By Chad Emerson
As Chief Executive of Ocean Park, Tom Mehrmann (right) has presided over the theme park’s record breaking performance for the last eight years, against an increasingly tough global economic environment and lively competition from destination theme parks and aquariums in China, South East Asia, Japan and Korea. With Ocean Park celebrating its 35 year anniversary this year, Mehrmann talks to Blooloop about the Asian theme park industry and Ocean Park’s US$750 million, six year Master Redevelopment Project, due for completion in June 2012.
Share with us how you first got started working in the amusement and recreation industry.
My career in the Industry began, as many do, with an entry level, seasonal job at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1977 as a sweeper, and it evolved into a career that spanned 21 years at Knott’s and led to progressive opportunities of growth in management roles, capital development and expansion of the brand and property. Now, it has been 34 years and opportunities have allowed for international assignments in Europe with Six Flags, and Asia with Ocean Park, which have been beneficial for enhancing my cultural awareness and global perspective.
What have been some of the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on and why?
I have had the good fortune of working on many projects over the years, which include:
- Knott’s Camp Snoopy at Mall of America, Minnesota
- Rebranding and development of Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, California
- Oversight of design, development, opening and operation of Warner Bros. Movie World, Madrid, Spain
- Redevelopment of Ocean Park Corporation, Hong Kong
Each project has demanded great energy, planning, anticipation, communication and execution, while also allowing the ability to test new approaches, new concepts and cultural relevance of products.
What about some of the most challenging ones?
While all the projects have been challenging, they have also been rewarding. The most challenging project, which has also been filled with the most opportunity for growth and results, has been the US$750 million Master Redevelopment Project (MRP) at Ocean Park. This huge infrastructure redevelopment takes place while the park continues to operate as usual. We like to compare the process to performing open heart surgery on a marathon runner, while the person is running. Likewise, the project, spread across 8 phases in 6 years, is scheduled to complete in June 2012. By then the park will boast over 70 attractions, doubling the number that existed at the start of the project in 2006.
Since 2003, the growth of destination theme parks and aquariums in China, South East Asia, Japan and Korea has been exponential and dynamic. However, in that same time, Ocean Park has gone from strength to strength with 8 straight years of record breaking performance for attendance, revenue and EBITDA.
In light of the current global economic issues, what do you believe will be some of the key challenges that amusement facilities will face going forward?
Theme parks have always been a form of escapism in the midst of global economic issues, so the respective parks should be prepared for modest to moderate growth in attendance if they are offering a good price value relationship and are a great opportunity for regional visitation. The key challenge all attractions face is to ensure that the facilities are run safely, efficiently and effectively, with a focus on continual investment in marketable capital improvements, as well as ongoing operations through OPEX investments, including creative and culturally relevant special events.
A common situation in Asia is that initial investments receive a great deal of attention at the facilities, but the ongoing commitment to operate with best practices, maintain assets, invest in staff and grow investments has been marginal. As we have found out at Ocean Park, offering a product that provides value for money, investing in the facility and growing the product positioning has led to growth in market penetration and the various metrics we track for managing the quality of the guest experience, as well as the success of the business.