Thursday, December 5, 2013

Days 15-17: Winterim Wraps Up

Hey guys,

I know it's been a few days since the last post so let me bring you up to speed:

After finishing at the IAAPA convention, I enjoyed visiting Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure again on Friday followed by Walt Disney World over the weekend. I enjoyed each park immensely and you can take a look at all of the new park photos, plus all photos from the last month, on the official Park Impressions Facebook page. What was most interesting about the parks, however, was getting to see the things I learned about in the IAAPA education sessions being

As soon as I arrived back in Toledo, all of my efforts went into preparing for the Winterim Fair presentation. I had an entire backpack full of materials from the parks and convention so I started by sorting out what I wanted to display. Next I had to plan out my tri-board, and rather than simply use it to describe my entire experience (thereby eliminating the need for me to say anything at all to the visitors) I used it to create a photo map from my time at IAAPA. Lastly, I assembled a CoasterDynamix model as a fun display piece, which was especially popular with the children at Winterim Fair.

The last several days since the presentation, I've been finalizing the iBook I've been working on, The Evolution of Amusement Parks. The iBook is finished and it has finally been uploaded to iTunes after much troubleshooting. Now we're just waiting for Apple's approval before it will show up in the iBookstore on all Apple devices - I'll be sure to let all of you know when it is available for download!

Once again, I encourage you to take a look at all of the photos from my Winterim (including Orlando parks, the IAAPA Attractions Expo, and behind-the-scenes at Cedar Point) on the official Park Impressions Facebook Page. Thank you so much for following my adventures the past month, as it's been an incredible experience and I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to study my true passion!

Final: SMART Goal Review

My final requirement before my Winterim truly comes to an end is to review my SMART Goals and evaluate my performance. What are SMART goals, you might ask? They're right here, from my very first Winterim post:

1. Update the Park Impressions blog at least every other day with news, photos, and videos of my work.
2. Revise and publish an iBook on the history of the amusement industry.
3. Network with industry professionals at Cedar Point and IAAPA 2013 to learn more about what business and operations side of the amusement industry looks like.
4. Write a mock business plan for an amusement park with an emphasis on sustainability. 

I'll be honest, goal #1 wasn't always the easiest to follow. I love sharing what I've been doing on this blog, but sometimes it's simply been hard to keep up. Each day has been so full of exciting things to research and learn, and I've tried to put a significant amount of thought into each post to make sure that my blogs really show everything I've been working on. Unfortunately, that means some of them have been a little late; for that, I apologize. Overall though, I feel that I've been pretty good about showing all of the interesting things I've done this month.

My second goal was successful but it did take longer than I expected. Despite this, I'm very pleased with the result and all that remains before it is available to the public is Apple's approval. It features several sections highlighting key events and turning points for the industry with lots of pictures, videos, and interactive features as well. I can't wait to let you know when it's officially published to the iBookstore!

The third goal was easy and definitely the most fun. Between my time at Cedar Point and at the IAAPA Attractions Expo, I met many amazing people and got to see so many things that go on in the industry. It was an incredible opportunity to learn first-hand from the people that really make it happen in so many areas of the industry.

Lastly, the business plan. This is something I really wanted to do and was excited to work on, but didn't come to fruition for one big reason - it would be nearly impossible to write a quality business plan for a generic start-up amusement park. Each park is so unique and their business plans and company strategies depend on factors that are individual to them alone - their location, visitor demographics, attendance figures, etc. In one of the education sessions I attended at IAAPA, Business Planning for Theme Park Resorts, they stressed the importance of writing a business plan in conjunction with the park's master plan. You cannot simply design a park without regard for the business and financials of it; likewise, it would be extremely difficult to write a successful business plan without planning the entire park as well. Which as much fun as it would be to design a park, it would require a feasibility study as well as endless hours of research on locations and demographics, rides and attractions, food sourcing, and countless other considerations. This is a massive endeavor, and to simply write a business plan without doing the full job would yield a weak, incomplete product. And of course, if I were going to write a business plan I would want to do it the right way. Unfortunately, with my time and capabilities being limited as they are, I opted to renew my focus on the iBook, and on first-hand experiences with Cedar Point and in Orlando instead.

In the end, I feel that I have fulfilled these goals to the best of my abilities and I have truly loved this experience. I'm disappointed that it's over for now, but not forever; I know that this simply has to be what I end up doing some day. Once again, thank you so much for following along!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day 14: Last Day at IAAPA

My last day of IAAPA came quickly and quietly; by the time it arrived, I was most definitely not ready to be nearly done. It was easily the biggest day for me at the convention, with three classes on my schedule and still lots to see. I started the morning very early as I needed to be at the convention center by 9:00 a.m. for my first class.

The trade show floor wasn't open yet, so just the south concourse was open for classes. This one was titled "Young Professionals Panel," in which four panelists shared their stories on entering the industry and what they've learned. It was nice to hear from a younger perspective as they spoke about where they began and how they've found their way. The biggest take-away from the morning class was that being in the amusement industry takes passion & persistence, and the rest is a lot of fun. Everybody in the industry seems to really enjoy their jobs, and I know that I will want to work in a place where work and play can be the same thing.

After my first class, I wandered downstairs to find an IAAPA bookstore that I didn't know existed. They had shelves upon shelves of books related to the amusement industry, everything from managing parks to history to roller coaster calendars (I did buy one). I spent quite a while taking a look at all of the books before walking with three favorites: "The Global Theme Park Industry," "Poster Art of the Disney Parks," and "Dream It! Do It!"

These books were rather large so I grabbed a Coca Cola bag from their booth to carry every thing, taking the opportunity to get a drink at one of the free Coca Cola Freestyle machines they were displaying. My next class would not be until 3:30 so I decided to walk around the show floor and take pictures. All IAAPA photos are now online, by the way, right here. I started in one corner and proceeded back and forth through every aisle, each one a 10 minute walk. I took pictures of the most interesting booths along the way, namely coaster manufacturers or other prominent companies. Many of the booths also had product flyers or promotional pamphlets for visitors to take, which I began collecting (I'll be displaying many of these at Winterim Fair).

After getting through about half of the floor in no less than two hours, I decided to break for lunch. When I returned, I realized I still hadn't seen any of the outdoor exhibits. Most of these were just inflatables, but there were several portable zipline models that I tried. After that, it was back inside for more photography. I managed to get more than a few pictures of the trade show but before long it was 3:30 and time for my next class, "Consumer Special Events: Development, Operation and Management." After having learned a lot about the events that Cedar Point holds for various groups, I thought it would be interesting to hear how special events are planned at other parks. We learned a lot about a halloween event that Universal Studios Japan hosts and the various development challenges they faced due to cultural barriers. This session really stressed the importance of surveying guests and applying the results to your business strategy. For example, the Japanese are not very familiar with Halloween. When the park began the event, some of the scare tactics were too intense. Based on the results they saw in this initial stage, they determined that it was necessary to make the event a little more friendly.

My last class, however, was particularly inspiring. This one was titled "Theme Park Resorts: Business Planning for New and Expansion Projects," which is basically exactly what I was looking for. It has long been a dream of mine to find a way to start my own small amusement park venture, and this session confirmed my enthusiasm. By using Germany's hugely successful Europa Park as a case study, the two speakers showed the audience how to plan successful theme park expansions. They focused heavily on mixing leisure activities, such as shopping, entertainment, amusement parks, resorts, education, etc. Mixing any of the above will drive up attendance and profit, while actually being more cost-efficient to develop. They also encouraged us to follow an integrated planning process that would combine business planning with design planning to ensure success. Often times, one or the other is focused on almost exclusively, yielding a project that cannot be completed. I took notes like a madman through the entire session and I am very excited about everything that I've learned - I hope that I'll be able to apply this knowledge in a very real way in the future.

By the time the class concluded, the trade show floor had closed and most people were on their way out. It was the end of IAAPA for me, and I couldn't believe how quickly it had gone by! It's hard to believe that Winterim is already nearly over, but I've still got a lot to look forward to - time at Disney and Universal before I get to come home and share all of my work with you! I look forward to getting to show you all the exciting things I've been doing.

See you soon!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day 13: IAAPA Continues

Day two of the IAAPA Attractions Expo got a slow start. After two full days of amusement parks and then walking the massive trade show floor all day yesterday, my body was exhausted. I took advantage of the opportunity to get a little bit of extra rest in the morning, seeing as I had no formal classes today. The only thing set on my schedule would be the Brass Ring Awards at 4:30, a celebration of the best hospitality in the amusement industry.

I started the day by doing some work on the iBook, but before long it was time to head over to the convention center. Even though the ceremony would be at 4:30, I did want to spend a bit more time on the trade show floor. There was a lot to see, as always - I enjoyed seeing several companies unveil their projects for the coming season at their booths: 4 new wood coasters for China, new roller coaster car variants, etc. It was all very exciting, but of course I also had to try a few more of the ride models on the floor.

The first stop was at the SBF Visa group, a prominent manufacturer for smaller rides and attractions. They were showing off a small spinning roller coaster, which was really quite fun for its size. For anyone who has not ridden a spinning coaster, they really are quite an experience! Next it was over to Zamperla, who easily had the most insane-looking ride. All lit up in full nighttime colors, this flat ride spun and flipped riders forward and backwards. Despite having the longest wait (no more than 5 minutes) of any ride on the floor, I insisted on trying it. I've gotta say, it was very fun but it's only time I've ever actually started to feel nauseous on a ride before. Zamperla makes some incredible rides and this is certainly one of them!

Before long, it was time for the Brass Ring Awards. This is a huge industry event every year and I was really looking forward to attending. As we entered the theater, they had provided goodie backpacks and  programs on every seat. Inside were Mickey Mouse ears, IAAPA mugs, Hersheypark chocolate bars, and other IAAPA-branded souvenirs furnished by the parks. Up and down the aisles, performers danced on stilts or marched around in British army uniforms. It was quite a show, and in a few minutes the program started. It was an hour and a half of the best live performances, marketing programs, customer service, and food offerings in the industry.

By the time the show ended, the trade show floor was closed for the day. After a quick dinner, I headed to Fun Spot America to see their new expansion. Fun Spot America has been around for a while with popular go-kart tracks, a SkyCoaster (think RipCord at Cedar Point) and a few small rides. This year, however, they doubled in size and added more rides and attractions, including two major roller coasters that I was excited to try. Both coasters were very impressive, but I was particularly surprised by the little wooden coaster from Great Coasters International, Inc., "White Lightning." Little did I know upon arriving the park that the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) were holding an event at the park. After noticing several of them marathoning White Lightning (I may have been doing the same), I realized that I had just joined an ACE event. ACE is an excellent enthusiast organization with a special focus on preserving historic roller coasters, and I have been a member for several years. I highly recommend joining ACE for anyone who enjoys coasters; their events at parks across the country are great fun and offer a lot of unique experiences for amusement park fans.

Fun Spot America's addition of these two coasters has done wonders for their attendance numbers, and after riding their new attractions I can completely see why. Both offer great experiences for visitors while costing the park relatively little to add. White Lightning cost $3.5 million, a relatively small amount for a wooden roller coaster and especially for one of its caliber. Where Fun Spot succeeds is in offering an experience that other Orlando attractions do not. While resorts like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando offer fantastic multi-day experiences for no small fee, other attractions along Orlando's famous International Drive largely tend to be tourist traps, with perhaps a go-kart track or other small attractions. Fun Spot has risen out of this group into a new class with its additions, offering new experiences to the public at competitive prices. White Lightning is Orlando's only wooden roller coaster, and their pay-per-ride policy (with all-day wristbands available) offer flexibility to locals and other customers that don't necessarily want to pay close to $100 for a day at Disney or Universal.

After a great time at Fun Spot America, I headed back to the hotel. Thursday will be a big day - more IAAPA and three classes! I can't wait to share with you what I do tomorrow, come back soon for more updates!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Day 12: IAAPA Begins!

Hey guys!

Today was my first day at the IAAPA Attractions Expo and let me just say, it was incredible! I have followed coverage of the annual convention & trade show for years, and to finally be here was like a dream come true. I had one class today, "Marketing Plans for Attractions: Beyond the Basics," but I'll get to that in a minute.

I arrived at the Orange County Convention Center shortly after the trade show floor opened at 10 a.m. and the parking lot was already completely full. Literally, hundreds of cars were already here and they were parking people on the grass. Once I found a spot, I just walked towards the inflatables; in addition to everything that goes on within the building, there is a large outdoor section of inflatables and ride prototypes. Fortunately the line for registration was short, so I put on my fancy IAAPA badge holder and went inside.

Sensory overload. Lights and noise as far as the eye can see in every direction. The IAAPA Attractions Expo takes over nearly all of this massive convention hall, spanning over 9 miles of aisles. I figured that the best thing to start would be to just walk around and try to take it all in. It's really easy to get lost in here, but I did my best to deal with it and see as much as possible. Lots of roller coaster cars, inflatables, plush toys, coin-operated games -- everything an amusement park could ever need, right in one place.

Of course, there were a few things I made sure not to miss on my first trip around. For one, I wanted to see the B&M booth; on display there was the GateKeeper car that I saw being worked on last week. I made sure to stop by the Dippin' Dots and Coca Cola booths for free samples. I found a great little booth offering massage chairs that felt really nice after my first lap around the massive trade show floor. Next, however, I had to try the massive ropes course that was set up. The great thing about IAAPA is that many booths will set up their products for attendees to try, at no cost and usually with no wait! I was harnessed up in a matter of minutes and soon I was high above the trade show floor. Not only was it fun, but it was a nice vantage point to view the rest of the convention from. I didn't last long though; despite loving roller coasters, I'm actually quite scared of heights (as in a seemingly less-secured scenario like this). I quickly tried the new feature on the course, a very easy-to-use zipline, and made my way back down.

By the time I finished with all this (and grabbed a brief lunch), it was nearly time for my class. I took the escalator from the trade show floor up to the south concourse, where a number of classes were being held in various conference rooms. My class was hosted by a panel of industry leaders who advised the packed room on how to build a winning marketing plan and stick to it, with emphasis on media, partnerships, and sales tactics. I was very excited for the class after having enjoyed my time with Cedar Point's marketing department, and I hurriedly scribbled notes throughout the session. It was very informative and offered countless tips for how to have a strong marketing strategy, offering perspectives I had never even considered.

At the end of the day, I was feeling pleased but exhausted. It was a long day, of course, but I really enjoyed my first education session and seeing the trade show floor, of course. I'm really looking forward to the rest of these classes and I can't wait to see more of the thousands of exhibitors here over the next couple of days. Stay tuned for more!