We have several other programs designed to reach kids at all levels. The Art of Tomorrow program gets us into the middle schools. Those students have the opportunity to work next to our creative team and our entertainers. They can look for career opportunities or just be mentored by people in the business if they have that kind of interest, and they can then stay all the way through high school. We also have programs at UCF and Valencia College and a number of those folks are working for us now. And we have an apprenticeship program for people who want to work in the trades.
So we’re investing in the education of a whole bunch of people and some end up working here and some don’t. But we’re a part of the community. Beyond employing people, we’re trying to make our community stronger. That actually helps attract people from other places to our community.
Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter was considered one of the greatest innovations in theme park history. It’s hard to keep topping yourself. How do you continuously innovate to keep things exciting?
Our industry has been pretty innovative. Between the Universal Creative team, which develops our attractions, to the people who operate the attractions to our guest service people and all our industry partners, we are always working to innovate. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was definitely one of our high points – but the list continues to grow. Our latest attraction, which will open in June, is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a thrilling coaster flight that we think is pretty special and is going to raise the bar even more.
I would say that this is perhaps the most exciting time in our company’s history. Innovative things are going to continue to come down the track, and we will adapt innovation from other industries, such as augmented reality, when they make sense for our industry.
What sort of new technology are you deploying?
A good example of something we did recently, was when we opened Volcano Bay, our new water theme park. We introduced TapuTapu, a wearable, that allows you to tap into and wait on a virtual line while you do other things, pay for things, get locker access – and more.
Technology is disrupting just about every industry. In what ways are IoT and AI disrupting tourism and hospitality and how is Universal Orlando staying ahead of that?
For us, technology is kind of a means to an end. What we’re in the business of is making sure we’re using all the available tools out there to create immersive experiences for all kinds of families. We are creating these experiences and its bringing families and people together to share an innovative, immersive experience that, frankly, is becoming less and less available out there in the world. We have a lot of people with their heads down looking down at their cell phones. When you come to our place you’re sharing experiences as opposed to everyone looking at their own little game. You’re sharing the experience of being immersed in a world – like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—with your kids, grandparents, mom and dad or whatever the family unit is.
So you use high-tech in order to elevate the high-touch?
Yes. We’re adapting all kinds of different technologies and machines and innovative thinking from other areas to make sure that when you come to this world, you’re immersed and having a great time and creating memories that are going to last a lifetime.
I have a really wonderful job. I can leave my desk in the administration building and in less than five minutes, I can be in one of our parks and see families coming together, see young kids come in and, on a daily basis, literally fall down on their knees and kiss the ground. So I could be having a terrible day and I’ll tell my very able assistant, Kim, that I need a half hour or an hour and I’ll go to the park and then come back totally reinvigorated and thinking, wow, I have just a tiny little piece of making that kind of experience happen that that young lady or that young man or that family is going to have with them for the rest of their lives. That’s why I get up in the morning and that’s why I’ve been doing this for 40 or 45 years. Honestly, I think I have the best job in the world.