Dennis Speigel welcomes two seasoned industry veterans who share their unique insights and experiences as globally renowned amusement operators and strategists. Chip Cleary is Senior Consultant to Europa-Park in Germany, working directly with the Mack family on a number of projects. Before joining Europa-Park, he oversaw design and renovation on projects such as Adventureland and Splish Splash in New York, and also held leadership positions with Palace Entertainment. Chip is past President & CEO of IAAPA, as well as past Chairman and a long-time member of critical strategic committees. Rob Norris is President of Seabreeze Amusement Park in New York, where he began as a teenage employee and worked his way through the ranks to President. While also serving on various IAAPA committees as well as serving as its Chairman, Rob has led the short and long term direction of Seabreeze Park for over 40 years. He is also instrumental in leading legislative change for the state of New York. Chip and Rob join Dennis to discuss key industry matters, including the state of Europe’s theme parks, the outlook for the USA small park market, strategies for our industry to overcome Covid’s impact and rebound better than before, and the status of IAAPA and industry organizations during these critical times.
Thanks to Chip Cleary (Europa-Park) and Rob Norris (Seabreeze Park) for joining us on Episode 24 of the ITPS I’M4FUN Podcast on August 25th. Before, during, and after the podcast, we received many questions from our viewers and listeners. We were not able to get to all of them during the live broadcast, but are pleased to provide these questions (and answers) below. Thank you to Chip and Rob for taking the time to answer these questions. Please enjoy, and do not hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have further questions or comments!
How do you feel about changes to ticketing systems, especially with Covid and capacity limitations, and shifts to become more cashless or touchless. This was briefly mentioned on the podcast. But, what shifts are you seeing in your own operation, and if not already cashless, do you feel this shift is coming soon in your operations?
Rob Norris: We had been migrating to a more touchless front gate operation even prior to Covid but this season we pushed the advanced ticket sales even more. However, Seabreeze is located in a metro area and have many spur of the moment visits. So, we plan on keeping an onsite purchase option for this small sector of guests. The bulk of our in-park purchases are cashless except our midway games. We will be looking at that process this off season. There are a number of family-owned parks that have gone totally cashless and are pleased with the results.
Chip Cleary: I feel the ticket booth as we know it will be gone very quickly. The goal is the guest can walk into the park with as little friction as possible. Every ticket that is sold online ahead of the day of use is (A) less weather effected than if they made the decision to come that morning (B) If you pay the front gate price a few days before you tend to forget about it as opposed to buying it when you show up. Guests who purchase in advance will usually buy more F&B, Souvenirs etc. We are already basically cashless at the Rulantica Water Park, and it works great. We use a band that is interfaced with everything we offer in the park including the Turnstiles. To leave you must clear your account before the Turnstile lets you out. This is very common in Europe. Cashless is the future in most instances. Not handling cash saves a lot of labor and the temptation of theft is erased.
What would you say are the key factors in generating repeat visitations?
Rob Norris: A great guest experience from the moment they leave the highway until their drive home. A very clean, well maintained and safe park will generate these essential repeat visits. A park of our scale can’t have the tallest and fastest, but we make sure our attraction mix is exciting of our target audience.
Chip Cleary: Give them more than they expect, give them a solid value proposition, make sure team members can deliver accurate information, stand for something that is better than your competition can offer, in other words don’t try to offer everything in the spectrum specialize in something and make sure your bathrooms are excellent especially the lady’s room. People form strong opinions based on the restrooms, if they do not have a good experience, they ask what are the kitchens like and how well do they maintain this place. And details matter!
Are increasing operating costs impacting how you think about future capital expenditures? How are you trying to reduce costs?
Rob Norris: We have always been very conscious of our labor costs and are very careful in adding any new attraction, game or food outlet. Being a family owned and operated business, most purchasing decision are closely monitored and tightly controlled. This hopefully leaves room for CAPEX which is a crucial need to keep viable.
Chip Cleary: I had a partner and mentor early in my career that always felt it was relatively easy to make money but holding on to it was the key to success. Most of the time it comes down to taking the time in the off season to go thru every purchase you make and I really mean every purchase! Have a rigid purchase order system, consolidate purchases with less vendors and get better deals. Buy in volume whenever possible. But remember sometimes the cheapest price is not the best price......quality and quantity matter! We live in an age of quickly increasing labor rates. The design of every position in the park must be considered to allow the least number of employees to be able to efficiently and comfortably deliver the most amount of product. Sometimes it is better to have contractors do certain things than having full time employees especially in seasonal parks.
What key piece of advice would you give someone who was considering making the amusement industry their career?
Rob Norris: We are constantly on the lookout to advance employees on our permanent staff. The ones that stand out are those that really have a passion for our business, seek out new responsibilities, and have a positive attitude. They need to embrace working long hours and weekends - we are busiest when most people are off work.
Chip Cleary: Pick an area that everyone else is not chasing, learn about it then bring enthusiasm, motivation, and leadership skills to every task you are given. When you first start be prepared to be the first one there and the last one to leave when it matters. In time you will be noticed, and your advancement will start.
Specific For Rob:
Do you feel the smaller parks in smaller markets have experienced any change in attendance due to the growing popularity of the “stay-cation”?
Rob: Our business has been very resilient over the years. In difficult economic times and especially this year with the pandemic, we are certainly seeing local “stay-cations”. An easy, affordable and safe option.
What does having one of the oldest operating coasters provide from a marketing standpoint? In 2020, the Jack Rabbit turned 100 and Covid took away that great anniversary – did celebrating 100 this year seem less impactful?
Rob: We were disappointed to miss the actual 100th from a PR standpoint but we fired up the Rabbit last summer for our staff on a regular basis – a great way to relieve stress! We decided that the 101st had a great PR possibility and it sure did. We worked with our PR firm and got a ton of press. I think that missing the 100th made it all that more special for the community. We even receive a plaque from the US House of Representatives – the first actually honoring a Coaster.
How important are season pass sales to your overall performance?
Rob: Season passes are an important sector for us. Very popular with local families. However, we price them at a rate that helps control the number sold. We need to leave room for our group outings and day visitors. All part of the mix.
Specific For Chip:
How important do you feel the hotels are to the success of the overall resort atmosphere created at Europa-Park? Are there plans for more themed hotels?
Chip: There are many parks in the world but relatively few theme park resorts after you get by the Disney and Universal properties. It is certainly not a secret in our industry that hotels, restaurants, and evening entertainment can certainly be profit centers and make a hectic drive visit and drive back home into an entirely different experience. Europa Park opened its 6th hotel Kronasar with the opening of Rulantica. Europa Park listens to and caters to its guests wants, needs, and dreams plus we are a very data driven company. So…
How is the new waterpark – Rulantica – doing? It opened in 2019, but then had to endure Covid in its first operating year and had to close. Is it back on track and how is attendance?
Chip: I think Rulantica is the only park that has had three openings, the planned grand opening and the reopening’s after covid interuptions. I can say that we were confident enough after the first opening to build the outdoor phase one during the pandemic which opened in June. Rulantica is a dazzling Water experience that creates guest demand.
Special holiday events like Halloween and Christmas are highly popular in our industry. Are these as popular in Europe and at Europa-Park as they are in the US parks?
Chip: Europa Park started doing Halloween or as we call it Traumatica in 1998 and Christmas Season starting in 2001. They are extremely popular, and it has become a busy time of the year. We even now have seasonal parades for Halloween and Christmas. And in true Europa Park style the decorations for the seasons are magnificent.
International Theme Park Services, Inc.
2195 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45206
United States of America