IAAPA 2015: Legends share insights into legacy left by Walt Disney
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IAAPA 2015: Legends share insights into legacy left by Walt Disney

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In what was a very special edition of IAAPA’s annual Legends panel, BRC Imagination Arts’ Bob Rogers gathered a host of legendary representatives of the attractions industry to discuss the 60-year legacy left by Walt Disney and Disneyland.

Addressing a packed auditorium, Rogers played chair asking the panel a series of questions about their involvement with, or in competition with, Disney through their historic careers, to discuss the park’s impact on the industry and what lessons can be learnt to this very day.

Current Cedar Fair president and CEO, and former president of the Disneyland California and, Matt Ouimet, was the first member of the panel introduced.

“If you are trying to get someone’s attention or their endorsement it’s not about them, it’s about their family,” said Oumitette, discussing finding the balance between what sponsors want and what the guest wants. “If I go to town and someone gives me something relevant to me, that’s ok. If you give me something that’s relevant to my daughter, I’m going to pay attention and I’m going to take it home. You have to first get the heart before you can get the head. This is something Disney has done extremely well, both with guests and business partners.”

Tom Mehrmann, was what Rogers called a “controversial” addition to the panel, given that throughout his career he has spent most of his time in competition with Disney. Mehrmann, who first competed against Disney at Knott’s Berry Farm in California and then at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, praised Disney, calling the company a catalyst.

“When Walter Knott and his family travelled to Disney on opening day in 1955, when he got back to Knott’s Berry Farm he said ‘I don’t know how much longer we can stay in business, we can’t compete with this’,” said Merhmann. “When he pulled up to the park his operations manager came up to him and said ‘we just had our best day in history’, the same day that Disney opened. Suddenly the lightbulb came on and you realise you change your standards to complement Disney.

“When Ocean Park was pre-existing and Disney came to Hong Kong, I was over at Disney on opening day and we had our best day ever the same day that Disney opened,” he continued. “History was repeating itself. Disney makes everyone better and I’m glad they came along when they did because it made it possible for us to grow our own brand.”

New IAAPA Hall of Fame inductee, Jack Lindquist, who was Disneyland’s first president, said that the future was bright for the attractions industry, praising the growth seen in recent years.

“I think today there’s more opportunity than ever and that’s demonstrated by IAAPA,” he said. “Look at the number of new theme parks, waterparks and so forth. The industry is growing tremendously. I don’t know where the next Walter Knott is coming from but it’s not important because it’s a new world with new challenges and they are going to make this happen in the future. New ideas are going to come from the industry. You’ve got to be embedded and love what you’re doing and think outside the box. Go crazy.”

Concluding the session, Marty Sklar, who spent many years leading Walt Disney Imagineering, said that it doesn’t matter about making mistakes and knowing everything as long as you learn from it.

“I was in a meeting one time with Walt Disney and he asked me a question,” said Sklar. “I answered it and when I went back to my office I discovered that I’d given him the wrong information. I made the biggest mistake that anyone could make, I didn’t pick up the phone and tell Walt that I’d given him the wrong information. About a year later a similar subject came up and this time I answered correctly and he look at me and said ‘the last time we talked about this YOU SAID’. That was a turning point for my career because from then on I taught everybody at Imagineering that you’re not expected to know everything and if you don’t know the answer just say ‘I don’t know but I’ll find out’. It was a great failure on my part but it was one of the biggest learning points that I experienced.

“I am so jealous of all these great tools you have on offer to you,” he added. “Make sure you have fun with it!”

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In what was a very special edition of IAAPA’s annual Legends panel, BRC Imagination Arts’ Bob Rogers gathered a host of legendary representatives of the attractions industry to discuss the 60-year legacy left by Walt Disney and Disneyland.
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