Tom Mehrmann has had a colourful career within the parks and attractions industry, which all started back in 1977 when he took a summer job as a sweeper at Knott’s Berry Farm. Today, he has just completed a two-year project to get Universal Beijing Resort up and running and open to the public. InterPark’s Editor, Beth Whitaker sat down with Mehrmann to find out what all these years in the industry have taught him.
Beth Whitaker: When did your career in the parks and attractions industry start?
Tom Mehrmann: I began working in the industry in 1977 at Knott’s Berry Farm, with the intention of working for the summer as a sweeper and then looking for a “real job” later. Since then, I’ve had various career highlights over the years, from being on the leadership team that designed, developed and operated Knott’s Camp Snoopy in Mall of America; to joining Six Flags as VP and GM for the redevelopment, repositioning, rebranding and operation of Marine World Africa USA to Six Flags Marine World, which subsequently has become Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
Then relocating to Madrid, Spain as VP and GM to lead the design, development and operation of Warner Bros Movie World Madrid, before joining Ocean Park in Hong Kong to lead the redevelopment, repositioning, rebranding and operation of Ocean Park Corporation in Hong Kong. And then more recently, joining the Universal Parks and Resorts family, as President and GM, and being part of leading the design, development and operation of Universal Beijing Resort, in Beijing, China. And now, at the beginning of this year, stepping into a new role for Universal Parks and Resorts Pacific Rim Division for Universal Beijing Resort, Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Hollywood.
BW: Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on?
TM: Every adventure has been a favorite moment at that time. I would have to say that my most recent work in Beijing, China with Universal Beijing Resort has been one of the more fulfilling experiences, as it was done with the backdrop of working with a state-owned enterprise as a partner, while developing a world-class facility in the capital city of Beijing, in the most populous country in the world, during a global pandemic – and yet we successfully opened on 20 September 2021.
TM: Here at Universal, we put guests in the middle of amazing stories and adventures. When you see that experience reflected on the faces of our guests, it’s just incredible. They are having the time of their lives with their family and friends. Every day is a celebration, every day is different. And everything we do is focused on creating joy for our guests and our team members.
BW: What have been some of the most significant changes you’ve seen within the industry?
TM: The advent of technology has certainly been one of the most significant changes, as it has enhanced the ability to address everything from safety and guest satisfaction to operating standards and employee engagement. The key is to see technology as the tool for the guest experience and not assume it can become the guest experience.
BW: And how have you seen park guests change within your time as well?
TM: The biggest changes I have seen around the world is the expectation of our guests toward their visit and experiences. The time available to guests is diminishing so they are seeking great experiences in shorter time frames while still expecting a significant number of experiences during their visits. It places a different focus on how to design, develop and execute for the guest to ensure they perceive their experiences as value for the money they have invested in their visit.
BW: Tell me more about Universal Beijing Resort – what will it do for the surrounding region?
TM: Universal Beijing Resort is an incredible collection of our best, most compelling, experiences from around the world along with experiences specially created to reflect local culture. It brings our unique theme park entertainment brand to life. We see Universal Beijing Resort as a complement and supplement to other parks and attractions in China. And like any destination or regional theme park, it results in job generation and positive economic impact for the local market.
BW: The first phase of Universal Beijing Resort opened in September – how has it been going?
TM: We are very proud of the park as an example of excellence worldwide in design, development and operation. We have some of the very best Universal Parks and Resorts attractions, along with some custom attractions, which include Jurassic World Adventure; Jurassic Flyers; Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness; Untrainable, the show in our Majestic Theatre; Minion Land; and, the first Transformers Land.
BW: How do you intend to apply your previous experience to your new role?
TM: The new role is overseeing the Pacific Rim parks of Universal Parks and Resorts, which includes Beijing, Osaka and Hollywood. My best contribution is to first seek to understand, then be understood. From that point, it is a matter of implementing best practices and seeking synergy to ensure safe, efficient and effective operations that bring great experiences to our team members and our guests. This is good for our guests and good for our business.
BW: How did Covid-19 impact the project? And how have you seen it affect the industry generally?
TM: The global pandemic has touched every park in the world and impacted the operation of each park, probably forever. It impacted our ability to build the resort in Beijing, to get vendors and suppliers to Beijing, to generate national and international attention and travel to the park. I am proud of the team and the government partnership for finding ways to work through the issues. The new normal that will emerge will be more focused on hygiene and health and safety of team members and guests in the operating protocols, the entry procedures, ticket selling, transaction management and the experiences offered in the park.
Out of every crisis comes opportunity and the key will be to find the opportunities in all countries, cultures and parks to deliver an experience that meets and exceeds the guest expectations, as they will change going forward. But here is what I also know, people will always seek unique opportunities to come together and create fun, powerful, memories with their family and friends. And we are especially good at that.
TM: As travel opens and pandemic prevention protocols relax, I would expect the park to be introduced to the world and for everyone to experience the incredible resort that has been developed in Beijing, China.
Not a lot of people know this but I am very good at…
Enjoying my time off, when I have it.
The most interesting place I’ve ever been, is…
My own home, as I have been working abroad for 22 years and now, I am back home in California.
The last book I read was…
The Outsiders by William Thorndike
During Covid-19 lockdowns I spent my time…
Focusing 100% on the development, opening and operation of Universal Beijing Resort for the two-year period between the outbreak of Covid-19 and the time I returned to the US for the new role.
The person who has influenced me the most is…
There are many, but beyond immediate family, I would say John Wooden, the world-famous former basketball coach of UCLA.
If I wasn’t working in the amusements industry I would…
Be a professional NBA player, although I was never quite good enough, or tall enough, but we can all dream.
I really dislike…