As he prepares to retire in January 2012, Cedar Fair’s longest serving executive reflects on his time in the industry and what lies ahead.
With 11 amusement parks, seven waterparks and five hotels across North America Cedar Fair is one of the largest regional amusement-resort operators in the world. Richard L Kinzel, 70, began his industry career in 1972, working for three years in food service at Cedar Point before becoming director of park operations. After a stint at Valleyfair in Minnesota, he was named Cedar Fair president and CEO in 1986, and has also served as chairman and president of the board. During his leadership, Kinzel introduced the world’s first 200-feet, 300-feet, and 400-feet rollercoasters, and added five former Paramount parks into the Cedar Fair portfolio. A former Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Northwest Ohio, he was inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame in 2006.
Is the US industry still in the doldrums? How does it get out of it?
Certainly with a 9% unemployment rate, the US entertainment industry is not attracting the guests we need to maintain our capital expenditure levels. At some point, either capital expenditure is going to be reduced and/or pricing will increase.
It was your idea to introduce Magnum XL-200 in 1989, the first rollercoaster to exceed 200ft in height. Why was that important?
Cedar Point needed a marquis ride and coasters have always been popular. We had not introduced a major new ride at Cedar Point since Gemini in 1978, the tallest coaster in the world at that time at 125ft.
Is the Roller Coaster Arms Race over?
I hope not. However, the costs of raw materials, mainly steel, and the economy make it very difficult to justify 200ft+ steel coasters for seasonal parks.
Cedar Fair has allowed individual parks to keep their own identities rather than imposing a group-wide rebranding. How important is this?
Very important. Each market is different – demographics, cultures and traditions. For example, Cedar Point, Kings Island and Canada’s Wonderland are geographically very similar, however, we market each in its own unique way, specific to cultures and traditions of the region.
Canada’s Wonderland is now believed to be the fastest growing park in your group. Why is it doing so well?
We do not discuss attendance on an individual park basis so I am not sure where that information is coming from. However, I will say that our four large parks – Cedar Point, Kings Island, Knott’s Berry Farm and Canada’s Wonderland – all do about the same amount of attendance. The last few years the park with the best weather won the attendance game. Thus, weather and economic diversity were major decision makers when considering the Paramount acquisition.
How has the arrival in the US of European players such as Merlin Entertainments and Parques Reunidos affected the market and do you expect any further consolidation?
In today’s economic environment, you can never predict what will happen, however every primary market in the US already has a major theme or amusement park. Our competition in most areas is ourselves. New players have no significant affect on how we market or present our products.
Did the group ever explore any opportunities outside North America? Do you think it will in the future?
I have never looked outside of North America. The new management team and the board of directors may have a different point of view going forward.
How much of your retirement will you spend visiting amusement parks? What are your other plans?
In all honesty, I haven’t even thought about retirement. I have never had any hobbies outside of this industry. When you don’t have to work, you don’t need hobbies. I have always said I have not had to work for the past 40 years. Retirement will not be a challenge for me, but for Judy, having me around the house will be a big challenge.