“As the GM of Disney‘s BoardWalk, I faced one of the most challenging situations in my career…” In May 2009 Ed Baklor joined Sage Hospitality as Divisional Vice President. He has responsibility for operations and overall performance of the Sage water resort portfolio including the CoCo Key Waterparks brand. Sage Hospitality is one of the largest privately held hotel management and development companies in the nation operating a variety of large, full-service hotels and a number of extended stay and select-service properties. Prior to joining Sage, Baklor was with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Blooloop’s Chad Emerson caught up with him to discuss his career and new position.
By Chad Emerson
You were with Disney for more than a decade in a variety of positions. Where did you start before that and how did the transition come about?
Early in my career I was in the shopping center business, and the Disney Kids of the Kingdom traveling show visited my mall in New Jersey on a marketing tour. I was so struck by the pride and excellence these young people showed in performing their show – I decided that I wanted to work in their industry and particularly the Disney organization.
Years later, I was fortunate to join Walt Disney World as the General Manager of Epcot. I spent almost 14 years with the company and had the opportunity to work in Resorts, Downtown Disney, and Alliance Development. My last three years were spent launching Adventures by Disney – Disney’s worldwide tour business where we connected families to the stories of the world.
What was your role in Alliance Development and what are some key strategies for leisure industry companies to consider when implementing such a program?
I was fortunate to work with an incredibly talented group of individuals where we both sought new Alliance partners and managed the ongoing relationships with these companies. The world of Alliance partnership has evolved since the early days – companies aren’t just going to pay for the rights to put their name on an attraction any more. We had to work hard to ensure that the deals made sense for Disney, and for the various partners. I was in this area when we negotiated the deal with Siemens Corporation as the sponsor for Spaceship Earth. But the deal goes much deeper in our partnership with them on many levels.
Alliance deals today still include the critical brand visibility that we had always offered but may now include a request to be a vendor of choice in their category through our procurement department. We’ve even offered exclusive discounts to their employees, or reduced rates to incent them to host their corporate meetings on our property. It has to be a total value proposition!
How has the economic downturn affected strategies related to alliance development?
At Adventures by Disney we worked with the Alliance Development team to seek sponsorships for our new business – we really had to work hard to show the value proposition for any deal we proposed. Companies worldwide are evaluating every bit of their marketing expense – there has to be a clear value proposition on both sides of the table in order to put a deal together.
During your career, what is an example of an unexpected challenge you faced and how did your leadership training prepare you for that challenge?
As the GM of Disney’s BoardWalk, I faced one of the most challenging situations in my career – every leadership lesson I had learned played out during that 30 hour incident. It was a significant security episode involving a Guest and one of our Cast Members. The issue was resolved and everyone was safe because our Leadership Team worked together as a team! Everyone had their specific area of expertise, and we all worked together collaboratively to ensure the safety of our Cast Members and our Guests. One of the biggest ‘wins’ that night was the open respectful communication. Everyone was focused, stayed positive, and everything ended just fine! I was so proud of that team!
You had a unique opportunity to work in retail, resort, and theme park operations at Disney. What are some keys for blending those types of distinct operations into a cohesive whole in an amusement or leisure setting?
While the individual Guest experience may be different in each of these areas, our purpose stays the same – and that is to ensure that every Guest has the best experience of their life. As a Leader, our role is to share this vision, and provide the tools for our employees to be able to deliver that fantastic Guest experience. We have to make sure the environment is positive and inclusive and that we are looking for ways to recognize the front line team for delivering the great experiences. Whether someone shopping in the World of Disney, enjoying Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, or enjoying a nightcap in Raglan Road, it has to be the best experience ever. If the Guest is having a blast – they’ll leave with plans already underway to return! That’s what it’s all about.
It looks like part of your portfolio will now include water resorts. What are some of the most pressing issues facing that industry segment these days?
In my new role with CoCo Key Water Resorts, we face the same challenges we faced at The Walt Disney Company – there are so many options for Guests to enjoy. We have to make sure that a visit to one of our properties to enjoy the hotel and water park is the BEST option out there. “Great Associates providing great Guest Service.” If we work to make that happen every day, we know the Guests will have a fabulous visit and will be sure to come back – often!
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