New IAAPA chairman speaks
James (Chip) Cleary, 58, is the incoming chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA). Born in New York City, he serves as senior vice-president of Palace Entertainment, a division of Parques Reunidos. Chip took time recently to talk to Park World about his vision for IAAPA.
Palace Entertainment hosts over 14 million visitors annually at its seven theme parks, 10 waterparks and 21 family entertainment centres across the United States. Prior to joining Palace, he created Splish Splash waterpark in Riverhead, New York (now part of Palace Entertainment) as well as spending 12 years with Adventureland Amusement Park, Farmingdale, New York. Chip and his wife Kathy live in Port Jefferson, New York, with Galileo the cat.
What are your goals for the coming year at IAAPA?
The role of the chair is evolving as IAAPA evolves. We have become a very data driven organisation in recent years. Our approved Strategic Plan is the document all of us at IAAPA use to guide all of our decisions in the coming year.
So to answer your question, my goals are the same goals as stated in the association’s 2010 Strategic Plan. I will focus on expanding our services to our members in Latin America, Asia and Europe and making sure the association responds appropriately to the world economy. In many regions and on many platforms it has been a very challenging year to do business.
In Asia, the Asian Advisory Committee is really doing great work in framing out the future of IAAPA in their region. In South America we have just hired our first full time team member, Paulina Reyes, who will be based there and service the needs of our members there from a new office in Mexico City. And last but not least, in Europe our team headed by Andreas Anderson has really established our presence in that region. These efforts make the “I” in IAAPA really stand for International.
How important is that international focus to you and the association?
I believe actions speak louder than any words. In the last few years we have had dynamic chairpeople from all over the world. They began a process whereby the whole executive committee and the board have begun travelling all over the world meeting with our local members. We now hold executive committee and board meetings in conjunction with our trade shows, safety seminars and meetings across the world.
On a personal note, in the last year I have had the opportunity to visit China, Europe and Australia in support of IAAPA. This winter I plan on visiting South America and meeting with our members and team in that region.
How has the current economic climate affected park attendance, per cap spending and investment in new attractions?
That is a big question to answer because things are different for our regions and different constituents. In broad strokes, the 2009 season has really seen everything but the kitchen sink thrown at it. Come to think of it the kitchen sink may have gone by also!
A challenging world wide economic climate, some really awful weather in many regions of the US and some sobering financial challenges directly affected a number of our members. There were dynamic shifts in marketing plans, discounting, operating strategies and most importantly a consumer who radically changed its spending patterns virtually overnight.
I have heard that some regions of Europe had the best operating seasons in years, and some had decent operating seasons. Many areas of the US seem to have had a better August but not enough to make up for the dreadful early months. So as we all begin to meet at our events around the world I am sure we are going to hear the good, the bad and the ugly stories from the 2009 season.
On the topic of investment in new attractions, this is a capital intensive business. There are many projects going on or just recently announced around the world. The current economic cycle is definitely making financing more challenging and as a result of this only the strongest projects will pass the test. But from my vantage point there look to be some great new attractions opening in 2010.
As challenging as this season has been, August in many of the regions that my company operates was encouraging and reaffirmed my faith that the consumer is looking for great entertainment and will come out in good volume when properly stimulated to do so.
Is there any growth left for regional amusement parks in the US and Europe?
Yes! With travel plans being affected by the economy regional’s parks are in a good position to take advantage of that.
Do you expect further consolidation?
Consolidation is part of the basic business cycle. As such I see it continuing.
Who do you expect the big players to be in 10 years time?
We are privileged to live in an exciting fast moving time, as the last 10 years have shown. So predicting 10 years out is definitely not something I have my crystal ball set up to do! Having said that the current market leaders in each platform, segment or region will have the opportunity to get stronger as it will continue to be challenging to do start-ups.
Palace Entertainment was taken over a few years ago by Parques Reunidos. Do private equity backed enterprises such as this, Merlin and others benefit or distort the market?
Capital flows to where opportunities exist, whether it is private equity, privately held or market based. Investment in our industry is a healthy thing.
IAAPA is making efforts to reach out to a wider range of attractions, including museums, casinos etc. What can traditional amusement park operators learn from these venues and vice versa?
Great storytelling, great presentation, and great execution have no borders. When I visit a successful attraction whatever discipline it is in I am always questioning how they market themselves, how they package their pricing, how they present an attraction, how they present their food and beverage offerings etc. Since we all approach our business’s from different perspectives I believe there is a wealth of information to share between us and our fellow IAAPA constituents.
Do you see many park operators diversifying?
Absolutely. The guest definition of entertainment from 10 years ago to now is very different and evolving very quickly. But remember within that diversification great storytelling and doing something above guests’ expectations will always be the key to success.