How to be the best theme or water park, if your team doesn’t know what that means?
I’m talking about a upcoming industry, market, or region that has never been exposed to top quality international hospitality experiences. Imagine starting a theme park in a country where around 50 years ago, over 50% of its citizens lived below the poverty line . You set out to become the best theme and or water park in the country, and ideally of the continent. Although most Asian countries have made great progress in the last 50 years, and theme and waterparks are a booming business. Most of the parks in this region have started in the last 5 to 10 years, and although having done well, the majority have undoubtedly faced similar issues.
How do you become the best theme or water park if most of your operational staff has never set foot in a Disney park in US (let’s face it, Disney is usually a great example in excellent guest service), or any other highly trained and guest oriented theme park. Their idea of guest service is a 3 start hotel, where the receptionist sits slouched over her chair behind a desk, and greets you with a “yes?”, or a “you want a room”? Food is served on plastic plates, with plastic cutlery, rinsed off in a tub, dirt is normal, and trash is pilled up behind each house, or collected in ditches along the road. With the idea in mind that that is normal and perfectly okay, they will be employed in your park, and it’s your job to make these people into highly guests minded employees who show initiative, and with safety in mind provide excellent guest service at any moment of the day.
For any starting Attractions manager, Waterpark Manager, Operations Manager or Operations director, I’ve put together a list of important items and strategies on how to improve the overall quality and give you idea’s how to work in a developing region with staff who’ve never experienced the standards you want to implement.
There is no order in this list, as you will find out there are many area’s you will need to target simultaneous to get proper results.
- Your team. This is soo soo important. The easiest thing (especially when pre opening) is to have your upper layer of management coming from internationally branded parks, ideally from the same mother company if possible , so that they already know the culture they want to instill. Ideally you’d want to send your assistant managers and supervisors out to similar theme parks for a guided tour (from the manager), or another professional who can point out the differences between a normal and superb theme park. Often you will work with people who’s first job it is to work for you. They’ve not had any exposure to the expected standards of theme and waterparks. You’ll initially need lots of time for training, to set the tone right from the start. Making people realize that they cant be seen on their phone whilst there are not guests in the area (yet), smoking in the toilets, or not greeting guests. After the first few months, you will realize who the rough diamonds are and you can train them to take over the expat job functions as soon as they understand and are able to maintain the standard you want.
- Control the outcome and know the culture. Initially as a theme park or waterpark manager you’ll need to double check everything. Walk the park at least once a day and ideally once a month or a quarter take over the job of one of your employees, to see what their challenges are. In some cultures it is a sign of disrespect if you suggest ideas to the manager or correct him/her in any way. Hofstede’s research on cultures  is an excellent way to start understanding why what you did in Europe or US, doesnt necessarily work in Asia or other continents. I’ve seen people stop their work in the middle of the day because they ran out of materials, and they felt it was disrepectful to disturb the manager for more material.
- Lead and train by example. When you set the standards for your team to live up to, make sure you show them how it is done. The worst example is a GM telling their employees to greet the guests, and walks off without greeting any guests that he passes on his way out. Simple things like picking up the garbage. If the manager can do it, so can the staff. If you start working in a park where all of your management team (supervisors and team leaders) have learned their role “on the job”, introduce things like; Management Training, where every week you take one hour to focus on subjects which they would like to improve and you usually dont have time for (English, Excel, How to make lesson plans, give feedback, etc).
- Let them learn. It’s so easy to tell your staff what they need to improve (and you can even tell them why), but the most committed results are achieved if the team member realizes on his own, why things have to happen a certain way. Ask them what they think the consequences of their decision will be.
- Discuss development and potential. Show that you care about your park, the industry and most importantly, them. Do PDP’s (Personal Development Plans), it will show you who wants to develop, and you can coach them to get where they want to be.
- Recruit people who have a passion for this job, but since the industry might be to new for people to have experience with, you’ll need to hire based on potential and attitude more than skills.
- Documentation is key. Teach them how to do it. You will work for a park with high expectations and future potential. You will need paperwork as back up in case things don’t work out. It helps as a guide for the staff to learn what to do, and to create structure. Keep the paperwork simple, understandable and make sure they understand the purpose and the consequences of not doing it properly.
- Most importantly, the success of the standard that you set, will largely depend on how well you enforce it.
In the next blog post we will dive deeper into some more specific issues that most (new) theme and waterpark operators face in developing markets.
Please let me know if you (as a theme or water park manager), have used strategies in the past that improved your team or park in a great way.
#This blog post is not in any way or form affiliated, related or intended to relate my current role as Waterpark Manager for Legoland Malaysia. All examples and information written here is meant as general information and is based on work experiences with 4 international Theme and Water park companies, and over 8 years of other hospitality experience in outdoor, fitness, and hotels.
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