Apply for the 2022 Hauntathon at
June 28, 2022

The Politics of Staffing

The Politics of Staffing

Today we discuss Disney’s new Abortion Travel Credit, 13th Floor Entertainment Group’s new event Shaqtoberfest, and the opening of Volkanu from Sally Dark Rides. Subscribe to all our offerings:

Today we discuss Disney’s new Abortion Travel Credit, 13th Floor Entertainment Group’s new event Shaqtoberfest, and the opening of Volkanu from Sally Dark Rides. Subscribe to all our offerings:


Articles Quoted:

"Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Meta and More Media Companies to Cover Employee Travel Costs for Abortions After Roe v. Wade Overturned"



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.

Scott: Hello Philip, hey everybody. Hey, another week. Another week's gone by, and a whole bunch of new news.

Philip: Yikes, there's a lot of news.

Scott: I was trying to be positive there, Philip.

Philip: I don't know. Well, here I am with the negative, bringing it down, but there was a lot of news this week. There's of course one big news item that has definitely overshadowed everything that happened. I don't talk too much about that going on with the Supreme Court, but we do have one story that is related to our industry that came out of that which is that several companies, including Disney, which is why we're talking about it, have agreed to cover employee travel costs for abortions after the Roe versus Wade overturning of this week. 

Here's the key with this, it’s new, there's not a lot of information. Obviously, they haven't offered this to any employee yet, we don't really have how the mechanics of how this is going to work. I was able to find one longer paragraph about it because there was a memo that was leaked over to the media, and I'm going to read an excerpt from Variety which describes it.

QUOTE:  "In the wake of the ruling, Disney reached out to employees on Friday to stress that they recognize the “impact” of the Supreme Court’s decision and “remain committed to providing comprehensive access to quality and affordable care” for all Disney employees and their families, which includes family planning and reproductive care, “no matter where they live,” an internal source told Variety. For Disney employees unable to access a medical service, including abortions, in one location, they have a travel benefit that allows for “affordable coverage for receiving similar levels of care in another location.”"

Philip: And that's it. That's all we have so far, just from leaked correspondence. To me, this is a staffing thing. I think there's already been, of course, a lot of blowback already against Disney for putting this out so quickly. But when I read this, I was like, "oh this to me reads like you're trying to preempt staffing issues," which I actually agree with. I do think this is going to become a staffing issue, what do you think, Scott?

Scott: I mean, obviously, there are two very strong sides to this issue, and it's not for us to debate those sides. Although it will impact the industry and we will see to what extent, that has not happened yet, so therefore, it would be irresponsible for us to report upon it. However, I think you're absolutely right. I think this is looking forward to what is to come. If this situation continues for these large multi-state companies or international companies, they are going to need to make certain, and it's clear that Disney is doing this, but I think it is in their best interest... Let me rephrase that, I think it's in their best interest to make certain that they make sure that all of their employees, no matter what state they happen to live in, have the same access to health care, family planning, and even abortions if that is the direction they wish to go. This is a very touchy subject because everyone has a very personal view on it, and even those who fall within one camp or the other will have those, "But what-ifs," that come up. So, like I said, this is something that whether you agree with this overturning or disagree with this overturning, I think as a business and as an industry, it would be wise to not exacerbate an already challenging staffing situation with a, "I would love to come work for you, but I can't work in Florida." Or "I would love to come work for you, but only in California." I think that is going to be a challenge, and I think this is a way for Disney to level the playing field so that they can keep people in, again, no matter what their needs are, they can keep people on a level playing field throughout their companies. I do see that this could potentially be financially challenging for national companies, because they are going to have issues with, you know if someone does have to travel in order to receive an abortion and they're going to pay for it, will the time off be handled? I mean, there's a lot of nuts and bolts that still need to be figured out. But I'm really glad that you brought this to the table here for this show, because again it is the elephant in the room so to speak, and it will impact the industry, and this is, I think, just the first step. So, if you are part of a larger company, or even a smaller company, and you feel that this is something that you need to do to keep, or keep the loyalty of your employees, you might want to consider it.

Philip: I actually want to add to that. I think this is a brilliant move by Disney because I think it's another one of those barriers that sets up... it's just ultimately just a barrier between the large company and a small company, because to me this is going to be a lot harder for the smaller independent companies to pull off than it is for larger companies. This is just another one of those things like, "oh, you work at Disney? You can get education reimbursement, and you can get paid travel, and all these things." And what happens if you want to work at any of the companies we work with? The smaller companies? To me, as a smaller company, I'm like, this is something we need to do. We need to be able to offer this because we're always trying to at least be on the level, or at least close, to competitors, and this is another big piece. It just makes it harder to compete, I think.

Scott: Exactly, make it harder to compete. That's what I think is really the takeaway here. Although I approve what Disney is doing, this may be another nail in the coffin for staffing challenges for smaller companies. This may be another thing that Disney can offer that no one else can, or not no one, but other companies can't afford to offer or don't feel comfortable offering, or for whatever reason. So, I think we've only just seen the first ring of ripples in the water from this boulder being dropped. I think it is going to continue to affect not only this industry, but other industries as well. I am curious to see how other companies are going to deal with it. I'm curious to see how smaller companies that don't operate in states that will continue to make abortions safe, available, and legal... I'm curious to see how companies that are only based, for example, here in Florida are going to handle this situation because it could conceivably drive some pretty heavy hitters and their staff away from them to other states. So, we'll see what the ramifications are. Maybe I'm playing Philip and being doom and gloom here, but I think it is completely. So, we will see, but kudos to Disney for getting out in front of this and making that statement early, and showing that there are ways to do it, apparently. You know, obviously, as Philip said, there are no details yet, but it is something that I think will impact us as an industry from a staffing, or at least a retention standpoint, which is staffing as well. So, we'll see where it goes.

Philip: Keeping on the staffing theme here. Last week, Disney announced a different item here that we didn't cover last week, but I put it here because it's directly related, I think, to the staffing thing. Which is, that they delayed their corporate move to Lake Nona until 2026. A Disney spokeswoman, Wednesday, said the expected opening date for the Lake Nona campus was pushed to 2026 to give people more time and accommodate the construction timeline for the new offices. A Disney representative previously told the Ordinal Sentinel that the offices were expected to be operating in Orlando by 2022, by this December 2022.

I think this is another one that's kind of clear. Obviously, again, Disney can't do anything without like pros and cons, like there are people that are already upset because they had already prepared to move and et cetera, and then, of course, they already lost some talent from this. But I think again, it's this is the same play, they can't afford, right now, to disrupt staffing because of the staffing issues that we're having so they need to push this back. Because it does not take an extra four years to build a campus, that's not true.

Scott: Well, it may not, but I don't have a single project that involves construction that is on its original timeline.

Philip: Right, not four years off though.

Scott: Not four years, agreed, but I do know I have two different projects that have postponed for a year because of shipping timelines, because of the arrival of goods. So, yeah, I think staffing has something to do with it. I do think that the delivery dates have something to do with it, I agree it's not four years worth, but what you didn't read, Philip, is there's one other line here that says? "Wahler said that the dispute with DeSantis had nothing to do with the delay." I'm curious as to whether that's true. I'm curious as to whether that is true. There's been ongoing... Oh, what's the appropriate term? Less than pleasant discussion going on between Disney and the Governor of Florida. I think, you know, four years, interesting, what happens in four years? Is it possible that, I don't want to play conspiracy theorists here, but is it possible that Disney does not want to say, "we moved all of our corporate offices to the state of Florida during a governor's reign that they disagree with"? Is that possible? I don't know. I don't know, but I think they're probably telling the truth when they say it's not directly involved or doesn't have anything directly to do with the dispute with Governor DeSantis, but I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't at least some factor or a happy accident result of not moving it, because the four year timeline just raised eyebrows with me.

Philip: Which, to go back to my original point, that also could be staffing. Because essentially, you're telling all of your employees you got to move from California to Florida, there's big differences between those two locations.

Scott: It's a very good point, good point. Yes, and it's interesting because although Orlando itself is not a huge difference, the state, the state laws, and the state understanding of those laws or interpretation, interpretation is the word I'm looking for, of those laws is very, very different.

Philip: Well, yes, to be continued as we look towards fall. I think, in my opinion, these stores are going to become larger and larger impact because you have to get your staffing under control for fall and Christmas. All these event announcements are not going to be able to run without staff, and we're already not at full capacity for summer. Speaking of all that, there's a new event that's coming to Long Beach, and Scott has not heard about this event yet, and also, he's not read this, so I'm going to read and we're going to get Scotts like real time reaction to this. OK are you ready?

Scott: I'm ready.

QUOTE: "The First-Ever Shaqtoberfest Halloween Event Comes to the Iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach This October

15-time All-Star and basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and ABG Entertainment today announced a partnership with Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group... for the first-ever SHAQTOBERFEST Halloween event, taking place at the historic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, this October. Officially open to the public beginning late September through Halloween, the interactive experience will be the ultimate Halloween destination for family-friendly trick-or-treating, ghoulish games, delicious treats, specialty libations, frightfully fun,"

Philip: Etc., etc., etc. So, notice, located alongside the Queen Mary, but not on it, specifically.

QUOTE: "...six thrilling Halloween-themed areas for guests to explore, each featuring Halloween trails, games, live entertainment, food and beverage vendors and more. The experience will be narrated by O’Neal’s instantly recognizable voice." 

Philip: Here's the next detail portion here.

QUOTE: "Each afternoon will provide family fun trick-or-treat offerings and entertainment for children of all ages... Come nighttime, the energetic lights and music turn on as the witching hour begins, unleashing O’Neal’s ghoulish minions into the haunted trails and midways as the spirits of SHAQTOBERFEST are brought to life."

Philip: Sorry, I couldn't get through that without giggling. So, that was read from the press release. Scott, it's Shaqtoberfest! It's coming! I know you've always wanted it!

Scott: Wow. So, based on the description of the actual event itself, this is great, this is wonderful. It's a family-friendly, which by the way so many large producers of Halloween events are recognizing that there is money to be made in family-friendly again, the pendulum has swung back and forth. I've been at this a long time kids, and I've seen it swing back and forth, and we are in the family-friendly zone right now, and there's nothing wrong with it, a lot of the events that I do are family-friendly as well. So, I think that's great, I think it's exciting, I think it's fun that it's a party as the lights go down and Shaq's minions are released. 

So, my question is, did Shaq just wake up one morning and say, "you know, I want to do a Halloween event." Because again, having just, from a personal experience, come off of a Carnival Cruise Ship which was just recently graced with the presence of a Shaq's Big Chicken restaurant, which of course, has an imprint of Shaquille O'Neal hand that you can put up and see how big your hand is in comparison. He seems to be branding himself on a lot of things that have absolutely nothing to do with his sports career.

Philip: I didn't know he had minions either.

Scott: Are they yellow? I don't know. Are they big chickens? They could be a big chicken type, I don't know. So, I will say that the Shaqtoberfest and Shaq pinning his name to this, that's the part that I find most unusual. It's a little quirky, but you know what? If he's a big Halloween fan and it helps the industry, great, run with it. The location alongside the Queen Mary, and in certain areas of the Queen Mary, has long been a site for different Halloween events, most of them not particularly family friendly. Now, Philip, correct me if I'm wrong, but the majority of them were much more haunt oriented, yeah?

Philip: So, that's actually getting to some of the takeaways I had for it, which is first that I agree with you. So, this made a lot of splashes in the industry, and of course it's 13th Floor which is doing this. 13th Floor up in California, they operate LA Haunted Hayride and Delusion. I think a lot of people don't realize this, but they do have non-scary properties and tours, they do some of the glow events, they run a few things that are not like purely scary. To Scott's point, I do agree that family-friendly Halloween is definitely seeing a return and I think there is a tremendous market in that. I think the challenge with this one is going to be that the Queen Mary Dark Harbor there was such a big event, and that has a long history, but a long history of being an adult-only, scary event. I think it's going to be the same problem, I think, that our friends over at Eastern State Penitentiary also faced. Which was, they rebranded to Halloween Nights last year they tried to go scary, it didn't go too well because of the inertia that they were facing, based on their history, it made it difficult for them to switch over to a family friendly. I think that's going to be the problem here. 

I also think it's going to be a problem to kind of split apart these brands where, because it was labeled previously as the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor, like her Dark Harbor, right? I think this one is smart, well smart and also logistically to have it not on the boat because logistically that was a difficult challenge, as we all know. It was difficult, it was also in the Coast Guard zone, technically on the boat, because it's a floating vessel, so there's different issues with it. So, it's smart that it's not on the boat, it's alongside it. But I do think there's going to be this brand confusion, there's going to be this confusion as to it was a scary event and now it's a family-friendly event, and then you throw Shaq in. I'm not sure, again, that's the other thing I think is challenging about this is, it's almost like it's his event. In the imagery that's been released, the logo is him, it's like Shaq with skeleton hands, and he, I guess, summons minions with his skeleton hands and his magic robe. I don't know. But you know what? Maybe that was the plan, maybe it was like, "let's make this so quirky and get such a big name in it that we're going to be able to come in and completely redo this brand." Like there's no way you could confuse this with Dark Harbor. 

Scott: I was just going to say, I think that was the smart thing they did, was to make it so kitsch, so completely whacked out, so completely different, so the Queen Mary has been replaced by Shaquille O'Neal. It's not Queen Mary's Dark Harbor, it's now Shaquille O'Neal's Shaqtoberfest. So, it was to your point, he's clearly marketable, he's clearly a name, I mean he's totally recognizable, and I'm not saying it's even a bad thing. I do think it's quirky that it's Halloween, I don't know whether he's a big Halloween fan or has been a big Halloween fan throughout his life. I don't know that, maybe he has. Nut that's the part that I find a little odd. 

To your point, I think that with 13th Floor, you're right, they do operate things that are not scary, but where they've really made their name known is in the scary brands. So, I'm curious to see how that all plays out. I'm sure it'll be fine, they're a great company and they're super smart. I think they actually have a better shot than, you know, you mentioned you mentioned Eastern State Penitentiary. What happened with Eastern State is, going to Halloween Nights, they didn't want to shift their audience, they didn't want to change their audience, they wanted to expand their audience. Because they're still very scary, I was at Halloween Nights last year, and there are still some very scary elements that are part of it, but you aren't required to go through them if you're there with younger family members. So, I think I think their job was a different job, I don't know where it was easier or more difficult, but their job was to let people know, "Yes, now you can come as a family." This, I think, is just point blank, "don't come to be scared, come to have fun." 

Philip: I agree with everything you just said. I just also, while you were talking, I was thinking, the other problem, I think, is that that last line that we read about how like at night Shaq's minions are going to come out and invade everything, but how scary are they going to be? I mean, that's the piece for me where I'm like, "well, if they're really going hard into the family-friendly, does that undermine it? Like is that still family-friendly with minions? How scary are the minions? Are they scare actors? Are they sliders?" I don't know.

Scott: I don't know either, but this is really no different than what some of my clients, some of the people that I've worked with before, have done in the past. Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld at SeaWorld San Antonio they would do family-friendly up until a certain point and then they would change over and do scary at night. It was an ongoing challenge for them, they had to really communicate heavily. They finally got to the point at one time where they said, "it will stay family-friendly except in this one area where it gets really intense," and big signs that say, "if you don't want to get scared, don't come in here, " and all that sort of thing. So, they just have to make sure that they can communicate. But the truth of the matter is, based on what I've experienced in doing family-friendly haunted attractions, the kids who go trick or treating, once the sun goes down, they don't want to be there anyway, because they're their biggest fear is the dark. So, at that point, that's when you get the 7- through 12-year-olds who may be eye-rolling at the trick or treating part, but are all about the fun costumes, the cool lighting. The phrase that we use at Zoo Tampa is, startling the giggles out of you. So, you know, we don't want to scare you until you cry, we want to start all the giggles out of you. If they're smart, that's the way they'll go, because they do. Even 10-year-olds like to be scared, as long as there's no blood, guts, and gore.

Philip: I'm excited for this overall. I do really want to see where it's going to go. I agree with all your points Scott, I just, I'm so curious because it's such a different model. The Dark Harbor relied very heavily on alcohol sales and on food sales, at night, especially late into the night. We'll just see. I mean, actually, there's not enough details out right now to know, like there's no FAQ about what age they recommend after what time or any of those things you mentioned. I'm so excited that... It's not very often, I think, that you get an event like this from a well-known production house, multiple very well-known names in here, like three huge firms are putting together this. So, it's going to be quality, we know that. It's also at a venue that we know previously has worked very well for Halloween, and clearly there's a market for it because that event was doing very well in that market. So, now they're taking a whole different approach with it, so I'm so curious.

Scott: And you know, we talked about the pendulum swinging back and forth, and since you did mention alcohol sales, that, in my experience, has always been what has always been the thing that tips things either one way or the other. It finally gets to the point with a family-friendly event realizes how much money they're leaving on the table by not having bars. Then, after having an alcohol-driven event, what finally tips it back to family-friendly is, they're concerned about how rowdy guests get, how drunk guests get, how much security they have to have, how much safety they safety training they have to have, and that's what tips it back to family-friendly. In my experience that is one of the most important elements for tipping it back and forth, and why it continues to go back and forth. Whether you're looking for the high profit event, or the... well, there are always high-profit events, but whether you're looking at how much money we make, or how much money we spend on security.

Philip: OK, well there's one more big opening that would they came out this week that we want to touch on. It's a really big opening, but we don't have too long to cover it, but I'm sure you've all heard about it. The Volcano Quest for the Golden Idol is now open at Lost Island Theme Park. I'm going to read from the press release that was sent to us from Sally Dark Rides on this one. "Toted as a classic dark ride with modern technology, Volcano takes riders through a number of immersive themed environments, all while challenging them to participate in the story and save the island. Riders will experience over a 5-minute Showtime full of interactive 3D imagery, dynamic scenery, animatronic figures, and dazzling special effects." That's fine, so basically, it's a target dark ride, but it's not all screens or our sets, there's a themed queue line, it actually looks phenomenal. It really does look phenomenal. 

The other line that drew my attention was here about the family. "For years, the Birch family has been developing expansion plans to transform their Regional Water Park into a destination resort by transforming 90 acres of farmland into a brand-new theme park. The master plan, developed by BDR design group out of Cincinnati, OH, shows the park divided into 5 different realms that have backstories and elements that tie them all together. Each realm includes a variety of rides and attractions designed to immerse guests into the stories of those lands." I feel like this is going to be like the next Knott's Berry Farm kind of thing. I feel like every trend we've talked about in the past years and years and years about building story, having the themed lands, having immersive experiences, and having things that guests... blah blah blah. I feel like here's an example of, I think, a park that just comes out of left field. You know this has been in development for a long time, but I'm just now seeing the ride imagery and seeing this stuff come out, I was like, "oh they did what they said they were going to do."

Scott: Yep, and what's interesting is I just recently discovered Lost Island, and I've not been there. But you didn't mention where it is. It's in the middle of Iowa. So, this is not able to pull from any major Disney property, it's not able to pull from any major city. Sorry people in Iowa, I was born there, there are no real major cities. There's some bigger cities, but you know, not major. It truly has to become a destination location. I think the Birch family is going after... It looks like they're going after things in all the right ways. I'm curious to see if there is enough infrastructure to support it. Now, I have not been there, so I may be completely wrong, there may be plenty of hotels there, and it may be super easy to get there, I don't know. I'm excited because one of the things that I read about the park in general, and also about this particular dark ride, is that they didn't want to create lands based on real places because they didn't want to have any sort of appropriation of culture. So, they created all of these lands out of fantasy and fiction. So, they completely own them. So, in essence, what they've done is what we've talked about for a very long time, they've created their own intellectual property, which I think is super smart. They've created their own realms, their own world. There's also been in this process, as Philip said it's been going on for a while, I also have discovered there's been some hiccups, there's been some challenges, there's been some fires that have set them back, but they continue to move forward. So, this is clearly the little part that could, and if anybody from this park is listening, please reach out to us because I would love to know more. I champion you, I feel great. 

This is this is one of those things, Philip, we didn't even talk about this, but this is one of those things that I would love to do an IRL, an in real life, in the middle of Iowa at Lost Island. Just because it's the kind of park, it's the kind of story that we don't get to report on very often. We get to report a lot on Disney, Universal, Knotts, Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and all the big boys. But these independent parks that are family-owned, family-driven, they're doing things the right way. This is a perfect opportunity for us to really keep an eye on them. We wish you well Birch family at Lost Island, and you're clearly working with Sally Dark Rides, so you got the right teams on board and the right attitude. I want to see you build this mega park in the middle of Iowa.

All right, well that's all we got time to talk about this week. Hopefully, you'll come back and join us again next week. On behalf of Philip, this is Scott Swenson at Green Tagged Theme Park in 30 saying we'll see you next week


Scott SwensonProfile Photo

Scott Swenson

Owner/Creative Director

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