Amanda Thompson, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, UK
During IAAPA Expo in Orlando Amanda Thompson, managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the UK, takes over the position as IAAPA Chairman of the IAAPA Board of Directors from out-going chairman David Rosenberg. In an interview with InterPark editor Andrew Mellor, Thompson discusses her time in the industry, her family owned park and its future, the role IAAPA plays within the industry and more.
Andrew Mellor: When did you first start working in the amusement park industry and in what capacity?
Amanda Thompson: The first time I worked in the industry was when I was seven years old. I wanted a pony but wasn’t allowed one so my grandfather’s resolution was “you can work on the pony ride and that’s as close as you’re going to get.” As far as I recall it was all of the summer holidays. I used to look after them – muck them out, feed them, wash them, groom them, everything basically – and then I used to lead them round a track with people on them. I then had my birthday and grandfather said that as I’d managed to do the job I could have a pony from the pony ride, so all my dreams and wishes were fulfilled at once and I learnt the value of working at a very early age. With work comes reward.
AM: How has business been at BPB during the past 12 months and have any new developments been carried out at the venue in that time?
AT: Very different. Extraordinarily strange. I think the great British public hunker down in times of uncertainty and I think we have seen probably across the whole of the UK a hunkering down of the leisure market because with Brexit looming people are uncertain and they don’t know what will come of Brexit.
I’m a firm believer we should remain in Europe but that’s a personal view and not the view of everyone so we have to make the best of what the decision was. I personally feel now we have to get on with it and face the consequences of it. I think it will be people in 50 years’ time who will reap the benefits if there are any. I think we have to work very closely and very carefully with the other members of our industry throughout Europe as well and we’ve all got to look at how we’re going to get parts into the country because if a ride breaks down and we need a spare part we might not be able to get it as quickly as we have done previously. That, I think, is going to be the difficulty. The car industry will have the same sort of issues because they won’t carry everything; not every garage will carry every spare part for every type of car that’s made outside the UK.
As far as developments here are concerned, we’ve built a nice big, new hotel. We’ve been waiting for some time to do this and in fact I had it in mind to do another hotel when we did the Big Blue Hotel (in 2003) but we had to be patient and wait and wait and wait so it’s taken a while to get here. But I think it’s a hotel that was worth the wait. And I built a hotel of this standard in Blackpool because I really believe that when people stay in a hotel they want something that’s better than their own home or what’s in their own town so they can have a different experience. Like on the Pleasure Beach – we always provide the best in rides and attractions and I wanted to provide something with the hotel to reflect what we provide on the park and I believe that’s what we’ve done.
AM: Looking ahead, what plans are in the pipeline for the Pleasure Beach in the next year or two?
AT: I’m always creating, I’m always inventing and I’m always trying to think of new ways forward. There are loads of things in the pipeline but I think for the next 12 to 18 months we’re going to look at the infrastructure of the park, stabilise things and settle for a while, see how the hotel develops and see how our industry develops within the new Brexit regime because I think things will be very different and we’ll have to look at new ways of working and finding solutions within the industry to make sure that what we’re doing here is feasible and right for the future. So I don’t foresee a big new investment in the next 12 to 18 months but we always invest here; we always maintain and invest and that takes a lot of money. Maintenance is investment for the future, so that’s very relevant and very important.
AM: How do you feel the attractions industry in Europe is progressing/developing at the present time?
AT: I think the great thing about our industry is that it’s always moving forward, always changing and there’s always new parks, new businesses, new smaller attractions opening across Europe. There’s all type of new attractions opening, all sorts of different hotels and experiences opening and they are all part of our industry now. The music festival game is something that’s really taken off across Europe in the last 10 to 15 years and that’s really a huge competitor of ours because festivals involve the entire family and also involves the weekend which is the busiest time for our leisure spend and always has been.
But I do think people are looking for different things to do and different ways forward for their leisure time. I’m certainly very aware of what new trends there are but how long these trends will stay I don’t know, so I think we’ve just got to be fixed and firm. A lot of us work on gut feeling and instinct in our industry as a lot of us were born into it. I don’t profess to know anywhere near enough about it but certainly every day is a learning day. So as long as we all learn from each other that’s the best way forward and also that we continue to be open and share industry stories. We are all in competition with each other but we all manage to work together. It’s really lovely that we can share experiences globally and I think that’s one of the great attractions of being involved in the industry we’re all in.
AM: When did you first become involved in IAAPA and how?
AT: I think I first went to the IAAPA Expo when I was about 17-years-old and then started exhibiting when I was 22 (with Stageworks Productions). My last exhibition was in 2004. It started with a small stand which grew and grew and grew. But when my father died I decided I had to focus on different things and different aspects of the business so stored the stand forever and it’s never been seen since! So I’m one of those who knows how hard it is to be a supplier because I’ve done it.
AM: Why did you want to become Chairman of IAAPA?
AT: To be honest I have been asked many times over the years to put my name forward, and after not receiving the nomination a few times, I decided I wouldn’t do it again. I was asked again about three years ago but wasn’t sure about the timing. We are a small family business with historical value to the industry and I needed to consider work and the park. But now I am looking forward to this year ahead.
In terms of progress and moving things forward I think the new IAAPA global headquarters will make a huge difference for everyone; I think everyone will be able to talk freely and we’ll be able to make a difference because the issues of today are so huge and they affect us all. There are three main things that affect us all – safety, security and sustainability – and they are key moving forward. Certainly, I hope to unite the industry in looking at ways to move the industry forward in all those areas. Now a year isn’t very long but if I can do my bit and encourage people to talk and work together then hopefully, we’ll be able to move things forward at a faster rate.
And as far as the UK is concerned, with Brexit we’ll have to work much more closely together and with the manufacturers and suppliers around Europe to ensure we can get the right spare parts quickly and to the right specifications. This is very important to us all.
AM: What aspects of the role are you looking forward to most during your year in office?
AT: I don’t think I’m looking forward to enjoying any one aspect more than any another. I will work with the IAAPA Board to make important decisions in a timely manner so we can help make a difference for members and make sure they are well looked after. IAAPA is a members association and we need to support every member. The association is run by members for members and it’s important to drive that home. The trade associations around the world are important and they all need to work closely and help each other. IAAPA can really bring everyone together. I think this is very valuable.
AM: What will be your personal goals and aims during the year?
AT: I’d like to see the industry progress in areas such as safety, security and sustainability. On the latter issue, that’s been brought to my attention particularly this year by our junior board. It’s a shame more parks and companies don’t have a junior board. We had 300 applicants for ours and interviewed about 50 of them. We also have a social squad which is very relevant in regards to social media. These are made up of children from all over the country and they are really active. I would definitely encourage others to have a junior board; it’s very beneficial.
AM: What do you consider to be the most important benefits IAAPA can offer its members, both operators and suppliers?
AT: It depends what people want out of it. IAAPA offers very good networking and connection opportunities and because it’s global, it has a huge reach, is a powerful body and supports members very well. Its educational programmes are superb and there are many summits and events all over the world to support and meet the needs of each region and what they want and require.
AM: What do you think are IAAPA’s key strengths as an organisation?
AT: I think the key strengths are that it’s a global organisation, that’s the number one strength. And IAAPA has great people running the four regional offices. I think they are very strong and are leading the way to the future. It’s developing into a very strong global force and I hope we can to educate at the speed our members need us to. Clearly we also have very strong trade shows in Asia, Europe and the US and these help events unite us all. They continue to grow in each region. For example when you look at how the European show has grown over the past five years, it’s truly amazing. This will help with sustainability too as people won’t have to travel as far to attend and take part in a strong Expo. As more people join the industry they can experience IAAPA’s premier trade shows within their region which is very beneficial.
AM: What do you feel are the main challenges facing IAAPA members globally today?
AT: Trends in the industry; that’s always a challenge as they are always changing, whether you are a park, an FEC, an operator of another type of venue, or a manufacturer or supplier. Trends have to be kept on top of so we develop the products and resources members want as well as new, innovative ideas for ways to thrill and entertain guests. Sharing experiences between parks too, from a customer point of view and staffing point of view, is also important.
AM: How do you see IAAPA as an association developing in the future?
AT: There are a lot of members and we have a long way to go. We have to reach out to new regions for more members, we have to really push forward on safety, encourage safety standards throughout the world and enforce the message that safety is the number one most important topic within our industry. Whatever it is you are providing, safety throughout the industry is absolutely essential, so the more we can educate people in safety methods, the more we can encourage the testing of rides and insisting on that, the better it will be. A global safety standard would be a wonderful thing to achieve and we are working towards it all the time.
Not a lot of people know this but I am very good at … interior design
The most interesting place I’ve ever been to is … Venice
Family aside, the prized possession I value above all others is … my dogs
My favourite film is … Stealing Beauty
When I’m not working I like to … sleep
The person who has influenced me most is … my father
My favourite musician/band is … I love all music, except heavy metal
If I could invite a celebrity to dinner it would be … the Queen
My unfulfilled ambition is … to produce a catwalk show in Paris or a show in Las Vegas
I really dislike … bad manners and lying