Sustainability, Safety, and Staffing- these areas continue to be challenging in the attractions industry. We don't have answers yet, but IAAPA plans to ask questions. We'll discuss what it might mean for the industry and whether politics has anything...
Sustainability, Safety, and Staffing- these areas continue to be challenging in the attractions industry. We don't have answers yet, but IAAPA plans to ask questions. We'll discuss what it might mean for the industry and whether politics has anything to do with it.
Philip Hernandez: From our studios in Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles, this is Green Tagged Theme Park in 30, an insider's take on the top theme park news each week. I'm Phillip and I'm here with my co-host Scott Swenson, of Scott Swenson Creative Development, and today I thought we'd start off with some signals that we're seeing from IAAPA's strategic plan. So, to give a little bit of context, IAAPA had their annual board meeting, and in it, they discussed some of their strategic planning and where they think they should set their priorities for, and there is a big post about that will link to the show notes. But I think the most interesting things, two things, the most interesting was safety and sustainability. The president announced a 5-year strategic safety plan that sets the direction and how to develop the Association's role and offering in this area. So, they kind of laid out that they were going to make a safety plan, it's like, "we're going to make a five-year safety plan that will include how we should talk about safety, because it's important." And I'm like, yeah, that's important.
Philip Hernandez: On the sustainability, they noted that in a recent survey, 71% of members indicated that sustainability is extremely, or very, important to their organization. They created a subcommittee to investigate a possible sustainability standard for board review by this November. So, I actually think these two things were hidden in there, but they echo big trends we've seen. How many times have we talked about safety? Safety at the Six Flags, shutting down events. Safety at theme park rides, all the deaths. I mean safety is a big trend. Equally, sustainability. We've talked about the importance of sustainability, but we don't really see it coming up that often, it's one of those weird things. It's also really interesting to me that they're thinking of making the standard, because I feel like that could turn, maybe, like unintentionally political. As in if IAAPA is developing a sustainability standard, then getting everybody on board with that should be easy. But you know, I'm not sure. Like I'm not sure why we don't talk more about these, about sustainability. So, it was so interesting to see them say 71%. I was like, "Yes, I agree, and yet no one's talking about this." What do you think, Scott?
Scott Swenson: Well, I think I think, let me start with the sustainability thing first, because that's something that I've noticed, again from this side of the world. The parks that I have been to here and even retail establishments, first of all, you can't go grocery shopping without buying a bag. There is no such thing as a free plastic bag, so you either take your own or you purchase one. So, it is something that is just standard operating procedure here in Abu Dhabi. As far as parks go, when it comes to parks and sustainability, I have learned how to eat with a paper spoon, as opposed to a plastic one. So, when it comes to that kind of sustainability, that is something that I think may be sparked by, that 71%, the expansion here in the Middle East of Parks and attractions. I don't know whether the same is true in Asia, but I do know from direct experience that it is definitely true here. There is very, very little plastic waste here at parks in the UAE. So, I'm guessing, and this is just conjecture, I don't know, but I'm guessing that may have sparked IAAPA to say, "Well, gosh, we should probably look at this worldwide."
Scott Swenson: When you're in the States, you forget that the first letter of IAAPA is International. So, you have to take into consideration that it's not just Orlando and California, and a few other parks in the state. That's not it, it looks at the world as a whole. As things continue to grow in Abu Dhabi, in the Emirates in general, as well as in Saudi and other parts of the world, the United States is going to be a smaller and smaller percentage of the IAAPA membership. If the other parks are already looking at sustainability, it makes total sense. I'd love to see, honestly, out of that 71%, what the percentage is just in the US.
Philip Hernandez: Broken down by sector. What do you think about them looking at a sustainability standard? I mean, I for one I'm like, "Yes, thank goodness." But at the same time, it kind of reminds me of us over here being like, "We need a privacy standard." or like a tech standard, or regulation. I mean, I think that I agree with you, in my travels and whatnot, I do see overall the tourist destinations embracing sustainability in a public and private way. It's the very trending. There are the public things you mentioned, but there are also the more private things like putting up the solar farms and whatnot. like Disney used to talk about it. It's like we don't talk about that at all, really, here in the US, and I think it's because it's become a political topic. I think that that same kind of shadow might follow any sort of industry standard that they try to put out there. Because then effectively you're having IAAPA potentially certifying, or at least giving standards, by which a governing body could certify or decertify attractions as to whether or not they are following sustainability practices.
Scott Swenson: Right. Well, I think that the reason... So, in my mind, I'm looking at this going, "
Philip Hernandez: I mean thinking too, but also...
Scott Swenson: Right, right, but let's take a half step back. I agree with you on the political ramifications of what this could cause. Keep in mind IAAPA is not, is not, a governmental body, and when they say things like "sustainability standard", that is not regulatory. That is a standard by which its Members should strive to achieve."
Philip Hernandez: Yes, but we know it could have regulatory implications just because we know how it works, and some bodies may take IAAPA's standard and use it.
Scott Swenson: Conceivably yes, but again, IAAPA represents an international point of view versus a local point of view. I think part of the reason that it's taken so long for sustainability to actually be regulated, standardized, or whatever, is the cost. Being sustainable now has become more affordable. It used to be that plastic cups were significantly cheaper than biodegradable paper. But that's not true anymore. The delta between the two has closed significantly. So, now, without being elitist, IAAPA can come in and say, "Here are the standards. Here are the sustainability standards." Because they're more cost-effective. You can say, "FEC, you have to hit these standards," and they're like, "I can't afford to hit those standards. I can't afford to buy biodegradable, organic paper to wrap my hot dogs. I've still got to put them in Styrofoam clamshells." But now, the delta on the prices have come together a little bit more, so they can be a little bit more... Well, they've made it profitable to be sustainable.
Scott Swenson: I've said it for years, the only way we're going to get any form of sustainability, or even responsibility for the environment, is to make it financially viable, and financially beneficial, to the organization. Because these are companies, these are companies who are out there to make money. I think that's a perfect segue into safety. We all know that the most expensive thing that can happen to a theme park is an accident. Not just from what it's going to cost them in lawsuits, lost attendance because of bad press, and then, of course, the cost to repair, whatever it was that caused the accident in the first place. If it's a roller coaster, obviously, we've seen attractions shut down and be torn down after sitting dormant after accidents. We've seen that happen in our past. So, I don't want to sound like I'm that guy who's always talking about money, but the truth of the matter is, this is a business. If you can ethically run a business in a way that is profitable for you, then that just makes all the sense in the world. Safety is part of that plan.
Philip Hernandez: Just looking at the examples that we've seen recently, look at Glenwood Caverns, they had to shut down that ride for a whole year plus, and then pay to retheme the entire thing in order to try and reopen it again to keep that asset at least somewhat usable. Then, of course, the last thing Six Flags wants to do after their CEO is talking about how important Halloween is, is have to shut down their Halloween events because they can't keep control on the crowds. I mean, you're right about that. I mean, these are huge financial implications. Again though, I kind of feel like this problem, almost, is a little bit worse in the US. That could be my US-centric view of things, but I scan headlines from all over the world every week for this, and I do not see nearly as many safety incidents coming from other countries. Maybe they just not reporting it, I don't know.
Scott Swenson: Again, you're the data guy, Phillip. You look at this stuff in far greater detail than I. From what I've seen, is that based on per capita? I mean is it based on the attendance of the park?
Philip Hernandez: That's a good point.
Scott Swenson: I look at parks here and I see that there is significantly lower attendance, but I see that there are significantly more children climbing on rocks. It's a unique thing, culturally here, and it's because there are so many different cultures in the UAE that are all coming together to enjoy all of the things on Yas Island, for example. So, you've got a bunch of different cultures and a bunch of different ways of raising children, all coming together, and it's like herding cats. You see a mishmash of trying to figure out what is appropriate as far as safety standards, and what can you mandate and what can you not? So, I agree with you though, it does appear that there are more safety issues in the US. It may also be, another factor that may play into that, is government involvement. I mean here in the UAE, the government is very much involved in the development of theme parks and leisure activities, in fact there's an entire wing of the government that does nothing but that. So, it makes sense that if you're a little bit more Wild West still, like the US, and especially in certain markets, that there may be more injury because there's not as much government oversight. Now, I'm not saying there should be more or less government oversight, so please do not write comments or letters or whatever, all I'm saying is this may be the reason for it, I don't know.
Philip Hernandez: Well, the other thing that IAAPA has going on, and this is separate from the board meeting, but the other thing that IAAPA kind of put out a statement about is from their public affairs department. Because we're kind of winding down, and a lot of the sessions are winding down right now, they kind of issued a recap of what's going on. The thing I thought was most interesting was, again, underlining that the recruitment and retention and staffing challenges are just kind of also reflected in legislation. They talked about how 47 of the bills that they are tracking deal with employee leave and that vein. Which is, again, you've seen in the data, we talked about that, that's why we talked about it so much. They also talked about how workforce recruitment and retention challenges continue to be the number one issue impacting IAAPA members. "For that reason, we are pleased states such as Ohio, Iowa, and Utah are considering bills that would allow workers under the age of 18 to work more hours. Connecticut is weighing attractions specific legislation that would allow workers 14 and older to work nonhazardous jobs."
Scott Swenson: Wow.
Philip Hernandez: Yeah. Indeed,
Scott Swenson: I will be honest, this is the first I've heard this, so I'm a little taken aback by that. Wow. I have to formulate how I feel about that.
Philip Hernandez: That's exactly what I thought when I first read it. I mean, we talked a lot, like we talked so much around this about the topic of, what type of compensation can you do? Can you rethink? How do we rethink the role and the compensation to make it attractive for people? You were always saying, Scott, how it's not about the money, it's really about the larger things, and I think what struck me about this is like, "Oh, well, this is one way around it basically." Where they are like, "We'll just bring in younger and younger team members." Then, for them, then it becomes their first job, their internship, or getting their feet wet. I mean, it becomes more of what it's about, but I'm not sure. I was just thinking, this literally happened to me this week twice we were at Disney, and I heard the comments twice about how the cast members were too young and inexperienced. Like no social skills, there's like kind of just like a... So, I'm a little bit like, mmm, we have... I'm just like, well, I mean, like 14-year-olds running guest service? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know how I feel about this.
Scott Swenson: Wow. So, you always hear me talk about how everything is cyclical and the pendulum swings back and forth. I never thought child labor was going to be something that would swing back.
Philip Hernandez: I know! I was like, well, I guess this is one way to fix it. I don't know, I guess. Look at haunted houses, right?
Scott Swenson: Yeah, if you can't sustain the labor pool that you have, expand the pool. I mean, I understand, I do understand the methodology here. Ohh boy. Now, I will say, and just kind of talking this through, and I may come back later and listen to this and go, "Oh my God, Scott, what did you say? Why did you say that?"
Philip Hernandez: It will live on the Internet forever.
Scott Swenson: I know, and trust me, I've put my foot in my mouth so many times on the Internet, it's just habit. So, at this moment, as of this particular recording date, I look at this and I think, "Well, on the one hand, 14-year-olds have experienced significantly more of the world than they did when I was 14, mainly because they have access to, via technology so many more things. And is it necessarily a bad thing to train a 14-year-old to have better interpersonal skills? To have better ways of communicating that don't involve a screen and thumb typing?" So, that may be a positive thing here. It's clear though that necessity is the mother of invention, but at the same time, I think it's interesting that 47% of the bills that IAAPA tracks deal with employee leave.
Philip Hernandez: Well, if you could bring your 14-year-old to work that would solve the leave.
Scott Swenson: There you go, bring your 14-year-old to work day.
Philip Hernandez: They can work with you. [Laughter] I can't.
Scott Swenson: Yes, yes, exactly, that is truly child labor law issues. But the idea here is... Wow. So, I will tell you here in UAE...
Philip Hernandez: You realize that's basically middle school? 14 is the upper end of middle school. So, I guess they think you make summer break, vacation, or weekends? I mean... Anyway, keep going with your...
Scott Swenson: No, no, I mean, that's fine. I mean, to be completely honest, I started working when I was 13. Now, I was self-employed at the time, but I started working and I started performing as a magician. So, I was doing birthday parties and special events, and that kind of thing. So, I don't see the age as that much of an issue, yet, I don't know. But, for example, here in the UAE, they have a very different work approach, they also have very different work ethic, but there's also a lot of different levels of society here in the UAE. But, for the most part, the parks here are on a six-day work week, and up to 10 hours per day. Now, that's a little bit unique right now because we're in Ramadan. Which means, that based on government issue, this is not a do you... well, slightly based on, are you observant or are you not. But the work day, during Ramadan, goes down to either six hours if you are observant, and seven hours if you are not. There are very few, other than religious-centric, government-paid holidays throughout the year, and that's left up to the individual company in many cases. So, the ones that are run by United States companies, for example, or operated by. United States companies, usually take those kinds of holidays or offer those kinds of holidays off. But as we all know, working in a theme park, I've worked more holidays than I haven't. But when it comes to leave, that's a bit more of a challenge. It's tricky, it's tricky. So we'll see.
Scott Swenson: People, people want to work, we need more jobs, and yet the majority of the things that we're dealing with are ways to get out of work. Now, is that so that they can maintain employees and don't have to retrain them? That's a strong possibility. You know if they say, "I need to take a leave because I have a family issue that I need to deal with for a month." And if they say, no. Well, then they lose that person because they're going to take the family thing anyway. So, they lose that person and then they have to retrain, re-find, and rehire somebody else to replace them. So, I being a little bit more lenient with leave mentality could benefit in the long run. But the whole age thing is still kind of rattling my brain. I don't know whether there's anything wrong with it.
Philip Hernandez: Again, this is just legislation that IAAPA is tracking. It's not like it's set in stone, right? I mean how much stuff always comes up all the time and then never gets up? So, it'll be interesting to watch. So, Time interviewed Bob Iger and it was fine. There were two things I thought were interesting. Of course, he was asked about the whole thing with Florida, again, as usual. He gave, I think, a more toned-down response versus when he talked to the shareholders, but he did kind of reiterate his commitment to Florida and reiterate how important they are for it and whatnot, kind of like that whole thing. So, that's fine.
Philip Hernandez: The more interesting part, I thought, was he was asked about basically ESPN and what to do with that, and the whole betting thing. He said, quote, "I was probably on the more conservative side about this for a long time. But I’ve changed because I think the acceptance of sports betting has grown significantly. And my desire is to see that the company continues to serve its consumers well, without us really, I think, distancing ourselves from values, because we’re not actually causing the bets to be made. We’re just enabling people to link to companies that do that." So, I mean, it was interesting because I did kind of think that they were going to spin off ESPN, or somehow it was going to move into a different sphere because, I mean, again, it kind of doesn't fit as much with the arc of how they're rearranging the company. But it was interesting for him to be like, well, you know, we're just pointing them to places where they can make bets, we're not encouraging the bets. For the context for listeners, online betting has taken off more and more as regulations change about it, and it's become more accessible to people. So, this is a trend that we're seeing online betting continues, and I'm sure that we will continue to see even more, because follow the money, of course, so I'm sure it's going to get worse.
Scott Swenson: So, in true Scott style, I'm going to tell a little story. When I was younger, my parents loved to go to the racetrack, to the horse race track. When I was growing up, I was too young to bet. So, my dad would become the house and I would bet significantly smaller amounts of money, and my dad would become basically the window. I'd go to my dad and I'd say, "I want to bet $0.50 on this one to place." He would use the real odds to either pay me back or not, which was all just really fun and teaching me how to bet at a horse racetrack. So, I see nothing wrong. I don't have that much of a moral issue with betting on sports. I really don't. I do understand that for some people it becomes a very serious problem, and that is a completely different issue, because there's pretty much anything you can mention that people can develop a serious addiction to. I don't want to make light of that in any way shape or form. So, as far as the moral ramifications of betting, personally, I don't have a strong aversion to that.
Scott Swenson: What I do think is interesting is the choice of, "We're not really forcing people to make the bets, we're just showing them how to do it. We're not really forcing the children to smoke cigarettes, we're just leaving them on the table." You know that that's a little... And I know what he was trying to say, but the phraseology just sounds a little suspicious to me. But as he said, he started out on the more conservative side and probably followed the same line of thought that I did. That is, betting itself is not a horrible thing. For those who become addicted to it, that becomes another very serious issue. When the phrase is used, "Just enabling people to link to companies that do that," Does that make you guilty by association? I don't know. I'll leave that up to each of you as listeners.
Philip Hernandez: Yeah, I think that's he reason I want to include it, that's exactly it . It kind of again harkens back to the theme we've been tracking for a while about how the line between the moral actions and perceptions, or whatnot, of the company used to be completely divorced, and now it's getting closer to... I mean, one might have been surprised at a Time interview asked about this. I guess that's my point, right? This whole, where you stand, what you're doing, and how your reflections as a company are perceived is becoming more important, and being able to walk that. I was a little surprised, honestly, that a Time piece would ask. I mean I would expect that question from like the Financial Times or The Harvard Business Journal, or something that's a little bit more for business people. This is kind of like the general public wants to know if you think allowing sports betting is moral. I'm like, "What? That is not something that we used to have to think about when it came to that thing." Yeah, just so interesting they're asking about these two things, the Florida thing and this.
Scott Swenson: Well, and we've talked about, in great length, the fact that more and more people are as concerned about the moral stance of the company as they are about the actual attraction itself. There are companies, even as an old guy, that I don't give my money to because I don't agree with their moral standings. Their product may be great, but if I don't agree with their stance, I'm not going to support them with my money. I think that is, again, true here.
Philip Hernandez: It's a growing trend, yeah.
Scott Swenson: I do just want to go back, because I know we've talked about it a lot, but since I come back to Florida in about six weeks, I want to just talk just briefly about the Florida thing with Disney and the governor and all that. So, I think it's interesting that you say he softened his stance a little bit. I think it's because it's a different audience. With stockholders, you have to be the strong leader. From what I've seen, and again, you've delved into this deeper, he didn't change the message, he just changed the packaging.
Philip Hernandez: Yeah, he basically was reinforcing the message that "We are for Florida. We are here for Florida, to help Florida. We have been instrumental in building Florida. We were we plan to remain here. We plan to invest more, and we plan to support the people, the businesses, and the economy." That was the message. He kind of was like, "I'm open to having conversations with any legislators because I believe that legislators have a role in the same thing. We both want the same thing, which is successful..." So, it really was keeping on the message of we're here for Florida. He just didn't say that DeSantis was anti-Florida, which is what he had said in the stockholder meeting.
Scott Swenson: Well, and there are, without getting political, there are people who feel that DeSantis is anti-Florida and there are people who feel that he is not, that is not for this show. The thing is, the majority of people in the industry, obviously, are looking at this very, very carefully to see how much power--earlier we were just talking about governmental, I won't say interference, but governmental regulation in the in the theme park industry. This, to me, is taking it to an unbelievably strong, or unbelievably over-the-top, level that I don't think anybody experienced. We'll see how Disney deals with it. It sounds like they're... Disney is a storyteller, Disney as a company, they are a storyteller, and they are telling a very powerful story. Now, let's hope that DeSantis follows the story.
Philip Hernandez: Oh God.
Scott Swenson: [Laughter]
Philip Hernandez: That plug that was in there, oh, great. I was going to say, I just think, though, it's so powerful because they can back it up. I think, to me, that's the big difference. "Here's what we've done. Here's what we're going to do. Here's what we continue to do."
Scott Swenson: Well, what I think is really interesting is, it's past the point of defending why Reedy Creek existed. It's not looking backward, it's looking forward. "We are here for Florida. We helped build Florida. We will continue to invest in Florida."
Philip Hernandez: It's a master stroke. They're framing of this narrative is very good, and it's hard to argue with it. I mean, I feel like it doesn't matter where you fall on the spectrum. I think everybody in that area, at least, agrees and then that's it.
Scott Swenson: It's interesting, for those of you who have listened to the show for a long period of time, or watched the show for a long period of time, you know that Phillip and I are not always on Disney's side.
Philip Hernandez: Yeah.
Scott Swenson: But in this particular case, we have to give credit where credit is due, because they are really, in my opinion, based on what I'm seeing, handling this incredibly well and I hope they continue to move forward in this direction. As a Floridian, if they go away it's going to change my quality of life, and I do not want that to happen. I say that very selfishly, and I just want to be transparent about how selfish that is.
Philip Hernandez: There is something I want to mention right at the end of the show here, just while we're on this topic, that Scott brought up. So, we did have a few listeners that commented about the last episode, and they basically mentioned that the thing that we left out about it was the argument that the companies have First Amendment rights, basically. Telling the company what they can and can't do in that way is a violation of First Amendment rights, which companies have. We didn't really bring that up, but that argument has been brought up by other people. The reason we didn't bring it up was just because Disney didn't argue that, yet. They might, I mean, it might come out in the future with Supreme Courts, appeals, or whatever, but we kind of were focused on what was Disney saying. I mean, what are the facts and what did Disney say and what did DeSantis say in public comment? So, I just want to acknowledge that is a theory that's rolling out there and whatnot. I'm not a legal expert, we don't want to talk about it, but I just want to acknowledge that.
Philip Hernandez: I also wanted to give two reminders. We have switched over to a separate YouTube channel, so if you were subscribed before, please move over to this new channel. We are also, again, changing the feeds around. We're changing the feeds around, so we'll continue to keep Green Tagged as a dedicated feed. If you happen to be listening on the Network Feed, move over and subscribe to Green Tagged, and if you were looking at our videos on the network, you can go to the Green Tagged YouTube channel in any of the places. Or, you could just go to greentaggedshow.com, it actually has everything for you. So, the easiest thing to do is just go to greentaggedshow.com and you can find the YouTube, the videos, and the links to subscribe to the audio, whatever you prefer.
Scott Swenson: So please, please, please follow us, because without you it's just the two of us talking on camera. Again, thank you so much for those of you who did mention the things that we left out, please continue to do that. We love it when we get feedback, both positive and constructive, I won't say negative, from our listeners because it really, really helps us. The only way we can get that feedback is if you continue to listen, but not now, because the show's over. So, we will see you next week here on Green Tagged Theme Park in 30.
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.
Here are some great episodes to start with.