Episode 22: What a leading operator of multiple amusement facilities has learned in the last 18 months and how to be properly positioned for future success

Guest: John Reilly - COO, Palace Entertainment

Dennis Speigel welcomes industry veteran, John Reilly. John is Chief Operating Officer of Palace Entertainment. He has more than 30 years of experience in the amusement industry, starting with Busch Gardens in their merchandising division, and then with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment where he worked his way up to Chief Operating Officer before taking the helm at Palace Entertainment to oversee their U.S. portfolio of parks. Dennis and John have a candid conversation about what Palace Entertainment has learned over the last 18 months and how the company has re-positioned itself to operate successfully in a post-pandemic world. They discuss the industry as a whole and how we can evolve and grow in the years to come. Join us on this exciting podcast when John Reilly shares his insights based on his longstanding operating experience in the amusement industry.

Questions after the podcast.

Thank you to John Reilly, who took the time to answer some of the leftover questions that we ran out of time to answer during our live broadcast. See these questions, and John’s answers, below.

Did you have to make any specific changes to your food and beverage operations as a result of Covid, and are there any that you will keep intact?
We took precautions to minimize contact between guests and staff and high-contact areas, such as eliminating self-serve stations for condiments, drinks and catering buffets. We’ve had success in streamlining menus in a number of different stands, which allows guests to be served more quickly. We’ll evaluate these changes as we go forward.

What do you think about season or annual passes, especially now that Disney has done away with theirs?
We see our pass programs expanding in both reach and offerings, rather than contracting. Passes are an increasingly integral part of our product offering, and we continue to adjust ours to provide optimal value for our guests. We are finding a lot of opportunity in bringing consistency across our parks with passes, from naming conventions on the tiers, perks and benefits and even offering a companywide pass that the most enthusiastic parkgoers can use at all our parks. That’s a perk that a smaller number of people may take advantage of, but in a more practical sense, it’s allowed us to message a greater value in certain regions where we are clustered – think Pittsburgh and Kennywood, Sandcastle and Idlewild, or the Northeast US where an active family can make a summer out of visits to Story Land, Lake Compounce, Splish Splash in New York and Dutch Wonderland. Season Passes offer far more value than a day tickets would, and so we see that as something to build around and continue to grow in the years to come. Additionally, we are expanding our events with new offerings like Bites and Pints and expect to continue to do so.

What do you think the indoor FECs will look like 5 years down the road? Do you feel there will be major changes to the way indoor FECs are built and operated?
Our FEC’s in California and Georgia are largely outdoor based, and we see guests enjoying the outdoor elements. We do not see the balance of the offering shifting indoors at our sites.

What advice would you give a young person who wanted to make this industry their career?
Your employees and your customers will provide the some of the greatest insights into the business. Listen to them and learn from them. Beyond that, first, make sure your KPI’s and results show your effectiveness. Second, be a team player and ensure your team members and peers (not just your boss) see you as a positive influence in the organization. Third, do something extra that sets you apart. Take a new assignment, or volunteer for a special project, or finish your degree or an advanced degree. Keep learning and do something set yourself apart. Finally, let your intentions be known. Personally, I find it inspiring when a team member tells me they aspire to be a park general manager one day. You may be nervous to say it directly, but letting your intentions be known could lead to an opportunity in the future.

What do you think about brands? How important are brands to the bottom line?
Brands are vital in the business. In our case, we have a portfolio of our own park brands and have to be careful and thoughtful in order to understand the unique space our brands occupy in each of our markets. We have to continuously cultivate them to drive loyalty and growth. Additionally, we’re proud to partner with renowned brands such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cartoon Network, Daniel Tiger and Thomas Town in our parks.

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