult for you to turn that around with a presentation at the staff lunch meeting, even if you bring them donuts.
Scott: Right, but I think I think we're talking about two different things here. I mean, when you're talking about a staff, you're talking about someone who has a vested interest because they're employed, when you're talking about teaching a classroom full of students, they have a vested interest because they have to go to school, or they're trying...
Scott: So, they have a vested interest in that... Well, I think...
Philip: Nope, they have no vested interests, and they actively hate you.
Scott: Well, I think it's a very weak correlation because they don't actively hate going to a theme park. So, I think what we have to look at is what are the alternatives? You know, that's where I find this to be a really slippery and very tricky slope. What are the alternatives? I do know that at one point in time other theme parks that I've chatted with have talked about making after 5:00 o'clock 18 and up, where you can't have your 14, 15, 16-year-olds, who are the majority of the demographic that that caused these fights, even coming to the park. But I don't see that that's a viable option either. So, you know you're saying rewarding positive behavior doesn't work and you're saying that negative reinforcement doesn't work, what...
Philip: I didn't say rewarding positive behavior didn't work. I think what I was trying to get at is that it comes down to tool schools of thought, there's either punitive or there's cultural. Those are the schools of thought. So, you either punish or you try and build a culture where it doesn't need to happen. But in both cases there's work involved, it's not just to sit back and kind of like relax kind of the thing. So, it's very difficult because I think there are merits to each side, so I'm not trying to say that one side is worse than the other. I think my overall point is that Knott's clearly is is thinking that the punishment side of things is the way they have to go on this. I'm not sure if it's kind of like completely accurate or not. But when you're asking for alternatives, what I would say is, let's think about the other end of things, about the culture side of things, and think if there are ways to do that, which would include looking at how does security approach these situations. What type of security is there? Where are these happening? Is it happening in light in like dark areas where there are no lights and there's no... Kind of like, are you creating situations already where this is encouraged, and are there ways to flip that to reverse it and encourage the opposite type of behavior in easy ways? I will just say, some of my data points, having visited Knott's and seen fights break out in situations, there have been red flags that I have seen, that I have personally seen, when fights have broken out in front of me at Knott's where it has not been the guest in that situation. I have seen where security has been deliberately antagonizing guests, I have seen it where there have been unsafe areas in the park that really should have been lit better, had trip hazards removed, or been blocked off in certain ways. So, this is why I mentioned it because I have seen some areas where I'm like, "OK, this kind of could be just a little bit of tweaking and we might have..." So, I'm not saying that's the only answer, you know, because I do kind of think you need a middle ground. Obviously, we have rules in our society, you have to have consequences because there's always that kid in the class, or that person, etc., there's always a very small percentage of the population, that's why we have laws. It doesn't matter, they're not going to being incentivized, they just want to cause chaos, right? So, I'm just saying I think there might be other tweaks and other opportunities, and when you ask for specifics I would say specifics in terms of analyzing when the conflict happens, how are we dealing with this, what is leading up to the conflict, and then are there any areas specifically or operational things that we could do to reduce the possibility of it.
Scott: It's interesting because I agree with you, there is a middle ground that has to be found and I think culturally we have an issue, but it's not the culture of the theme park, it's currently the culture of the United States. That is, if you feel as though you have been disrespected or wronged in any way, violence is, for many, many people in this country, the go-to answer.
Philip: Then how come it doesn't happen at Disney?
Scott: It does happen at Disney. You can't say that it doesn't happen at Disney, it does happen at Disney. You want to know the real reason it happens less at Disney? Ticket prices are higher, because it's a higher quality product. You know, you have different kinds of fights, but it does happen at Disney. You can't say that it's a difference, a complete difference, in training, staffing and cultural, although I do think that's part of it, but it does happen at Disney. It happens at SeaWorld. It happens at Busch gardens. It happens at Universal Studios. It happens at every single theme park in the country, fights break out. It is, probably, more prevalent at Knott's because it is a lower price ticket in the market. I mean, you know, you yourself have said that on this show, that their ticket is lower. So it has more accessibility to people whose culture is such that violence is their go-to choice. So, I don't think you can say that it's completely the culture of the park, because it does happen everywhere.
Philip: I don't know that I want to sit on that, because I think that that's opening up a difficult can of worms. I think I overall kind of agree with you, but the way that I would put it instead, like I agree with most of the things you said. The piece I agree with to be specific is that I think that Knott's being at a lower price point allows them to open up to a larger market overall, and what that does is it brings in a lot more different groups of people from different socioeconomic status, brings them all together. Versus a Disneyland, which is much closer in terms of who comes into the park, they're all closer to the same type of subset, people that know how to get along.
Scott: You yourself have used the analogy higher walls in Disney.
Philip: Correct, but I want to push back though on the premise that there are certain groups of people that are prone to violence.
Scott: Now, wait a minute, you're assuming that I'm saying socioeconomic and I'm not, there are certain groups of people, whether we like it or not, that are more prone to violence, but I'm not saying it's socioeconomically based. I'm saying it's ideologically based, and I'm agreeing with you in the fact that I'm saying it's culturally based. What I'm saying is it's not the culture of a park, it's the culture of the United States right now. The reason I'm concerned about this not working is I'm not sure that just because you're 21 years and older, that you're going to be anti-violent.
Philip: I agree with that 100%.
Scott: I have literally watched parents say, "you know, there's a costume character go over and kick him when he is not looking." I've seen them do that. "Yeah. Go kick Elmo." You know, I've seen them do that. So that's why I say that. I don't know whether the chaperone thing is going to work. I think what they're trying to do, quite honestly, is because they're requiring someone to be 21 years of age or older, who is in essence vouching for these minors, they have someone they can, they can litigate against. I think they're looking at it from a standpoint that, and hopefully that will be enough to put the fear of God in people. I don't know.
Philip: I think that's a really interesting perspective. I had not thought about the litigation, that's very interesting.
Scott: You can't litigate against a 16-year-old.
Philip: Very interesting. Yeah. I agree with you that the age thing is not going to help. I didn't think about the litigation angle, I think that could be why they're doing it. The other thing I wanted to bring up here about this is that it, and a reason why we're talking about this right now, why I thought this was important to bring about, is that this is going to happen more when it gets to Halloween because, as we have talked about a lot, especially last year... Last year there was already a lot, a lot of violence at Halloween events last year, and then of course there's been shootings that we've reported on. You know, a lot of the shootings were just kind of line based. You know, it was like people skipping lines or having to wait. It's going to get worse, I think, as the fall gets closer because demand's still high and fall events just tends to pick up on. I think that's, that's why it's important is to look at that. what do you think are the takeaways? What could be the possible solutions for people listening? Because if we take your point, which is that it's kind of an American problem. Well, when attractions open up for Halloween I say it's kind of like, "open the floodgates. It's going to be a thing."
Scott: Absolutely, and it always has been. Violence at Halloween events is nothing new. I mean, you talk to any haunter, you talk to anybody who's been involved in the haunted attraction industry, whether it's in a theme park or whether it's in an independent haunt, or even a home haunt, and the first thing they'll tell you is the story about the time so-and-so punched them or such-and-such kid hurt them in some way and they survived it. They're always going to tell war stories. So, this is not a new problem, it is one that I think is going to continue to escalate. But, I'm going to go back to what I've seen work in the past, and maybe it can be ramped up, I don't know. It is partially, as you say, sort of that hybrid between punishment of bad behavior and changing the culture. I think that the takeaway for most people is, as we get into the Halloween season, or even you may find you need this, even in daily operation.
Philip: Yeah. I would test it early.
Scott: Make certain that you have a presence of either the local police force, or a true security team, and when I say true security team, these are not people who are trying to catch people, jumping lines, these are people who have the authority to remove people from the park. Make sure that they are not hidden, make sure that they are very present, very visible, so that you are setting forth the idea, "we do not tolerate this kind of behavior." So, there's your cultural right there, there's your upfront, there's your how to re-embrace or retrain the culture is by showing, "we care." I think it's also important that if you have those people, they do engage with the guests who are behaving appropriately. They're the ones who do reach out to the families with small children who, you know, are probably going to be the most likely to get hurt unnecessarily in a fight that they had nothing to do with, that are reaching out and reinforcing that kind of positive behavior.
I think it is also incredibly important to recognize, you know, just like you said, locking the door and, and throwing away the key. I don't think you quite need to go that far, but I do think that attractions need to pony up and say, "we are going to remove you from the property and you can't come back for 30 days." You do need a police officer in order to do that, you do not need to press charges in order to do that however. Or, at least, you don't in Tampa. Again, there are other laws, local laws may supersede the general understanding. Look at the laws in your area and find out what you can and can't do. If you can say, "look, you act like a jerk. We can take you out of the park for a month." And people will always argue, "well, what if they have a season pass? Do we have to refund that month?" That's up to you as a business. I will be honest, I'd go ahead and do it, because I think the amount that you're going to refund in that month of season pass is going to more than make up for the amount you're going to have to pay in any form of litigation if they harm another guest.
Philip: I think I agree with everything, most everything you said. I think what I would kind of add to the security section is I think that the training, and kind of, I think your term of 'true security' I think that's...
Scott: Well-trained security.
Philip: Well-trained. That is exactly it, and I think, especially, because I think that you need someone that understands the nuance of behavior. This is a big thing with it, because the park specifically called out the teens in their statement, which I don't know if I would have specifically called out that behavior, it kind of seems like they're blaming the guests, but kind of blaming the whole section of them. I guess what I would say, if really it is that kind of age group, again, coming from working with that age group, you know they act very differently when they're with their friends versus when they're with like their parents, and who they're around that kind of thing. Teenage boys, there's just a lot of like, I don't even, they're cursing, they're kind of like joshing each other, there's a lot of like that that happens, right? I think you need the security with enough training to understand the nuances and that kind of stuff, and also to treat them respectfully. That's the other thing too. It's kind of like, you want to treat kids like the adults you want them to be, and that means giving them the respect when they deserve it and when they earn it.
So, you need to understand when they're just kind of doing friend behavior and when that behavior... Where's the line between that and when it's dangerous and someone needs to understand that, and there is a line. There is a line for sure, but kind of like when some guys are just like hanging out and trying to be like, "yeah man," with their friends, versus when they are actually fighting or they are doing something that is dangerous, that that's a line people need to understand, they need to be respectful.
To your point, I love your point about interaction with security. I think that, for me, contrasting the two experiences, going to both parks frequently, at Disney, the last time I was there, you know, security was like, "oh, I really like that shirt. That's great." And I was like, "oh." So, it's like, you need to take the security from someone who is always just going to be there to point at you and say, "you're doing something wrong." To, they're trying to be helpful and that they are respectful, helpful people. That's what you need.
Scott: When they are respectful and helpful people, it's not only helping to build the culture of, these are people that I can trust. Also, if you had planned to do something nefarious, it also suggests it, "I see you."
Philip: It diffuses that.
Scott: Yeah, it's the whole reason for the Walmart greeters. I mean, it's the, "you have been seen by a real person."
Philip: And you don't want that prejudgment. That is a huge piece of this whole thing. You know, that contributes a lot. You don't want to assume somebody is going to do a bad behavior just based on the way they look or what they're doing.
Scott: It's a game of inches, not a game of yards. It is, you have to be able to recognize, as you've said, you yourself have witnessed with your trained eye, some red flags or some yellow flags that, "Hey, a, fight's going to start here," and you have to know how to diffuse those. And, if you can spread that kind of training into the rest of your staffing, which of course staffing is already a nightmare, if you can do that great, but make sure at the very least that your security officers, or even bring in local police officers who become part of your team as an adjunct, it can be very beneficial.
Philip: Yeah. So, to sum it up, I think Scott and I are on that same page about the training is important. This is going to become more of a thing, we're going to hear more stories about this as it gets closer into fall, and you should start now preparing for it. You should think heavily about the security and the training and all that, and then I would add also just reexamining your logistics. This is where capacity makes things more difficult when you're at higher capacity, it's more difficult to do this, but also thinking about like, you might want to move a scare zone. Like, if there's an area where things always happen, because there's no lights or things there, and security, doesn't patrol that area, move some stuff around so that you make that area so people have eyes on it. Keep in mind too, wherever you're putting your scare zones and moving these activations around, that is part of, all of this. you want to reduce those possibilities. Anyway, that's my last thing. Okay, that was long. So, we have another story here about policies. Gosh, so...
QUOTE: ICON park pauses new sniper-like shooting game following online criticism
"ICON Park paused a new sniper-like laser shooting game amid criticism following a recent spate of mass shootings. The Bullseye Blast game let riders of the 400-foot Wheel at ICON Park pay an extra $5.95 to shoot laser blasters at 50 targets strategically placed along rooftops throughout the park. In a statement issued Saturday, park officials said that while the ride had been “well-received" by customers, some had questioned whether it was appropriate following mass shootings..."
Philip: We don't need to go into what mass shootings, but following mass shootings. I guess my take on this is, I'm glad that the park walked it back and I'm glad they did kind of issue a statement about it. I think the criticism was, there's a lot of criticism about this and I think it is all valid. It's what we've talked about previously about like, you may not want to have a maze about an infectious disease at your Halloween event for quite a while, you know, like you may not want to have people coughing, the scare characters coughing on you, you might not do any of those things for a while. It's that kind of cultural sensitivity. I'm not sure how much blame I would put on the park for coming up with the initial idea, because sometimes you're unsure of how it's going to be. I don't know Scott, you know, coming creatively, you live this life, you're always talking to people and pitching with clients and discussing this. What do you think?
Scott: So, let me talk about what I like about this concept. I think the interactivity is great. I think it's utilizing an existing asset in a new way, and it's basically creating another "velvet rope" that guests can or may choose not to activate or be a part of. I also have to address the elephant in the room, Icon Park is clearly still under the microscope. They've had their challenges, which we've reported on this show, and so, you know, they're going to need to respond. I appreciate the fact that they have responded, whether it is justified or not, that they have responded in this way, showing that they are clearly working to rebuild the trust of their guests and of the people in the Orlando area. All of that said, I feel that this actually ties very closely to the story we just spent way too much time talking about. This is a situation where, culturally, snipers are cool, and that's why high school kids are doing it. So, I would try any way I possibly could to repackage this same material, make it a game of tag, and I know there are going to be people who are like, "well, that's lame!" But it's exactly the same thing, it's just simply repackaged.
So, I think we, as attraction professionals, need to continue to look at the fact that we can reinforce, just like we were talking about in the last story, we can reinforce positive behavior and positive outlook based on the creative and not just stoop to, "people won't pay six bucks to shoot bunnies!" I shouldn't say shoot bunnies, because now the now animal rights groups are going to be after me. But to, you know, tag mushrooms, or whatever it is that you're trying to hit with the laser. But then my point is, okay, but where do you draw that line between culturally responsible and profit? You know, we've talked a lot on this show about making sure your guests understand where you stand as a company. And if Icon Park is pulling back on this, I think that is making a very strong statement, and actually makes me feel more positive about them as an organization. I hope that they find a way to repackage this so that they don't lose revenue, because I think in and of itself, it's a fun thing. But, if it's going to glorify sniper violence, it is not the right choice.
Philip: Yeah, and to Scott's point about relatability, I think we're going to see a little bit more of this, because there are a lot of haunt attractions that have laser tag, that have zombie paintball, that feature guns as part of their experience, there's a lot of them out there because that's kind of a staple. I think you see this a little bit more, and I think now is the time for attractions to kind of think about, "is there a way for us to repackage this experience in a different way? Or try and definitively put it in a different theme kind of context?"
Scott: Even when it comes to Halloween, going back several years, I did a haunt for Bush gardens in Tampa which was called Zombie Containment Unit 13. The whole idea was that, yes, it used laser rifles, however, we didn't call them guns, we didn't call them rifles, and what they did was they activated a collar that had been applied to all of the zombies. So, we specifically made it that you weren't killing, in fact, you weren't even killing the people, you were actually paralyzing them long enough so that you could get them back under control. I promise you guests still went through there having a blast, no pun intended. So, just take a moment to be a little bit more sensitive to the way that you creatively package any sort of shooting assets, gun-like assets that you have that you want to continue to use and make money off of.
Philip: Yeah. Well, our last quick story here is that Universal Studios Japan announces full Halloween Horror Nights and family-friendly experiences for 2022. We'll link it in the show notes so you can read all about it. We don't have time to go into everything. A few takeaways I have for this is that they're leaning also into the Universal Monsters because they do have a new Universal Monsters kind of maze there as well. So, it kind of seems like as an overall brand, they are trying to kind of make sure that all of the properties are similar, which is good. They have two returning mazes, which is, I think fine for that area, because it's not like here where we're expecting everything to be changed up. The big thing is that they're doing is they're bringing back Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Rose Sword. This is one of those things I think is really cool, and it probably only works at Universal Studio of Japan because of the local mix and the throughput. But, it's essentially, kind of an immersive experience that's an original written immersive kind of theatrical/escape roomish type of experience that happens in their 4D theater. So it's using the 4D theater as a space, but it is using this, Sherlock Holmes comes in and he needs your help, and audience members participate to kind of help solve it and they get out. I love, because Sherlock Holmes is big in Japan, that they're taking this thing and writing their own script around it and kind of making it an activation for people that's a little bit longer. It's a lower throughput, longer kind of immersive theatrical experience. Not something we would see, I think, in the US because of our throughput and all that, but it's a great experience there, and the writers behind it did a great job.
Scott: Cool. Well, I am glad to see that they are... You know, I'm all about bringing back haunted attractions and mazes and such that have been popular. I always like to serialize them a little bit. So, you change them, you tell the next chapter of the story, or you reveal a few more details each time you bring it back. So, I'm not a huge proponent of all things have to be new, but I'm in the minority when I'm here in Florida. So, I try to continue to work that into, again, a culture shift. I've not experienced Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Red Sword, but it sounds like it's an awful lot of fun, and anything that's immersive and allows guests to interact with the experience, of course, I'm always all about.
Well my friends, believe it or not, this went by really fast Philip, this was a very quick show, that is the end of our show. We try to keep this to 30 minutes just out of respect for your time. So, on behalf of Philip and myself, thank you so much. Please tell everybody about Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, and we will see you all next week.
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.