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Aug. 1, 2022

Should we be talking about a recession?

Should we be talking about a recession?

Today we discuss the CDC lifting restrictions for Cruise Ships; Hong Kong Disneyland Resort enhancing cast benefits; GDP data fanning concerns about a U.S. recession; and why Meta’s Profit is down 36%. Subscribe to all our offerings:...


Today we discuss the CDC lifting restrictions for Cruise Ships; Hong Kong Disneyland Resort enhancing cast benefits; GDP data fanning concerns about a U.S. recession; and why Meta’s Profit is down 36%. Subscribe to all our offerings: https://linktr.ee/hauntedattractionnetwork

 

Stories Covered in Today's Green Tagged Theme Park In 30

Transcript

Philip: From our studios in Los Angeles and Tampa, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30. I'm Philip, and I'm joined by my co-host Scott Swenson of Scott Swenson Creative Development. Today we're going to start off with some news from the cruising area, which Scott just came back from a cruise.

QUOTE: "CDC Ends COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships"

On Monday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships is no longer in effect. The program has been in effect for ships sailing in the United States since October of 2020.

Philip: It's been a little bit, almost two years. So, having just come back from a cruise ship, Scott, what do you think?

Scott: I will say, first of all, when you said, in a cruising area, I got a little concerned there, I wasn't sure where you were going. But now I understand, so I'm good, I just wanted to clarify. Little nervous there.

Philip: Not that kind of show.

Scott: I did just come back from a cruise, I was on the carnival Mardi Gras. For those of you who are not aware, the COVID 19 program, or restrictions were, you had to be vaccinated, and if you weren't vaccinated, there were a whole bunch of other things that you had to do in order to remain safe. But you had to be vaccinated, and then you had to show a negative COVID test that was either proctored by a physician, or proctored online, within 48 to 72 hours, depending on what your vaccination status was. Masks were required in all indoor spaces, although I will be honest, they were not necessarily enforcing that a hundred percent, but there was plenty of signage out there.

Scott: So, I think it's interesting, because the cruise industry, obviously, was hit very hard by COVID. They shut down for a while, and it's not like every other attraction or a theme park where you shut down, because if you shut down a cruise ship, you still have to maintain the ship. So, you still have to keep a skeleton crew on the ship, you still have to keep the ship running, there's a lot of things that continue to, basically, suck money out of the company during a shutdown. So, I think that, in my opinion, the CDC regulations and restrictions were a way to ease people back into cruising, get them back into the cruise mentality. I will say, what would've worked better for me as an individual was better training of their staff and getting their staffing up to speed. So, I'm not sure that the lifting of these restrictions is really going to help them very much. Obviously, the CDC either can't prove that it's making a difference, or the only way they can prove it is if they get rid of them and things get worse. So, I don't know, I don't know why now was the time that they chose to do it. Interestingly enough, I do have another cruise scheduled for January of next year. So, we'll see what has happened between now and then. What I can say is, I think the biggest hit that the cruise industry took was not necessarily the restrictions that they placed on passengers, but on the amount and the training of staff. So, I think that this is going to affect the cruise experience less than I think they're anticipating, at least from my perspective. I don't. Do you think it's too early to do this Philip?

Philip: I think that is the question, right?

Scott: Well, I know you are far more concerned, and of course being in California, California has held ont these regulations and restrictions significantly longer, certainly than Florida, which is where I'm based. So, that's why I'm asking you, as someone who is surrounded by more regulation and more precaution.

Philip: Yeah. To me, I actually think this signals them kind of going more in line with what we're seeing other places, like basically leaving it up to the individual companies to decide how they want to do it. Which is kind of where we are, I think, in most other situations. I also think, you know, it's still possible, even with the restrictions, it would still have been possible for someone to spread the virus on the ship, because, you know, there's time between when you get the test and when you board the ship. So, it's not like it was a fool proof plan anyway.

Scott: Absolutely not. Yeah. The cruise lines were still reporting that there were COVID cases.

Philip: Super spreaders, like every time. Yeah.

Scott: Almost every time. And let's face it, you cannot eat through a mask. So, when you're in the dining room, you obviously are not wearing masks, and if you're in a dining room that has a buffet, people don't always necessarily put their masks back on to get up from the table to go get more food. I will say some of the things that they were very good about is they were plenty of hand sanitizer stations everywhere in the ship, which there normally are. If you think about it, a ship is, is a microcosm, it is its own little bubble, which is either good or bad depending on whether something is spreading or not. So, I understand why they implemented them, but for me, the jury is still out as to whether it was whether they're lifting them too soon or not. Again, we'll see.

Philip: Yeah, I was going to say, I think if you take it in context of the norm, I don't think it's too soon. I was just going to say, this last weekend I went to San Diego Comic Con, and I had previously went to Anime Expo, right? It's like Anime Expo, way more people in the physical building with you without masks at all. That was even for me, 2020 I was trying to do Halloween like, as you remember there, I was still like, "ugh." So, I have been around crowds almost the entire time. Even for me, it was a lot. Imagine it, you know, the building itself, the convention center itself, was at capacity several times. Can you just imagine capacity of an actual convention center being reached with nobody with their masks on and just, you know, you couldn't even walk it was just, you were just stuck. You had to just like fish, kind of going with the flow, and you can't really change directions or stop or move, it was that bad. Then San Diego ComicCon, on the other hand, they internally decided to require people to have proof of vaccination on their health pass and to wear masks at all times when they were indoors. And then of course the cosplayers didn't want to do that, and they didn't, and no one stopped them. But there were much less people. San Diego ComicCon, there's activations all around the city. So, there's a lot more outside and all around and other people bring it in. So, there's a lot less people in the physical convention center, like shoulder to shoulder with you, and they all had masks on. So, again, it's down to the brands to kind of decide based on their fan base, and we've talked about this for a long time, that it was eventually going to land back on the attractions to decide.

Scott: The one thing that I want to make sure everybody understands, because this has become certainly an issue here in Florida, and I don't know whether it's the rest of the country or the rest of the world or not. What we need to get over is the concept of mask shaming, one way or the other, because if people choose to wear a mask, they should not be looked at as though they're some nut job that is paranoid about everything. And if someone chooses not to wear a mask, they should not be looked at as some nut job who doesn't really care. I'm part of a fringe festival here in Tampa, and the producer of the fringe festival, she said, "I'm vaccinated, I'm double boosted, I'm wearing a mask to show a solidarity for those people who wish to wear masks. I want to make it okay. If you choose to wear a mask, it's okay." It was interesting, because I had a discussion with her, and I said, the one thing about wearing masks, since I travel so much, the one thing about wearing masks that I've liked is I haven't gotten sick from other things, you know? I have not, knock wood, I have not, to my knowledge had COVID, I may have had something early on. Let me put it this way, I've never tested positive for COVID, but I also haven't gotten sick. I haven't gotten a cold, my allergies are better, so I may continue to wear a mask when I fly, just because it protects me from a bunch of other garbage that I don't really want in my life. It's taken something that was potentially life threatening to get me into that mindset and make me realize, "oh, it's okay to do this. It's alright."

Scott: I think this is something that we saw after SARS, I think it's something we saw in China after SARS, is more and more people just got in the habit of wearing masks. They realized, "you know what, this protects me in many different ways. I'm just going to keep doing it." So again, I'm curious to see if the CDC lifting the cruise regulations is going to impact the cruise lines one way or the other. At the same time, I think if individuals decide to wear masks, we should support that right for them to wear masks or not to wear masks and just take responsibility for ourselves. If you are concerned about someone who's not wearing a mask, do your darndest to create some distance between you and them. That may mean that you walk to the side of the sidewalk. I've been shopping, for example, where I'm wearing a mask, someone isn't, and again, in Florida, I'm one of the eight people in the entire state who's still wearing a mask from time to time, and that includes our governor. So, anyway, there are times in stores that I will actually, you know, just hold back and let somebody walk in front of me just to maintain a little bit more six feet-ish distance if I can. But I think everyone needs to have the right to wear or not wear masks, and again, whether it's up to the individual companies, or it's up to the individual people, I think that we need to stop mask shaming one way or the other, and just be smart and try to be safe.

Philip: Yeah. I think that that's a great point and especially relates to our next story because you can also take that as making sure that your employees feel safe, and that you're not mask shaming your employees from leadership or interna, that's kind of critical. Our next story also has to do with benefits and thinking of your team members.

QUOTE: "Hong Kong Disneyland Resort enhances their cast benefits"
Starting from this month, its five-day parental leave will be stepped up substantially to three weeks, and extends to cast members with adopted children and step children. On top of that, an additional three-week child-bonding leave helps parents build a close relationship with their new kids under the age of 18 who join the family.

Philip: So, it's not just new children that you've had, but it's like a new adopted children and whatnot.

 

QUOTE: Furthermore, two extra days-off, or ‘Power Up Days’, are available this year to cast members to recharge and relax to promote their well-being. All of these holidays are fully paid and are applicable to both frontline and back-office cast members

Scott: Well, it's clear that that Hong Kong Disneyland is doubling down on family, which I think is great. I think they're encouraging people, you know, with children to take the time to be with children. My guess is, and I don't have the data on this, but my guess is this is probably something that came from internal interviews and data, because to be honest, anything with the Disney name doesn't do anything that's not based on that kind of data. So, I cannot prove that one way or the other, but I would assume that, you know, family time has become a big issue. I love the idea of the power up days.

Philip: I love those too. Yeah.

Scott: I think the positioning of this time off is smart. I think they're positioning it in such a way that it's showing that, "we care about you as a human being, not just as an employee." The only thing I would wonder, and this probably won't happen in Hong Kong, but the one thing I would wonder if this were to come up in the United States is if somebody who didn't have children would push back.

Philip: Yes, exactly, exactly.

Scott: "Can I get a bonding day? You know, I want to bond with my puppy."

Philip: Yeah, I would say, actually, there's a few levels to read this on. The first level is, of course, we talked about it previously, is the concept of making kind of those walls, barriers to entry, higher, like the walls higher. This is a lot of investment in a big benefit, which smaller companies might have a hard time matching. So, it's a competitive kind of thing, and it's just something to be aware of as the trend of how much you need to offer to be competitive for staffing. The other way to read this on is something you hinted at, which is, you know, China is very concerned overall, I mean, there's this whole thing about how much influence mainland has with Hong Kong. That's a whole separate thing, which is another layer to read on, but kind of another layer down that is that China's very concerned with their population growth and with kind of encouraging families to have children, and to be able to do that. So, that's another layer of this is, I wouldn't be surprised if it was a mix of competition and data, but also kind of in keeping in line with politically, what is expected of companies that want to operate there. Which is, to make sure that you are encouraging families to have children and to be able to do that.

Philip: Again, to your point, that's like, what type of benefits do you have if you are not in that space where you're not actively having children, or your kids are over 18 already? You know, what do you get? You essentially get just the power up days, which is kind of a little bit unfair. So, kind of take that all the way that it will. What we try to do with our vacation policy is kind of to try and match this a little bit, but also allow you allow people to convert their stuff. You know, you can get paid out for your days, you can convert some of your leave into different types of leave. We're trying to be a little bit flexible on that to make it a little bit more fair, because not our whole staff, most of our staff does not have kids that are under 18.

Scott: Yeah, and the thing is, don't misunderstand me, I am not denying thaT having, having children and taking the time To bring them into your home and recover from the birth situation, or recover from the adoption situation; one is physical, One is both physical and psychological. Anyway, so I'm not denying the need for this, I'm not trying to undermine this fact at all. However, you could very easily interpret this as, "have a kid and get six weeks extra vacation."

Philip: Yes. Yeah, yeah. Which, you know, I mean, people follow incentives, right? So, that's kind of the argument with that.

Scott: I could also see that this is really, really targeting, trying to bring pregnant people, Families expecting children into the Disney world.

Philip:

Well, back in the US, we are recording this on Thursday, July 28th and the new GDP numbers just came out today, early this morning, and it's not great. It's also not surprising. I'm going to read some excerpts from the New York Times article on it.

QUOTE: A key measure of economic output fell for the second straight quarter, raising fears that the United States could be entering a recession — or perhaps that one had begun. Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.2 percent in the second quarter, the equivalent of an 0.9 percent annual rate of decline, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Most economists still don’t think the economy meets the formal definition of a recession, which is based on a broader set of indicators including measures of income, spending and employment. The G.D.P. data itself will also be revised several times in the months ahead.

Philip: So, I do want to kind of underline that, because we kind of knew, or I think most people suspected it was going to be a sustained dip, but to underline that last piece there, about the broader piece, the jobs numbers are still very high. There's still a lot of jobs, a lot of people getting jobs, a lot of jobs being created. There's obviously still demand for stuff, and especially in our sector, we've been talking about this ad nauseum. It's not like, suddenly hiring has become easier and suddenly there's enough employees. I mean, we're still definitely struggling to fill demand and struggling to fill all these things. I think, as we talked about also, that pieces of this are going to be uneven, right? So, some of the places that are struggling are some of the eCommerce places and some of the online ones, and some of the tech firms, crypto, that type of stuff, stuff where it's not our industry. It's like, if you think about it, when people were sitting at home had nothing to do, then they were doing a lot of online shopping and they were looking at online forms, and now that they want to go out and do things, they want to go out to theme parks and to physical experiences. So, where we’ve seen demand so strong is in our space, despite the fact that overall, there has been some shrinkage, it's still strong where we are, and it's just less so in eCommerce and less so in those types of spaces. So, I'm not really surprised or panicked by this. Scott, what do you think?

Scott: Again, you've heard us mention this several times on this show and then you've also seen other stories regarding it. Anytime there is a flow, there will be an ebb. So, especially to your point, Philip, in our realm, in the realm of attractions and, and theme parks, et cetera, et cetera, we've seen a boom. I mean, we've seen people wanting to get outside and wanting to get out there. This is, potentially, the beginning of that ebb. I also think that there's a challenge that we have, certainly in the United States, and that is people's whole mindset towards work, and this kind of ties into the Hong Kong story as well. People's whole work life balance mentality changed significantly over the 18 months to two years that that so many things shut down and so many of us spent time at home. We've recognized that we want to spend time at home. Higher paying jobs are, at the moment, not necessarily what we want. So, I think that there's going to be another shift that I think we need to be prepared for. I think that shift won't come until, in my opinion, and again, I am not an economist, nor am I an expert in this field, but in my opinion, that shift won't come until all of a sudden people go. "Wait a minute. You know, I'm not able to get as much as I used to." Well that's because you're not working as hard, that's because you're not working as much.

 

Scott: We're working in a finite environment here. So, when one thing goes up, something has to go down, and vice versa. We've got prices, although I don't know whether it's true around the rest of the country, but certainly here in Florida, gas prices have finally started to come down. So, we'll see, we'll see what this... I'm not looking at this and saying, "oh, the sky is falling." I'm looking at this and I'm saying, this is just one step towards equalization. I don't think it's truly going to be a recession, as the economists say, this is a much more complex story than we want to make it here. But once again, I think all too often, we try to simplify things to the point where we can either raise eyebrows to make news sexier or more interesting, or we want to use data to condemn somebody we don't agree with, or whatever. I think this is this much of, a much, much larger picture, so it's nothing to worry about. But I do think it's. At least in our industry, it's the first step towards that finding that neutral spot again.

Philip: Yeah, I agree a hundred percent with that kind of like the neutral spot. That is kind of needed, also. That's the other thing, we need to get back to that kind of equilibrium. It's good for everybody. I definitely think there's going to be a lot of stories coming out about the recession and blah, blah, blah, because to your point, like mainstream likes to sensationalize things and they like to pull this kind of thing. So, I would say for our listeners, I'm not panicking. I've talked to my team about it. I'm not panicking, I'm not telling them to panic. I think that everything is kind of going according to plan, or according to what we have projected. What other people much smarter than us, IAPPA and the other reports have projected, which is there's going to be a kind of a sustained demand through this holiday season. What we're hearing, even from stories of individuals, is they are making decisions to not get their extra Starbucks or not buy this extra thing on Amazon because they want to do a vacation. So, people are making decisions because they haven't been able to do things, to do tourism, and they're trying to sacrificing some stuff over that. So, there's going to be sustained demand.

Philip: Then there is going to be that ebb after this season where people have got that out of their system and they're ebbing a little bit. That's what we're seeing, that's been where we are, and this is all tracking with that, the little bit of an ebb that's going to come. Then, at the same time we've talked about that about staying competitive through this. Making sure that you can successfully ride this wave with your staffing and your offerings, but then understanding that you're going to need to make reinvestment in your show properties. Like it's not going to stay this way forever is the point here, and that you need to be prepared with reinvestment to be able to incentivize people to come back after this. Once things start to ebb, people will need to be convinced to come back to the attraction.

Philip: That's where, again, we are seeing Disney's always ahead of the curve. If you look at their offerings that they've been doing, over charging for less experiences, and now they're saying, "oh, we're bringing back our parties, we're bringing back these things, and we're bringing back all of what you had previously." They're stepping up their entertainment offerings and then they're getting ready at D23 expo to announce a lot of park editions and renovations that'll be opening. Oh, when? Oh, next year! Imagine that. So, it's kind of like looking at this and understanding that. The only other thing I will say is, the larger companies, I'm sure, are panicking a little bit more and that's because they're more global companies or if they are public companies, because of the stock market and investors always panic about these types of numbers. But the independents, I would say, you shouldn't be panicking if you are not a public company

Scott: Basically, play the long game. That's really the message here. Play the long game, recognize that it is a fluid state of income, revenue. So, play the long game. I truly, truly, truly believe that by creating an environment that people want to come back to is the best form of marketing that will sustain you when things get rough, and will help you maintain a level head when you've got more guests than you know what to do with. So, keep working on the guest experience, build those relationships with your guests so that when the time ebbs, it's not that they're like, "well, things are a little tighter now, but you know, we really had so much fun when we were at XYZ park." Take this time to build those relationships, because that's hard to do when you've got too many guests and not enough staff. So, keep that relationship building going because I think what that will do is help sort of normalize the normalization process, if that makes any sense at all. It will make it so that guests have a commitment to your brand and not just a commitment to the money in their pockets

Philip: Our, probably, last story here, maybe next to last, is to do with the marketing that Scott mentioned there, about that whole atmosphere. So, this week Meta had reported their first revenue decline and a 36% profit drop, and that was just on Wednesday, so just yesterday.

QUOTE: "Meta reports first revenue decline and a 36 percent profit drop."
On Wednesday, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, reported a 1 percent decline in quarterly revenue from the previous year. It was the first time the social media giant’s revenue had fallen since it went public a decade ago… “We seem to have entered an economic downturn that will have a broad impact on the digital advertising business,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in an earnings call. “The situation seems worse than it did a quarter ago.” Google, Twitter and Snap, which rely on online advertising, have also said this month that they experienced reduced demand for advertising because of the slowing global economy. Some of the companies cited the effects of the war in Ukraine and its destabilizing effect on the European ad market, as well as the strength of the U.S. dollar, which has hurt companies when it comes to global sales. That pain is unlikely to end soon. For the current quarter, Meta said it expected “a continuation of the weak advertising demand environment.” E-commerce ads were waning as “peak pandemic” had passed and more people ventured outside, the company said, adding that tough periods like these were “cyclical” historically.

Philip: So, kind of just in essence, summarizing exactly what we said. What I always look at too, when you're looking at these is, advertising is like the tip of the spear when it comes to this whole thing. Because what companies spend on advertising is a great indicator of how much if they need to advertise, right? So, like, how much they need the business and how optimistic they are for the future, because you don't advertise if you're not optimistic. It's like instinct that companies always have is to hold back, and so you do see a little bit. But I'll highlight on there that, basically, exactly what they're saying, they're saying e-commerce and those types of things are what's down. I think honestly it's because look at what we've been talking about, if you take this and contextualize it in our industry, we talked about this because Oogie Boogie Bash sold out a week after the tickets went on sale. Do you think they were buying e-commerce ads for that? No, because they don't need to.

Scott: Yeah. See, that's the point. I think that's really the interesting point, you will see companies usually buying ads, and especially e-commerce ads if one of two things is happening, if either they're very optimistic and they're looking forward or they're panicked. So, to your point, in our industry we're still riding the wave. People are still interested in coming out. People are still interested in being parts of things. Live events are still selling incredibly well. Live experiences are still selling incredibly well. So, to your point, Philip, there's absolutely no reason for large companies to purchase e-commerce ads. E-commerce ads to large companies have traditionally, and I'm not saying this is right, but have traditionally been the, "oh crap, we need to do something now." And that's when they make those kinds of purchases. They'll plan a strategy that is much more robust long term, but e-commerce ads, traditionally, and this is changing, this model is shifting, but traditionally that has always been the "we've got to do something. Something is wrong. Tickets aren't selling blah, blah, blah, blah." And if tickets are selling, then there's no reason to go to that level of marketing and spend the money on it. So, this makes sense. I also want to point out there's something, you know, they even suggested here, when they say cyclical historically, it is cyclical, and it's cyclical not only through time periods, It's also cyclical through popularity. I mean, you know,, one word, Myspace. Facebook, which has now changed.

Philip: TikTok is eating their lunch. Yeah. That's what's happening.

Scott: Exactly. So, you know, Facebook changed its name so all of a sudden it's something new, but people are smarter than that. So, Facebook has had a great long run. I will tell you, I still use Facebook, but I'm old. So, I still use Facebook all the time, but I had somebody the other night just yell at me for not expanding my TikTok presence. So, I'm going to try to do that as well.

Philip: Probably me.

Scott: No, it wasn't, you, it wasn't you this time. You would've, had you been in the conversation you would've joined in and started beating me with your shoe, but I think it's just important to recognize that.

Philip: Yeah. The last point I wanted to add is that I think there's an opportunity here as well hidden in all of this. Because online advertising, ad spend is down across the board, it's down maybe a little bit more with Meta and TikTok is getting market share across the board. I would say the opportunity, the last point I'll add here, the opportunity does exist, I think, because of this, for people, attractions. If you are an attraction and you happen to need to sell more tickets, because you have a new event or you have the capacity that you need to fill, you know, if you happen to be in that situation, which is not most people, but if you happen to be, this could be an opportunity for you to capture market share, because other people don't need to advertise. So, there's inventory open, essentially, that you could try and capture market share in your market. Potentially, that's just the opportunity I see.

Scott: Great. Well, I'm glad to hear that you see a silver lining in this and that's wonderful. That's kind of what we're here, to help you navigate, or at least talk about the challenges, that are ahead in your industry. The challenge we have is that we're out of time. So, until next week, on behalf of Philip and myself, Scott, we are Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, and we really appreciate you listening. Thank you so very much, and we will see you again next week.

 

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.