An attractions industry update with Jakob Wahl, COO of IAAPA

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode I speak with Jakob Wahl, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of IAAPA – International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

Jakob Wahl is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer at IAAPA, the global association for the attractions industry.

Wahl has ten years of experience working for IAAPA. He first came to IAAPA as program manager where he served the association for five years in the association’s office in Brussels. He then went on to work at Europa- Park in Rust, Germany as director of communications before returning to IAAPA in 2017 as Vice President and Executive Director of IAAPA Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). He was promoted in November 2021 to Executive Vice President and COO.

Wahl holds the German and French master’s degree in economics from the IUP of Aix-en-Provence.


“Actually, our only purpose is bringing joy to the people. And there are not many industries is out there which can say that for themselves.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • Why the attractions industry is so exciting
  • The ongoing labour shortages
  • Sustainability
  • Where the attractions industry is headed in terms of technology

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

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The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Jakob Wahl



Kelly Molson: Jakob, thank you so, so much for joining me today. You’re a very, very busy man, so I’m very grateful that you could come on and spare some time.

Jakob Wahl: It’s a pleasure to be with you today, Kelly, so thanks for the invite. I’m honoured.

Kelly Molson: The honour is all mine, trust me. But you might not be so honoured once we finish with our icebreaker questions, although I feel like I’ve been quite kind again, today.

Jakob Wahl: Okay.

Kelly Molson: All right. I want to know what is the best theme park ride that you have ever been on?

Jakob Wahl: Wow. That’s difficult… I think it’s as difficult as, say, a favourite car; because there’s a specific mood for everything. And if I… It also depends on the company. If I go with my buddies, probably I would have said Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce, which is an intense wooden coaster. If I go with my kids, I’d take any kind of Disney ride, or whatever. And if I go with my wife, it’s probably no ride at all, but it’s a great restaurant in a park. So, it’s actually very, very hard to judge.

But I have to say, and obviously, the big things in the industry always blew me away; and that was Indiana Jones at Disneyland, Anaheim. It was Spiderman at Islands of Adventure. It was the first Harry Potter rides. It was really kind of those, where I would consider revolutionary developments in the dark ride industry, where you just walk out and say, “Wow. What was that?” And Star Wars was the most recent one.

Kelly Molson: Oh, that was a great answer. I think that was a brilliant answer. I love that you gave different answers for the different people that you were with, as well. I think that was-

Jakob Wahl: Yeah, but it is.

Kelly Molson: Right.

Jakob Wahl: I think it’s the same thing about favourite parks. I have… I love the atmosphere in a Scandinavian park at night, when it comes alive with the lights, with concerts. But if I would go just for rides, it would be probably the Universal Parks. If I go with my family, it’s something else. It really depends on the mood of the day.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. Perfect answer, could not have been better. Right. If you had to listen to one album on repeat, continuously, what would that album be?

Jakob Wahl: Wow. It would be a classic album, I think; because as much as I love all kinds of music, if I would need to listen to something continuously, I need something which doesn’t stress me and which kind of relax me. I don’t know the English term. It’s a track called Moonshine Sonata. It’s a sonnet of the moonlight, or Tchaikovsky, which I like a lot as well.

Kelly Molson: Well, that sounds lovely. I actually do this in the car; so I’ve started to listen to Classic FM, which is a radio station in the UK, because it’s really calming.

Jakob Wahl: Yes.

Kelly Molson: And if you’re just… It’s just really relaxing and really calm; and it just puts you in a really kind of Zen mood.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: I’m sure that’s all right for driving, to be Zen. Sure, that’s fine.

Jakob Wahl: Especially in a traffic jam, if you have aggressive drivers around you, that is actually…

Kelly Molson: Exactly. Just wind the window down, take in my Classic FM. Okay. What would be your favourite tradition? Something that you do every year, or something that you do every month?

Jakob Wahl: It’s probably a ski weekend with my best friends. I’m moving to Orlando, so that’s actually the hard part; because I love skiing, and I probably spend most of my money on skiing because this means… I think it comes back to what you say in music. There’s nothing else where I can more relax and unwind, because you’re just in the nature, you’re doing sports… Well, it’s not really challenging as a sport, but it’s just wonderful to be out there. And I think that’s something I really, really love; to go with my best friend, just for a weekend, and whiskey and ski.

Kelly Molson: That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? That’s going to be a big change for you then, moving-

Jakob Wahl: Oh, yes.

Kelly Molson: … to Orlando.

Jakob Wahl: Yes. I live right now in the Black Forest, and we have the four seasons here. In Orlando, I think it’s the four seasons of humidity. But there are other great things about Orlando. So, I will definitely miss the snow, but there will be plenty of other things I’m very excited about.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Well, yes. For an Attraction Specialist, could there be a better place to be than Orlando? Maybe not. Right. Jakob, what’s your unpopular opinion?

Jakob Wahl: I don’t like special days in theme parks. And this comes from a longer history. We have seen, in theme parks, days for special needs, or days, or so-called gay days. And I think I would like us to be so inclusive that we don’t need special days to accommodate those people. It should be a normal thing. It should be just… I don’t also like when you go to toilets, and there’s a special sign for disabled people. It should be that they are always accessible. And I think it should be a regular part of our business that you don’t need to market designated days for designated groups; because we should be so inclusive that it’s every day.

Kelly Molson: That’s a really good opinion. And I’m pretty sure that a lot of people would agree with you on that one, as well. So maybe it’s not going to be quite as unpopular as you think.

Jakob Wahl:  Then I have another unpopular opinion, for sure.

Kelly Molson: Oh, well, throw that at us. If you’re going to get… Let’s have another one.

Jakob Wahl: I’m tired of the word immersive. I don’t think every attraction needs to be immersive. I think it’s totally fine that you have a great thrill ride, that you have a great rollercoaster. It doesn’t always need to have a storyline or own soundtrack or a big theme. It’s also fine sometimes, to just have a great ride in itself, and to let it stand for itself without any IP, without a branding, without a soundtrack, without all of that stuff.

Kelly Molson: Hmm. All right. Well, listeners, I would love to know your thoughts on these. Tweet me, let me know what you think. Thank you for sharing, Jakob. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and where you are now?

Jakob Wahl: I’m sitting right now in Germany, where I’m originally from. I work for IAAPA, which I have done now for four and a half years; it’s my second time with IAAPA. Beforehand, I worked for Europa-Park. So this is why I still kind of live in that area, because I was lucky enough to meet my wonderful wife here in this region. So I stayed here even, when moving away from Europa-Park.

But I have been, what you would consider in this industry, aficionado. You can call me nerd, enthusiastic, whatever you want. But I think, as many people, I started in the industry as a teenager. My first job was when I was 16. I checked tickets Phantasialand at the entrance, the Mexican side entrance to Phantasialand. And I fell in love with this industry. And I never left, for the disbelief of my parents, who still hope one day I have a serious job. But I think I even got them so far that they understand what this is about, and what it means for me, and that we are huge industry.

But since then, I think I love this industry, and I’m sometimes like the child in the candy store, because I think we have the privilege of… Actually, our only purpose is bringing joy to the people. And there are not many industries is out there which can say that for themselves. And in that way, you see lots of discussion about human resources, about bringing young talent to the industry.

And I think we need to highlight that more; because you see that it’s those companies which have a purpose, which have a mission, which are very popular among young people. Patagonia, Oakley, Veja, other sneaker brands. It’s those which say that they’re doing good for the people. And ultimately, yes, we are. As an industry, as our members, we are commercially driven, but hey, we bring fun to the people. And I think that is unfortunately, today, more needed than ever before.

Kelly Molson: Ah, I could not agree with you more. Bringing fun to the people; there could not be a better definition of what the sector is all about. I absolutely love that. What’s really interesting is, most people that come on here that are attractions aficionados, as you called yourself, they do start very young in the sector.

So it is an industry that… It really, it does retain people. Right? People fall in love with it at a really early age, which is really lovely to see. And I want to ask you a little bit about this later on in the podcast, actually, something that you talked about, in terms of recruitment and getting more younger people into the industry.

Jakob Wahl: We always said two things; we said, “Once you work for the industry, you will never work for anything else, for two reasons. Because you don’t want to work for anything else.” And actually, the second one is, “No one will take you seriously once you have worked with us.”

Kelly Molson: That’s it. You’re done in, so you have to stay.

Jakob Wahl: Yes, you have to.

Kelly Molson: I love that. Okay. Well, let… You are now at IAAPA.

Jakob Wahl: Yes.

Kelly Molson: And you’ve just taken on an incredibly senior role there. Can you tell us a little bit about that, and then what that role involves?

Jakob Wahl: Yes. My first time at IAAPA was from 2009 to 2014, and I worked with Karen Staley, who was back then the Vice President. Today, she’s with Sally Dark Rides. And I fell in love with this association, because I think, again, we fulfill a role in trying to promote the industry and in bringing people together; and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

I left then for Europa-Park, where I had four amazing years with the Mack family, with Michael Mack, where I learned a lot. And then, this job opened up at IAAPA EMEA, and as the Vice President. And I always had two hearts in my chest. I was very passionate about the association, and then I took that chance, and I have had four and a half fantastic years with IAAPA EMEA.

And then, I was lucky enough to have a great CEO with Hal McEvoy. And we discussed, and then one moment, he changed the strategy in saying that he wanted to be also more in presenting IAAPA on a picture, and asked me to take over the role as COO. And this is a great opportunity, and I’m very happy about what we have achieved in the EMEA region.

And I look forward to work with the regional leaders, which we have with June Ko in the APEC region, with Michael Shelton in North America, and with Paulina Reyes in Latin America. And my successor now, Peter van der Schans, to try to bring that industry further, and to deliver more membership services and be of help for our members.

Kelly Molson: So, what is your role there now? And what is your kind of purpose at IAAPA? What do you drive?

Jakob Wahl: So, I lead the operations of IAAPA across the world. And so that means I’m in charge for the four regional offices, for the global sales, for our three expos. We have IAAPA Expo Asia, which unfortunately, we had to cancel due to the COVID situation in Hong Kong, or in the region and in Shanghai, where the expo was supposed to take place. And the one in Europe, which takes place this year in London, Kelly, I hope to see you there.

Kelly Molson: Yes, I will be there.

Jakob Wahl: And then, obviously, our big ship, the one in Orlando, which always takes place in November. So, I’m ultimately in charge for those big trade shows for the regions, but also for the many regional events across the world, where we try to bring together people, to learn from each other, to inspire each other, to connect with each other.

And we have the next upcoming event in Orlando now, where we are going to see the new Ice Breaker coaster at SeaWorld. We are going to have in mayor region, an event in May, in Italy, where we are going to see Cinecitta World, Magic Land, and Zoomarine, where we’ll really try to look into things: what’s hot? What should be seen? What can we tell, in terms of educating our members about best practices?

That really, everyone comes and sees something and walks away back home to say, “Hey, I can apply that in my business to become better.” And I think that’s what drives us in trying to come up with those events.

Kelly Molson: It’s been an incredibly difficult time for the attractions industry-

Jakob Wahl: Yes.

Kelly Molson: … full-stop. But for you personally, that must have been very difficult. Because I guess that you are used to travelling a lot all over for the world, to all of these incredible places and attractions that you described. That must have been really tough for you.

Jakob Wahl: Well, I think… First, I have a very passionate team; and I think the whole IAAPA team is very passionate. And we felt for our members. We struggled because we had to cancel shows as well. It was sad, because we put a lot of work into things which had to be cancelled. But I think we suffered mainly seeing our members struggling with changing rules, with being forced to close down, with all of those things.

And I tried to look at the good sides of things. And I think during those past 24 months, our industry grew together. And I think when the pandemic first hit, it was in very short notice that we got together the key leading experts, health and safety experts from all the big parks across the world, who developed a paper on safe re-opening for theme parks.

And seeing that, how we worked together as, or unity, how we work with national associations; how we tried to support each other, how we sent letters, how we talked to governments; I think that was actually where the association came alive. And yes, it was hard for us to not being able to bring people face-to-face together, but it was, I think, good because we saw stronger than ever before, the value of an association.

And it was… We got many feedback from members across the world saying, “Listen. I went to my government with this paper, and they saw that we are safe. And they saw it, and they let me open again.” And that was very fulfilling, obviously, for the members, but also for us; because we saw that what we did was of purpose.

Kelly Molson: That’s incredibly powerful, isn’t it?

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: That document had such a huge effect on attractions all over the world.

Jakob Wahl: But that is again, a privilege of this industry, I think. In a way, yes, parks or members or facility members or our supplier members are in a certain way competing. They’re competing about the same money, about the same time. But I think if we have certain discussion items of whatever nature, and I call the different members, they all group around the table, they all share their learnings, their best practices. And they walk away, and everyone is kind of doing their thing again.

But I’m not sure if this is the same thing in many other businesses: in the car industry, in the computer industry, in the mobile industry. I don’t think people are that open with each other. And I think this is where it’s special to work for this association; because you feel that.

One member thinks, “Listen. If a client, if a guest, has a good time in a different park, it’s helpful for me as well. But if they have a bad experience somewhere, they are probably less likely to visit other amusement parks.” And I think this is what makes our industry special, because I think we have understood that.

Kelly Molson: That’s really interesting. And that is something, again, that’s come up time and time again, when we’ve spoken to people in the sector. It’s just, one, is how collaborative it is and supportive of each other. But two… Do you think that that… Do you think it’s more so since the pandemic? It was prior to, but do you think that that’s accelerated because of the pandemic situation?

Jakob Wahl: It was always there. I think it was always there. And I think we always have had those dedicated members which have contributed massively through committees, through white papers for all members on best practices, on right commissioning for example, or on right of a creation; those really kind of guidelines where we get safety experts together, creating a document for those parks which might not have the same resources, and trying to level that up.

I think what we have seen through the pandemic is that we got those members who might have been inactive before, to get them closer; to get them closer to the association, closer to other members. And I think that has been a benefit. I think we have never talked to so many members throughout the pandemic; and sometimes listening, and sometimes giving advice, and sometimes we only let them vent.

But it was good to realise that none of us was alone in that time. And we did some live chats where we had 50 or 60 water park operators; and everyone shared their story. And maybe there were some learnings, maybe there were… But I think it was more important for them to actually see, “Hey, I’m not alone in this. And others go through this as well.” And to create that community feeling while we could not have those face-to face-experiences at the events.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. Wonderful. It is phenomenal that you’ve been able to facilitate that level of support for your members. Let’s talk about what’s coming next, though; because I guess one of the positives from going through that process, is that you did get to speak to so many members. Like you said, some of them had… There was things that you could share to support them; some people just wanted to rant.

But I guess all of that knowledge helps you understand what more you can do for your members, and then develop new kind of support programs for them for the future. So what have you got in development? What can you share with us about what’s coming next for IAAPA?

Jakob Wahl: I think the pandemic has probably been an accelerator to things in the same way it has been to members as it has for us. And we see that with operators across the world, that those past two years have been a huge accelerator for everything digital.

And I think that is something which we see for ourselves as well. If I remember trade shows three years ago, we always have the sign at the exit, “See you next year.” And I think this is 2019. Today it is, “See you tomorrow on a digital space.” Because you need to create those connections all year round; because people have learned to live digitally, and don’t want to wait to be face-to-face to be able to do that.

And I think that is something where we, for ourselves, and also with our board of directors, have decided, “Listen. We want to invest more into digital options.” We already have great, great digital learning availabilities and those offerings. But I think it’s really kind of the networking, the connecting part, where we want to become stronger in the years to come.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Because with digital, we can facilitate conversations like this.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: We’re in different parts of the world, and we’re just having a lovely chat on our podcast. But you can bring together people from all over the place in one central location. It’s so incredibly powerful to be able to do that. And it seems crazy that we’ve only been doing that for the last couple of years because of the pandemic. Right? It wasn’t mainstream prior to that.

Jakob Wahl: No. No.

Kelly Molson: It is crazy. Well, that’s brilliant. So we’re going to be seeing more digital engagement for IAAPA, bringing people together more frequently; which is absolutely what people, I’m sure, want.

Jakob Wahl: And I also think what we are going to see, and what we are already doing, is to try to be more regional. I think we have seen that with the trade shows last year, those in Barcelona and Orlando, that they were good trade shows. They were smaller than they used to be. And they were more regional, because of travel restrictions and because of everything.

And I think we have seen that there’s a need for the regional presence. And those success stories of the regional offices of IAAPA come from that; because we have people on the ground, they speak the language, they understand the market, they know of the players. And this is where we want to offer more small opportunities of bringing people together face-to-face.

Obviously, digital, we do that; but also face-to-face. Because as great as this all is in connecting, it’s still a difference also, I think for the two of us, Kelly; if we sit down in front of the screen, how much nicer it would be if we sit somewhere next to each other and talk about-

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jakob Wahl: And this will never replace it. I think it compliments each other. And this is where we try to be closer to actually our members, to go towards them; to see what they’re doing, and to highlight what they’re doing, what innovations there are. There’s so many wonderful innovations, facilities, stories to tell out there. And ideally, I would like to do something every week. We don’t have the resources for that, but we want to be closer to our members.

Kelly Molson: Brilliant. It’s interesting you said about that, the kind of face-to-face and in-person; because nothing will ever replace that whatsoever. But I had this-

Jakob Wahl: Especially in our industry, I think; because we are a very social industry.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. And you’ve got fantastic venues and spaces to do that in as well; so why not?

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: But I had this conversation with somebody last week, about how it’s just kind of cut down a lot of the longevity and travel that was associated with kind of little mini, micro meetings. You want to meet someone for a coffee, and kind of see if you get to know them first. Right? This is a great way of doing that without spending two hours on a train to get wherever they are.

Jakob Wahl: So true.

Kelly Molson: So, I see this is the first date. The second date is the coffee in real life.

Jakob Wahl: Yes. Exactly.

Kelly Molson: I want to go back to something that you talked about right in the beginning.

Jakob Wahl: Yes.

Kelly Molson: You said about you worked in the sector from a young age, and that they’re good at retaining people because they fall in love with the sector.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So, in the UK, there’s a huge labour shortage in the UK currently. And it is a huge challenge to the sector, especially in the kind of hospitality roles that attractions have.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Is this something that’s widespread across Europe and the US?

Jakob Wahl: Yes.

Kelly Molson: So you’re still, you’re having those problems as well?

Jakob Wahl: Unfortunately, yes.

Kelly Molson: What do you see as a solution to that? I don’t know if you have seen any kind of interesting examples of attractions that are doing things really well to hire new staff and retain the ones that they have?

Jakob Wahl: I think what you said, unfortunately, it’s a global problem. And I don’t know where everyone went, but for sure, we all lack, and we all lack of workforce. And I think that’s a huge problem. And the pandemic has not helped that, because, I think we have seen many people who received furlough money. And they were all okay, but people want to work.

And if you have that chef who sits at home and can’t work, he might not come back to a theme park, because we were so affected by that. And I think this is something first, where we need to create the circumstances that we can operate and that we can actually employ our people, that we stay open.

What I see as several trends; I think one of the things is that many parks try to extend their season, to walk away more from seasonal workforce to all year round; so that creates a better, attractive place. I think then, what we have also seen, is that… How to say, sometimes our jobs lacked a little bit of content, in the external view. I think people have had not the highest regards of our industry.

And I think this is where we need to kind of diversify our offering a little bit more, and actually tell people what a great job they can have with our industry. And I’m very impressed by initiatives which you see popping up all across members, to highlight what a great place this is to be.

Jakob Wahl: I’ll give you two examples; Europa-Park in Germany, and Amelia Mack, one of the family members of the Mack family, she introduced a health program for her staff, so that they have very good health benefits. They all have those values which are of relevance for young people today, where they care about.

I think it’s less about the money, but it is about, “What can a company offer to me in the overall package?” We will not win the race for money. You can, I think, probably increase the salary; but I don’t think that the young generation is about money. It’s about what we discussed before; purpose, it’s about what does the company deliver?

And then, we have a third example, or a second example, from the US. Herschend Entertainment Cooperation, with beautiful parks like Silver Dollar City, Dollywood. They actually introduced free education for all their 11,000 employees; completely free.

Kelly Molson: Wow.

Jakob Wahl: And this is where you see, they kind of try to work on the benefits; not only on the money side, but really try to make people, young people, understand, “Hey. This is a great place to work. We educate you. We promote you. We give you options.”

And it is the same way why I’m sitting here. I started at 16, and I checked tickets; and now, I’m sitting here where I am today. And there are hundreds of those stories. And I think that is something where we need to highlight that, “Hey. You might start only putting down seat belts, or checking, or selling burgers, but there’s a great career path ahead of you.”

And we, as IAAPA, sorry for taking that so long, but you feel it’s close to our hearts. We, as IAAPA, try to work closely with universities across the world, which specialise in Attraction Management program. We, just like three days ago, we had the first intern in our office from BUas, in Breda, which is a university specialised in attractions classes.

And it’s those people kind of, when they come in huge groups to the trade show, they usually come with 40 students; you see the passion for that industry. And this is just one example of many, where we are very grateful for working with those universities, to try to highlight how attractive we are actually as an industry.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely brilliant examples, then. That’ll be really, really useful to our listeners, I’m sure. And it goes back to what we were saying. It is about value driven, purpose driven.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Explaining what it is, that is the benefit of working there. Not just, “This is how much it is, and this is the role that you’ll do.” “This is where you can go. This is where you can progress.” And really showcasing the kind of culture of the attraction as well.

And now, I know sustainability is something that you like to talk about quite a lot; I’ve seen some of your posts on LinkedIn. So it is a real big, hot topic now, as it should be. How can attractions start to put sustainability at the heart of what they’re doing? And have you seen any great examples of that that you could share with us as well?

Jakob Wahl: Yes. I’m actually the staff liaison for the Sustainability Committee. IAAPA, two years ago probably, introduced a Sustainability Committee under the leadership of Andreas Andersen, the CEO from Liseberg. And to be very frank with you, we probably have not been on the forefront of that subject as an industry.

And I think we have to pick up a little bit, but I see a huge interest in that. And I see when we started the Sustainability Committee in the past years, we noticed all the big power groups of this world are enthusiastic about collaborating with us. They all want to say, “Listen, we want to do more. What can we do more? We need to step up the game here.” And it’s very nice to see the growing importance of that.

I’m not a firm believer, or it’s a thin line between educating people, and still let them have fun. I think you… It’s always difficult, because you don’t want to spoil the day by kind of delivering all those horror messages. And we just had an event in… Yeah, in end of February at the World Expo in Dubai. And we had a great session with the head of the Sustainability Pavilion, which did a fantastic job about telling a story, telling about what needs to be better, but not kind of being Debbie Downer, and depressing the guests.

But I think what we need to understand, is that sustainability is more than just the ecological aspect. And we refer to the 17 goals of the United Nations, in which I think are at the core of sustainability. And there are some beautiful examples in this industry; and it starts with small attractions.

One of our board members, Massimiliano Freddi, he has a small attraction called Wonderwood in Italy, which is not the biggest facility, but they only kind of produce food from the local farmers, and they only serve that. And they’re very inclusive to everyone; and they really stand up for their values, which is beautiful. Another wonderful example is Miniature Wonderland; that… Craziest place. I’m not sure. Have you heard of that, Kelly?

Kelly Molson: No. No. It sounds up my street, though; I’m 5’2″. I feel like I would fit in well there.

Jakob Wahl: It’s absolutely… No, it’s absolutely crazy. It’s a place in Hamburg, which started as a miniature railway. And it’s so in love with details, I think they make more than a million guests every year. It’s three brothers, and I think no business plan, no feasibility study would have ever expected this to be successful. But it was their passion and their heart which made them come this way.

So what they did, is that they introduced, I think two weeks in spring, weeks where they let in everyone for free, who comes to the entrance gate and says, “I can’t afford it.” And if you don’t feel comfortable in saying that, you can put a paper, and they let you in for free.

And interesting enough, I think it’s a wonderful gesture in a very social, ethical way, of allowing people to experience what they normally couldn’t. But they actually also said, “Listen. This was commercially successful for us because it brought such an attention to our place, such an awareness, that it paid off.” And I think this is a wonderful example. And if you have time for one more example.

Kelly Molson: Please. Yeah, please.

Jakob Wahl: Karl’s Strawberry Farms, also Germany. It’s a place which grew out of a strawberry farm. They had so many guests that they built a cafe, and then a restaurant, and then attractions. They built a hotel completely up-cycled; so all the material they used is recycled. And I think this is, all those things, examples for wonderful, sustainable policies without hitting you like, “You are a bad person. You must not do that. You must not do that.” But kind of showcasing, “Hey. We do something with the right values, and we do it, and it’s actually still a beautiful experience for everyone.”

Kelly Molson: It’s about weaving it into the whole experience, isn’t it, like it’s a story? It’s part of, it’s at the heart of the attraction.

Jakob Wahl: Yes.

Kelly Molson: Rather than kind of something that you’ve stuck on as a plaster at the end of it. “Oh, by the way, this is our sustainability policy, and this is our recycling policy.” And it’s about kind of living and breathing it.

Jakob Wahl: It needs to be lived. Yeah. It needs to be lived, it needs to be led I think also; and it doesn’t help to say, “Listen. We do it because we have to. And everyone is doing…” It’s a classic greenwashing example.

Kelly Molson: Yeah.

Jakob Wahl: But I see in our Sustainability Committee, we have wonderful members from all across the world. When you look at what Liseberg is doing, what Monterey Bay Aquarium is doing, what all those fantastic and wonderful places are doing to be more sustainable in what they do, to try to, through their business model, I think it’s very impressive.

And again, to quote my Chairman, Andreas Andersen, of that committee, he says, he thinks that, “Sustainability will be in five years as important as safety is today for our industry.” And I wouldn’t disagree with that. I think it will be a basic of our industry. If it’s in five years, if it’s in seven or in 10, we will see; but I think it will be a basic expectation of our guests.

Kelly Molson: Absolutely. Yeah. I think you’re absolutely right.

Jakob Wahl: One more thing. It comes back to HR as well. That is also something young people look at. And if people today, if the generation that looks for employment, I think they also want to see, or many of them want to see that those values of sustainability are lived within the company.

Kelly Molson: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. And it’s the change in demographic or age brackets of people that will start to visit those attractions. Right?

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: Because that’s what the younger generation are really interested in, sustainability, caring for the environment. And that’s what they’ll be looking at; places that they come to work for, or places that they come to visit and spend their hard-earned cash. Yep.

I’d like to just go back to something that you said earlier about the shift in kind of digital advancements in the sector. So, we’ve seen the kind of contactless economy grow rapidly during the pandemic; the shift to digital ticketing and payments in the attractions industry has rapidly, rapidly accelerated.

What do you think is next? And what do you… Because you didn’t… Because you said that you need to be at the forefront of what’s hot and what’s coming next; so I’m testing you now. What do you think is next for the attractions industry, and where do you see these things going in the next kind of three to five years?

Jakob Wahl: I think that there are two sides to the story. I think there’s a back-end side and the front-end side. I think what we have seen is that people won’t get rid of this little thing. It’s everywhere; they can’t let it go. They’re all addicted, including myself. It’s horrible.

Kelly Molson: He’s talking about… Jakob is talking about the phone, just for everyone who can’t see it

Jakob Wahl: Oh, the phone, yes.

Kelly Molson: Just in case you don’t know what he’s holding there.

Jakob Wahl: Everyone knows. I we say we’re all addicted to it, we all know about those smartphones dominating our day. And I think this is where we need to incorporate the smartphone, the mobile, into the experience of day. And that is kind of where I say, “This is the guest excitement.” Because while 20 years ago, they only looked at the scenery all day long, now they look at the mobile half of the day. So the question is, “How do you bring the park experience on the mobile?”

And I think there are some great examples. There’s this wonderful little Danish park called Summerland Sjaelland. And they have a great owner called Kare Dyvekaer. Probably I pronounce it wrongly, but he’s a technology aficionado, the same way I’m about amusement parks. And he kind of plays with his app in a way that you can shoot water canons, you can feed the animals, all with your smartphone. And I think this is funny, because it’s an enhancement of the experience through your phone; and I think that is something which we will see further.

Kelly Molson: That’s a really important point to make, is that it’s about enhancement and not detraction.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: So we… Just to compliment that, we had Jacob Thompson on from Attractions.io a few weeks ago. And this was a question that we posed to him actually, is that, how do you… You want people to engage with the app, but you don’t want to distract them from what’s actually going on around there. So it has to be an enhancement; it has to be things that you… You use it.

For example, he painted a really great picture of… He said, “Okay. Well, look. Imagine that you are in one of the play areas at the park, and your kids are going crazy. They’re running all over the place. They’re hungry. You are starting to get hungry. Everyone’s a bit angry because they’re hungry. You can just grab your phone now, place your order for your food, and then five minutes later, go and collect it. You haven’t got to trudge around trying to find where it is, or wait in a massive queue.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: And it’s those little things that make that experience better, and they solve a problem that you have instantly. But they’re not detracting you from the experience at all.

Jakob Wahl: Yeah. And I think that comes actually, to my other aspect. Because I think there’s an experience aspect, in a way of experiencing the fun part. But I think technology is probably even more important today, in terms of the customer journey.

I think we have an expectation today, and I always say, “It’s the opposite of a car rental company at an airport.” You go there, you have booked everything, you have put in all the data beforehand; and still, you need 10 minutes or 20 minutes to give them all the data again.

And that is kind of the worst example of customer flow. And if you think about this as a worst example, you need to think about, “How can I use technology to make it as easy as possible for my guests to come, to book his ticket, to have the best day ever, and in the best way, actually, in the end to recommend it?”

And there, I think that there are those very innovative people. I am coming back to what I said before: skiing. I recently went to a ski resort in Switzerland, Laax. And they have an app, which is perfect; because if you don’t want to go by a car to the lift station, you can order a shuttle. If you go by car, you can order a parking space. You can buy your lift pass. You can extend your lift pass. You can buy a virtual line. You can order a restaurant table for lunch. You can see, through all cameras, how many people are waiting at which lift, so you can plan your day.

Kelly Molson: Nice.

Jakob Wahl: You can actually, in the evening, you have kind of the same idea of Uber Eats. You can order your food all through that app. And this is just in one flow, where you really kind of just make it as easy as possible for the guests to enjoy and to have the best time ever.

Because I think what we have seen in the past years, that time is limited. And if people, especially now after the pandemic, if they want to get out, if they want to make an excursion, if they want to do a trip to an amusement park, to a ski resort, to whatsoever, they want this to be seamless, to be perfect from A to Zed.

And the masterminds in this industry, and I’m happy that they are an IAAPA member, is to Tomorrowland, the Music Festival in Belgium. They are so sophisticated in what they’re doing. It always blows me away. Have you heard about it, how they work?

Kelly Molson: No. Please share.

Jakob Wahl: So, it’s a festival which takes place this year on three weekends. I think each weekend is sold out within like 10 minutes, one of 80,000 persons each weekend. And when you book your ticket, when you get one, when you’re lucky, you get after probably like eight weeks out; it might be more, but some weeks out, you get a box home with a wristband.

On that wristband, everything is safe: your name, your access ticket, wherever you can go, because there’s special categories. You can upload money on that wristband through a credit card online. So you don’t need anything than this wristband. Two weeks prior to the event, it starts actually living. It breathes, it blings. There are little LEDs on it. And when you go there, this is your only thing which you need all the time.

And this is where I think using technology to make things easier, but at the same time, enhancing the experience again; because it is themed, it looks beautiful. Really, Kelly, I will send you a link afterwards. You should have a look at it.

Kelly Molson: Please do, yeah.

Jakob Wahl: It’s so thought through. You can pay. And it’s a temporary festival; you can pay everything cashless on site, and everything is settled. And I think it’s just fantastic. And we looked at several technologies of that, and you could even, if you want to, you could even use it in a way that if someone comes, I would recognise who that is. And we thought about it, at one moment, how great this would be for Halloween.

When you walk into a horror house or into a maze, and I would know, through your wristband, “Oh, Kelly is coming.” And I’m the scare actor, and I can say, “Hi, Kelly.” I could see you. How great is that? And this is, I think, where digital technology has abounded so much. The only problem is, it advances so quickly that I have no idea, probably in four years, we will laugh about where we stand today.

Kelly Molson: Yes. That’s true, isn’t it? It’s an unfair question. We are developing so rapidly in that area, who knows what the next three or four years will hold?

Jakob Wahl: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: That’s been fantastic. Thank you so much for your input today, Jakob. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you.

Jakob Wahl: Same here.

Kelly Molson: I always ask my guests for a book at the end of the show, that they would recommend to our listeners though. Now, it can be something that you love, personally, or it can be something that you’ve read that’s maybe helped shape your career in some way. Have you got anything that you’d recommend for us?

Jakob Wahl: I have a favourite book, but it has absolutely nothing to do with my career or whatsoever.

Kelly Molson: That’s fine. That’s fine.

Jakob Wahl: I really, really enjoyed reading Tender Bar. I don’t even know who the author is, I’m afraid to say. But it’s a wonderful story about the love of a young boy to a bar. And he grows up with that bar, and it’s a beautiful story. They actually made a movie out of it. The movie was not so great. So don’t watch the movie, read the book. And then, what I actually also like, from a personal development kind of thing is, there’s a book called The Courage to be Disliked.

Kelly Molson: Oh, I like it. Okay.

v It’s a very nice book. Not that it helped me, but I enjoyed reading it. And it gave some great inspiration.

Kelly Molson: Is it about forming opinions? So, not being scared to state your mind?

Jakob Wahl: Yes. And it’s also about not trying to set as an excuse where you come from. You shouldn’t excuse yourself for the person you are because of your history. You can change every day, and you can decide to be a different person every day. And I think that is something which is very, very interesting.

Kelly Molson: That’s a great book. I’m going to get that book.

Jakob Wahl: You should. It’s very interesting. And if you don’t like it, blame it on me; and then the drink is on me the next time we see each other. But I honestly, really, really enjoyed it.

Kelly Molson: I’ll take you up on that. Well, look; listeners, as ever, if you want to win, head over to our Twitter account, and you retweet this episode announcement with the words, “I want Jakob’s book,” then you can win it. I’m going to go and buy myself a copy and read it before you guys get it.

But Jakob, thank you so much for your time today. You’re an incredibly busy man, so I’m very grateful that you’ve been able to come on and share with us. And I look forward to meeting you in person, hopefully at the IAAPA Conference in London.

Jakob Wahl: Same here, Kelly; it was a huge pleasure to talk to you. And if I can, and I don’t want to do a commercial thing here; but I was just trying to explain what IAAPA does. But we want to be there for our members, and also for those who are not members. So, whenever you thought I said something great, or you thought I said something horrible, reach out to me.

Disagree with me on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on wherever; send me an email, and say, “Why did you say that?” An, “Have you ever thought about doing this?” I think we can only serve the industry as good as we know what the industry needs. And this is where I’m always happy for any kind of feedback.

Kelly Molson: What we will do, is put all of Jakob’s contact details. I might not give you his email address, but I’ll put his LinkedIn address in there.

Jakob Wahl: Oh, it’s out there, anyway, for dealing with me.

Kelly Molson: All right. All of his contact details will be in the show notes. You know where to find them. Take him up on that offer, and you’ll have a great conversation if you do. Thanks, Jakob.

Jakob Wahl: Thank you, Kelly. It was a pleasure.


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.

Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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