Lessons Learned for a Hopeful Future
Certainly, one element that has made the COVID-19 pandemic quite different from most challenges previously faced by the attractions industry is that every region of the globe, industry segment, attraction, manufacturer, and supplier was enormously impacted. Funworld spoke with a few attractions to find out some of the important lessons they’ve learned from COVID-19 and what they see coming in 2022 and beyond.
“I think the main valuable lesson that came from the past 18 months, and counting, is that when a worldwide event such as this pandemic happens, everyone is affected to the core,” says Mario Mamon, chairman and president of Enchanted Kingdom amusement park in Santa Rosa, Laguna, Philippines. “No one is exempt, especially in an industry such as leisure and amusement, where we depend on guest attendance and experience.”
Mamon shares that there’s a compelling need to not only take care of attractions’ staff members, even when an attraction isn’t operating, but to also keep training them.
“In this situation, succession planning and continuous training comes to fore so that when resignations and fallout come, skill sets and positions can be filled as soon as possible,” Mamon says. “It is very important to train people so that they can step in when needed and reduce the need to recruit and hire new people.”
Matt Heller, founder of Performance Optimist Consulting, says now and in the years to come, retaining employees is about more than just money.
“Employers will attract and keep the best, not with bonuses and transactional incentives, but by being a safe place that nurtures the emotional and human needs of their employees,” Heller says. “Every employee needs to feel valued, secure, and part of something special.”
As for employees who did stay on board during the pandemic, attractions learned it was crucial not to overwork them.
“Don’t overdo discount options [to drive attendance increases],” says Ash Smart, co-owner and deputy managing and finance director at Harbour Park, a combination small park and family entertainment center in Littlehampton, United Kingdom. “It became clear to us that on certain quiet days of the year, we were operating as a service at cost. This has allowed room to give our permanent employees more rest time so when the peak truly arrives, they will be fresher for the task and have a better work/life balance.”
Heller echoes the value of this strategy.
“Attractions found that not offering discounts to attract the masses helped keep their staff from getting overworked, improved the offerings for guests, and reduced the cost in maintenance of their equipment because it was being used less,” Heller says.
During the pandemic, most attractions could almost completely shut down when ordered to do so by governments, saving on operational costs. However, zoos and aquariums could not. They still carried the operational expenses of caring for their animals.
“One thing we confirmed during the pandemic, more than ever before, is that we cannot reduce or avoid certain expenses no matter what,” says Luis Soto Rendon, director general of Zoologico Guadalajara in Mexico. “Having an emergency fund is imperative for our business and institutions alike. Our contingency fund was something that we never thought we would need to use, but it proved to be an invaluable tool to the survival of our business.”
Like many attractions, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, United States, found great value in using a reservations system to manage attendance in 2020 during COVID-19, and Park President Brad Thomas sees Silver Dollar City using it again in the future.
“This will be an important strategic tool for years to come, as we seek to manage our in-park capacities and as we continually seek to improve our guests’ experiences,” Thomas says.
One specific area where Habour Park gained a valuable takeaway was with food and beverage. “The pandemic basically gave us a huge shove to where we had been tiptoeing toward for years,” says Smart. “We massively cut our menu sizes to bestsellers only. This helped alleviate some staffing shortage issues and ease training. Also, it has left us with a great base to focus on, adding quality to these items and obtaining better margins.”
Online Media and Commerce Gain Even Greater Value
Social media and online commerce are common areas highlighted by these attractions as having played an enormous and expanded role during COVID-19 shutdowns.
“While important before the pandemic, social media has become even more important to us the past two years,” Thomas says. “First, our social audiences needed refreshing and positive news from ‘The City’ that they love. Second, we were able to announce our operational updates in ways we never could have in the past.”
Mamon extended this to online transactions.
“Need I say more about the coming of age of online commerce and business?” Mamon says. “Not only has it constituted and created alternative revenue streams during these times, but it can also become a major revenue contributor to our park in all kinds of situations, whether the park is open or not.”
During the COVID-19 shutdown at Zoologico Guadalajara, social media has been more than just an information conduit.
“Technology and social media are vital to connect and interact with our guests and to keep them up close, despite distance or the impossibility of visiting in person,” Rendon says. “Having a window through social media to what was happening at the zoo during the months we were closed increased our guests’ trust in our work and their commitment to revisiting us.”
Looking Ahead to 2022 and Beyond
Attraction executives give a sneak peak into what they see coming for attractions:
“We’re seeing now that the vast majority of guests are comfortable, trust is established, and the anxiety of 2020 is subsiding. I think the success of the vaccine rollout has provided this. Summer was a success. We are investing in an all-new SPI indoor play attraction and party room for 2022.”
- Ash Smart, co-owner, deputy managing and finance director, Harbour Park
“I believe that the level of excitement is still very high, much like our first quarter of this year. Although the threat of the virus remains, the opportunity of being vaccinated increases the level of confidence for people to go out and enjoy outdoor and safe attractions, and this is what we are banking on in the coming months and years.”
- Mario Mamon, chairman and president, Enchanted Kingdom
“We have a fun and exciting year planned for 2022, and it seems that anticipation is a little higher this year, as folks are excited to make their plans for ’22. We also have a vibrant strategic plan for Silver Dollar City. We anticipate the next 10 years will be one of the brightest decades in our history.”
- Brad Thomas, president, Silver Dollar City