John McReynolds of Universal Orlando‘s department of external affairs is known as one of the industry’s most influential experts and advisers in the realm of government relations. Blooloop’s Chad Emerson visited with McReynolds for an exclusive interview about his career and the governance issues facing the theme park and attractions industry today. (23rd July ’09)
By: Chad Emerson
Blooloop: Tell us how you got started in the amusement industry and what current position you hold.
John McReynolds: In my previous life I worked for U.S. Senator Connie Mack for eight years. During my tenure with the Senator, culminating in the role of Director of State Affairs, I was fortunate to meet and get to know the great people at Universal Orlando.
Universal originally hired me to the position of Manager, Government Relations. Today, my title is senior VP, External Affairs handling domestic governmental relations issues along with community, regulatory and real estate entitlement concerns in Florida.
Blooloop: You’ve dealt with issues at all levels of government. What are some common local issues that park operators should be aware of?
McReynolds: First and foremost is to remember all politics is local. From safety to traffic flows, real estate entitlement to water quality, there are local government experts you need to interact with on a constant basis. Reaching out to these individuals for the first time in an hour of need is never the best strategy. At the end of the day you may find these experts know how to help you improve and save money within their areas of expertise.
Blooloop: What about issues that are typically addressed on the state level?
McReynolds: The state level is where you start to find larger policy matters discussed. Whereas local governments tend to implement, the state legislators and regulators are where many of the industry’s mandates begin. We address issues that matter to our guests, our business and our community. Those issues include industry-specific matters, general business issues and items that benefit our entire community. A great example is incentives for film and TV projects shot in Orlando. We have been a strong advocate for increased funding in this area. We believe film projects are good for both Universal and our entire community. Universal has a thriving production business that often extends into our theme parks, where our guests are able to experience real TV and film work. At the same time, film and television projects raise Orlando’s profile and bring significant economic benefit to our entire community. Most film projects typically require involvement from dozens of companies – all based here. This is really an example of an issue that benefits both Universal and our entire community.
Blooloop: With major changes in Congress and a new Administration, what government relations issues on the federal level could affect the attractions industry over the next couple of years?
McReynolds: There are many opportunities on the horizon in Washington for the tourism sector, although a few concerns still exist. On a positive note, the U.S. Travel Association and IAAPA have done a good job positioning our industry for success on the Travel Promotion Act, safe borders implementation and the passage in the House of pilot language advancing videoconferencing of Visa interviews. These issues are important to the continued growth of the industry, i.e. visa videoconferencing is a perfect example of an issue whose time has come. In Brazil there are three cities with a total combined population of more than 6 million located over 1, 000 miles from the closest U.S. Consulate. We can’t expect a family of four to travel over 1, 000 miles to an interview on the potential they may obtain a visa to the U.S. The cost in money and time is simply unacceptable. While always wanting the U.S. to have secure borders, there has to be a better way to help that family of four visit our great country.
The concerns in Washington today range from the re-introduction of Congressman Markey’s legislation, which would place fixed-based amusement facilities under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), to attempts to pass the Employer Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA is the effort to unionize without a vote once organizers collect signatures from 50+% of your employees.
Blooloop: Let’s say it’s a beautiful afternoon in Central Florida. How would you spend your perfect theme park day?
McReynolds: There can only be one way to spend that day in Central Florida. With three great hotels, two fantastic theme parks and the greatest entertainment complex within one resort, my family – wife and two daughters 17 and 13 – would wake up at the Hard Rock Hotel, swim in the pool listening to the 16 underwater speakers, then proceed to Universal Islands of Adventure. We would ride the Hulk Coaster, Spider-Man and Dueling Dragons, followed by lunch at the number one rated theme park restaurant in the world, Mythos. The afternoon would be spent at Universal Studios Florida riding the movies, followed by dinner at CityWalk’s Bob Marley’s or Pat O’Briens (I’m an outside patio kind of guy). The night would end listening to the wonderful musicians located throughout our CityWalk venues, and finally a boat ride back to the Hard Rock Hotel.
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