Episode 2: Attraction Design Challenges in a New Operating Era
Guest: Keith James, Owner & CEO, JRA

Dennis is joined by Keith James, Owner & CEO of JRA, a world-class attraction design company that has planned, designed, and produced hundreds of experiences for international audiences. Join Dennis and Keith as they discuss how the design process has changed as a result of the new operating era that parks and attractions are implementing, both short and long term. Keith also talks about the process of design in a remote working environment, including both difficulties and advantages, and will shed insight on how this new process can affect and help developers.

About Keith James
If you look closely at many of the largest theme parks around the world – including Kings Island, Universal Studios Florida, LEGOLAND and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – you will find the handprint of Keith James. Keith spent his early years at Kings Productions, where he learned all of the disciplines involved in shaping a modern theme park. After overseeing the operations of both Canada’s Wonderland and Australia’s Wonderland, he joined Universal Studios Florida as VP, Show & Ride Production. Keith joined JRA in 1992, acquiring full ownership of the company in 2008. To support the growth of the industry, Keith has served on the BOD of IAAPA, as well as President of the Themed Entertainment Association. In 2011, he received IAAPA’s Outstanding Service Award, and five years later was recognized with the TEA’s Buzz Price Thea Award for Lifetime Achievement. Keith’s professionalism, commitment to the industry, and kindness to others have strengthened his reputation as an industry legend.

Additional Questions after the Podcast

Thanks again to Keith James, Owner & CEO of JRA for being our special guest on the September 21st ITPS I’m4Fun Podcast. We appreciate Keith’s insights on our attractions design industry. If you were live with us on the Podcast, you know that we ran out of time and did not get to answer all questions that were submitted during our time together. To follow up, you can find these questions and answers below. 

QUESTION:  What would you consider the 3 biggest design challenges faced in the last 6 months?

Keith James: All three of the biggest design challenges relate to the same thing. That has to do with making sure that one is able to give your staff all of the necessary support they require in order to be able to work in the remote environment where the day-to-day chemistry, and being together, is not available. In a creative firm, the result of much of the product development has to do with personal chemistry. And, Zoom calls, and unfamiliar working conditions, and day-to-day distractions, can be less than conducive to the creative process. In order to provide fun solutions for our clients, and ultimately their guests, we have to have a fun time in preparing those ideas and concepts. The circumstances surrounding the last 6-8 months have made that very difficult. Keeping everyone enthusiastic, motivated, and feeling positive about their work, and themselves, is the biggest challenge that we have faced. However, I must say, everybody seems to be doing a great job.  

QUESTION: What can be done from a design standpoint that can make not only guests, but park operators feel safe about visiting a theme park in the future?

Keith James: There are obvious steps that can be taken from a design standpoint in order for the guests and the operators to feel safe. These would include social distancing, markings, expansion of patios so that interior dining is not essential, providing barriers between the retail staff and the guests to minimize direct physical contact. Essentially, everything that you find in the “Real World” needs to be taken into account in “Our World”. However, on top of all of this, a very important item that our operators need to do, is to let the guests know what provisions have been made. Whether it’s through signage, or announcements, or other conspicuous means, it’s very important that the guests know the extent to which we’ve gone, to make sure that they have a safe, enjoyable, memorable visit.  

QUESTION:  Many suppliers are concerned that new projects are being put on hold or that there will be fewer new developments. What input do you have from a design standpoint? Are there still new projects on the horizon?

Keith James:  It’s important to acknowledge the reality that our industry is experiencing, and is going to continue to experience, a significant interruption. New projects will be delayed, expansion will be delayed, and many operations will not survive. However, our industry is quite resilient. People want to, and need to, be entertained. And so, I remain quite optimistic, in the long term. I think that the short term is going to be extremely challenging. Fortunately, our industry is a worldwide industry, and the pandemic seems to be moving in cycles. While certain areas continue to have extreme difficulty, other areas are beginning to return to a new normal. It’s simply going to take time.

QUESTION:  Is the time right to begin a new project – why or why not?

Dennis Speigel:  Absolutely, the time is right to begin planning and studying for new projects. Several reasons. Due to Covid-19 and the slowdown of activity, management teams have time to focus on planning for both short and long term projects. As I have stated a thousand times to the media, our industry attractions live on repeat visitation. Repeat visitation is driven by capital expansion. We have always been an industry of creativity and ideas. In the midst of our current inconceivable Covid 19 problem, it is incumbent upon us to continue and heighten our ongoing creative and planning functions. The same process applies to new project consideration. Definitely, planning for new projects should be kept on the drawing boards. Our industry is resilient and will come back strongly.

QUESTION:  What are you hearing about the latest hot topics – concepts? What are people looking for?

Keith James: The number of the new topics have to do with geography. There are many exciting projects being considered in parts of the world that are just opening up to the things that we do. This is very exciting because of the new adventures that they will provide. Additionally, technology, technology, technology. Everyone always wants the latest, and most innovative experiences. We will continue to endeavor to provide these, but we do always need to remember that we are in the “people business”. People will remember the experience, and not necessarily the technology that provided the experience. They’re more likely to remember the please, the thank you, and the smile, and we can never forget that.  

Episode 3:   Global Water Park Changes, Challenges, and Trends
Guest:  Rick Hunter, ProSlide

A LIVE ITPS Podcast - October 7, 2020 @ 10:00 a.m. EST

ITPS is pleased to confirm that the I’m4Fun Podcast for Episode 3 will be held on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. Our special guest will be Rick Hunter, Chairman & CEO of ProSlide Technology. Dennis and Rick will be discussing the continued growth of the waterpark industry, and the shakeouts that have resulted from Covid-19 impacts. Rick will provide insights on both domestic and foreign growth trends and will opine on trends and technological advances he is seeing as our industry regains its footing. Join us for this dynamic and highly informative discussion.
(If you can't attend live, the podcast will be available after the event. Please register to receive notice that the podcast is available on demand.)

Feasibility Analysis - Design / Masterplanning - Pre-Opening Operations Planning - Management

International Theme Park Services, Inc.
International Theme Park Services, Inc.

Contact ITPS

International Theme Park Services, Inc. 
2195 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45206
United States of America
Phone: 513-381-6131