At the IAAPA Attractions Expo in Orlando David Rosenberg, vice-president, guest experience at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, US, takes over the position of IAAPA chairman from out-going chairman Andreas Andersen. In an interview with InterPark editor Andrew Mellor, Rosenberg discusses his involvement with the industry, his attraction and its future, the role IAAPA plays within the industry and more.
Andrew Mellor: When did you become involved in the amusement park industry and in what capacity?
David Rosenberg: When I was about 10, I built a small dirt track in my back yard and convinced my friends to come over so I could use the handlebars of my bike to take them for a ride – I told them it was an ‘amusement park ride.’ Needless to say, my ‘attraction’ did not meet the safety standards our association members follow.
My first paid job in our industry was the summer following my first year in college. I was invited to participate in the Walt Disney World College Programme as a lifeguard at Typhoon Lagoon. I had so much fun and made lifelong friendships with other students who came from all over the world. Later, I was invited back by Disney for a professional internship – this ultimately launched my career in the attractions and hospitality industry. After working for Disney, I spent several years as an executive for a major hotel company before returning to attractions.
AM: How has business been at Monterey Bay Aquarium during the past 12 months and have any new developments been carried out at the venue in that time?
DR: We have experienced a very strong year at the Aquarium – right around two million visitors. Monterey is a special destination, renowned for its stunning natural beauty and a consistently pleasant climate. Our Aquarium is a natural stop while vacationing in Northern California and a key driver of tourism for the Monterey Peninsula in general. While we didn’t make any major changes to our guest experience (the Aquarium) this year, we’re a dynamic destination. Our animals, programmes and experiences are constantly changing and we take great pride in constantly finding new opportunities to help our guests connect with ocean wildlife in ways that hopefully will create a lasting memory.
AM: Looking ahead, what plans are in the pipeline for the aquarium in the next year or two?
DR: We’re always reimagining something here in Monterey. We’ve re-envisioned our popular multi-media auditorium experience Project White Shark, begun a major remodel of our retail and I’m also really excited about the work that’s shaping up for a new and larger African penguin exhibit that will provide a better experience for guests and birds alike.
In the near term, we’re completing two major expansion projects. Our new Animal Care Centre will be completed in November so our veterinary team can expand an already impressive set of services to not only our onsite collection, but also their wild kin. Our head veterinarian is excited about increasing his work mentoring the next generation of animal care specialists for our industry by welcoming veterinary students from around the world. Our creative team is using the expansion as a way to improve behind-the-scenes tours and expand education about the exemplary care our animals receive. We are proud these efforts are in line with IAAPA’s 2017 toolkit which includes suggestions for facilities to help connect with the public and their affinity for facilities with animals under professional care.
Another project that really reflects our institutional commitment to foster the next generation of ocean stewards is our new Bechtel Family Centre for Ocean Education and Leadership which will open in 2019. We’ll be able to offer the 100,000 school children we host each year – free of charge – a classroom programme led by our staff. And we’ll double the number of teens and teachers we serve, also free of charge, for programmes that support science literacy and develop the next generation of ocean conservation leaders.
Finally, we have a new deep sea exhibition in the pipeline that’s still a couple of years down the road. There will be living exhibits and experiences at the Aquarium – and we’re looking for ways to have a big impact beyond our walls, to connect people with the largest eco system on our ocean planet.
AM: How do you feel the attractions industry in the US generally is progressing/developing at the present time?
DR: This is a unique time for our industry. Look around at any airport or even while walking down the street and what do you see? People – young people in particular – are spending less time connecting with other people face-to-face and much more time looking at their screens. Our industry provides opportunities for families and friends to put down those screens and immerse themselves in fun, social, authentic experiences. When they visit us, they laugh as a group; they scream as a family; they discover together. When they head home, they’ve had fun, together. That’s an important value proposition that sets us apart and we should feel proud to be offering something so remarkable in today’s world.
AM: When did you first become involved in IAAPA and how?
DR: I have attended many IAAPA Expos throughout my career and, while I have always been involved in professional associations (especially the Association of Zoos and Aquariums), I focused on IAAPA because of the opportunity it gave me to connect with peers beyond the zoo and aquarium industry.
I dove into the association head-first when I was invited to become a member of the IAAPA Zoo and Aquarium Committee. A year later, I became the Chair. Since then, I have either served on or chaired numerous constituent, strategic and board committees. I also serve on the board of directors and the Executive Finance Committee. I was honoured and humbled in 2015 to receive the IAAPA Outstanding Service Award and since then I have earned other great recognitions for my dedication to the attractions industry.
Beyond my service to the association, I find the global events offered by IAAPA throughout the year are a huge benefit to me and the aquarium. I continue to learn from peers around the world, including about the expectations various cultures have of the industry in general and my organisation in particular.
AM: Why did you want to become Chairman of IAAPA?
DR: This is a great opportunity to give back to this amazing industry! IAAPA truly makes all of us better on a global level and I’m thrilled to be part of it. And, just as I’ve learned from the perspectives of others in the attractions industry, I believe those of us in the zoo and aquarium world have perspectives that will benefit other attractions. For example, I believe we’re particularly tuned into the expectations of a rising generation of visitors that expect we should be good stewards of the environment as well as offer great guest experiences.
2019 will be a very exciting year as IAAPA launches into its second century. We will open the new global headquarters in Orlando, expand our reach globally and continue to offer opportunities for our members to connect with each other and the association. I spent many years as chairman of IAAPA’s Global Membership Committee. This allowed me to understand and communicate all of the benefits IAAPA offers to its members and the industry. As chairman, I look forward to further amplifying this and helping our association grow into the future.
AM: What aspects of the role are you looking forward to most during your year in office?
DR: I am excited to help the IAAPA staff and committees build on our previous years’ success and catapult us into the future. I’m particularly interested in helping us implement our new strategic plan, which will help us define the direction of our association for the next several years. I look forward to working closely with IAAPA’s talented staff and finding more ways we can support the membership. Finally, meeting colleagues throughout the world and helping them become more connected to IAAPA and our community is something I’m really looking forward to.
AM: What will be your personal goals and aims during the year?
DR: In addition to promoting key initiatives including ride safety and park security, I look forward to helping IAAPA members see the many benefits of meeting (and exceeding) visitor expectations by embracing sustainable practices. I obviously come from the zoo and aquarium environment. My goal is to learn from our members and to continue to help the association serve their needs – not just from facility constituencies, but also the lines of business that connect us all: security, retail, finance, food and beverage, etc.
AM: What do you consider to be the most important benefits IAAPA can offer its members, both operators and suppliers?
DR: Relationships are the heart of all that IAAPA has to offer. IAAPA provides a network for our diverse membership that cannot be found any place else. The collegial environment has always been amazing to me and we all build upon each other’s success. IAAPA is truly global in scope, which means we can connect, learn and engage with colleagues from all over the world – something that’s ever more important in our increasingly interdependent society.
AM: What do you think are IAAPA’s key strengths as an organisation?
DR: The global nature of IAAPA and the fact that today it represents a more varied group of organisations than ever – more than 5,600 aquariums and zoos, amusement parks, museums, family entertainment centres, waterparks, manufacturers and suppliers and so much more. You can now find IAPPA members in more than 100 countries, on six continents. That’s extraordinary diversity. Connecting with members from all over the globe strengthens everyone. We build upon each other’s success, learn from our failures and align on the future. This all contributes to the health of our association and industry. As the first chairman from the zoo and aquarium constituency, I am one example of the growing diversity that defines our association.
AM: What do you feel are the main challenges facing IAAPA members overall today?
DR: We must address continued changes in perception about safety for our guests and employees. For our visitors, we wrestle with creative ways to combat the overall time crunch that families are in today and the growing competition for their leisure time and discretionary income. This means we must be even more innovative and nimble than ever before.
AM: How do you see IAAPA as an association developing in the future?
DR: It’s important to recognise that our world is changing faster than ever – socially, technologically and environmentally. To thrive in this new age, we must continue to grow and to evolve, as we have in our first 100 years. We must address the rapid pace of global change, the opportunities our dynamic global industry affords us and the changing expectations of our new generation of guests. IAAPA will continue to evolve in recognition of the changing world around us, including through new initiatives that help our members adapt to those changes. We will continue to host dynamic events and expos around the world, bringing real value to our members. The association will continue to evolve to serve its members in the ever-changing global marketplace and will become even better at anticipating and serving the ever-evolving needs of all our members. I’m looking forward to taking these next steps with the association as chairman.
Not a lot of people know this but I am very good at …mountain biking for hours
The most interesting place I’ve ever been to is … Lisbon during the Fado Festival. I sat with a friend in an Alfama neighbourhood restaurant for hours, drinking good Portuguese wine while watching Fado singers belt out their songs throughout the night
Family aside, the prized possession I value above all others is …my Peloton Bike – it keeps me focused on fitness despite my hectic schedule
My favourite film is … Raiders of the Lost Ark
When I’m not working I like to … vacation with my family. I’m always planning our next trip, so I have it to look forward to
The person who has influenced me most is … my grandfather – he owned a small shoe store in New Jersey and made it into something very big
My favourite musician/band is …Billy Joel – although, I saw Billy and Elton John perform together in Houston, Texas and they both were spectacular
If I could invite a celebrity to dinner it would be …Harrison Ford…hence my taste for Raiders of the Lost Ark
My unfulfilled ambition is …running the Boston Marathon. I don’t think I will ever meet that ambition, but it’s something to think about
I really dislike … rice pudding. YUCK!