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Life in the Theme Park Business: An Interview with Dollywood GM Barbara Joines

Chad Emerson poses a few questions to industry veteran Barbara Joines. The VP and general manager of the theme park Dollywood started out years ago as an hourly worker in Inventory Control. Joines talks about how Dollywood copes with adverse economic conditions.
Barbara Joines VP Dollywood
Blooloop:  Tell us about your current role with Dollywood and what other positions you’ve held with the company.

Joines:  It is my pleasure to serve and hold the current position as Vice President and General Manager for the Dollywood Entertainment Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  We’re located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Just imagine how wonderful it is to live and work in one of the most beautiful areas in America. This year marks my 29th season in the theme park business and thinking back it’s been quite a journey for learning, growth and a key word called “change.” Dollywood has been blessed throughout the years with loyal customers, vendors that are more like partners, and owners and staff who “walk the talk.” I have been fortunate to work in most areas of the park through the years including a role as General Manager at a theater Dollywood owned and operated, called Music Mansion. Each position and each person I have worked with is special. Additionally, working with Dolly Parton is an inspiration. Her work ethic, creativity and contagious enthusiasm have been inspirational.  

Blooloop:  How did you get started in the amusement industry?

Joines:  I worked on the 27th floor of an office building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and relocated to Tennessee for a better quality of life for my family. I started as an hourly Inventory Control position in Accounting. I was fascinated by the tourism business and enjoyed the combination of an administrative function that was able to go out on a theme park and work daily with Foods and Merchandise. What fun to work in a place where you bring fun to other people’s lives! Everything was new; there were seasons and always lots of changes and growth in the Park. I loved working with the people, trading skills and sharing their stories – I was hooked. I made it a personal goal to never quit learning about this business and the opportunities that you encounter.

Blooloop:  In light of these tough economic times, what are some steps that Dollywood is taking in response to the downturn?

Joines:  That’s an excellent question. As we approach the 2009 operating season in March, we believe that it is prudent to always “hope for the best” but “prepare for the worst.”  We must continually look toward the future and try our best to be prepared no matter what happens with the economy. We have revised our 2009 operating calendars, top management has already taken a 5% reduction in pay and we have implemented a freeze on all pay increases. The President of our company has pledged that he will do everything possible to be proactive and provide leadership and guidance to ensure that we are ready to meet the challenges of 2009 and beyond. Our entire Management Team is in support of this philosophy.

Blooloop:  With unemployment generally high, is Dollywood noticing an increase in employee applications and, if so, how are you dealing with this?

Joines:  Yes, and this is completely understandable. Each spring we host Job Fairs for seasonal staff, which is a way of life in the Smokies tourist market. We are accustomed to staffing up and interviewing hundreds of applicants as we approach each new season.  We will approach our seasonal hiring this year with caution to insure that we protect the hours and jobs of our existing employee base.

Blooloop:  It’s a beautiful spring day in East Tennessee. Tell us how you would spend your perfect day at Dollywood.

Joines:  Whether it’s Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall — I can always spend a “perfect day” by getting out of the office and taking a stroll “on Park.” I can enjoy the beautiful outdoors, walk 2 to 3 miles and spend time with the people that “hooked me in.” I still love the people and their stories. It’s such a wonderful type of job satisfaction in an absolutely incredible atmosphere.

More from Chad Emerson
Amusement Parks: Former Disney Exec Greg Emmer Shares Insights with Chad Emerson
Themed Restaurants: Chad Emerson Interviews Steve Schussler
Michael Hudson of Gaylord Hotels Talks Americana, Opry, Themed Entertainment and the Hospitality Business
Amusement Parks: Former Disneyland President Matt Ouimet Reflects
Amusement parks: Theme Park Operations – A Conversation with Lee Cockerell

And Dollywood:
Dollywood wins Third Consecutive International Heartbeat Award

Dollywood was excited to announce Adventure Mountain for 2009
Dollywood recently selected Nashville-based TVX Group, LLC as the theme park’s official sponsorship and strategic marketing alliance firm.
Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) President Joel Manby has announced the promotion of longtime employee Ken Bell to President of the Dollywood Company.  

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