Amusement Park Productivity

Thursday, October 20, 2005 1:51 AM
A few weeks ago, when I was at Cedar Point, I decided that I wanted to do a little investigating of a typical amusement park’s productivity. I’m a manager of a full service restaurant (casual dining), and our business is mostly determined by GCA (Guest Check Averages), GPH (Guests per Hour), and Labor Costs. Sure quality of food and service are a major factor on the business, but when it comes to writing our budget, those are what we use the most. I would like this think that amusement parks, being a service industry use the same methods of figuring spending and scheduling.

I took a roller coaster completely random choice, Mantis, and made it in my personal restaurant scenario. I took the number off the turnstile three times, first hour was 643 guests, and second hour was 516, for an average of 580 per hour, a little off from the manufacture’s estimate. This was a busy day, so it seems to me that it would be about the same from hour to hour any given day during the summer.

On this day, I saw 8 people working on the ride; I’m going to guess that their typical wage is roughly $10 per hour. Once I saw an estimate, I can’t remember where, that normally about 30% of all guests in a park are season pass holders, therefore pay nothing to get into the park. Sure, they have to pay their $130 to get their pass, but I’m sure they got plenty of admissions out of their passes, so in my case study, they count as 0. I’m guessing that after discounts, and such, the typical price of an entry ticket is $30 at Cedar Point. So let’s take those 580 guests, chop off those season pass holders, which gives us 406 paying customers, which gives us a total of $12,180 in ticket sales. So we now have our GCA, of $21.00.

Our GCA in this case study really doesn’t have any effect; it’s just the basis of the scenario. So with our $12,180 for one hour of ticket sales, we can say that our labor for Mantis is about .07%, now that’s some great labor costs! In my restaurant, I like to see a labor of no more then 22.5%. So needless to say, I’m impressed.

Now let’s figure out our GPH. We have 580 guests on an hourly basis walking through the doors, and we have 8 hours of labor being spent. So we have a CPH of 72.5, that’s crazy high, anything higher would be a Xerox machine. In my restaurant, I like to see a CPH of 3.8, and that’s on a good day. Normally, our CPH is only a 3.2.

So, as we can see, an amusement park is very productive. But here’s my predicament of how they can do that. In my restaurant, we have 138 seats, with a normal turn time of 50 minutes, thus a normal hourly turnover of 166 guests per hour, however being not every party will have the maximum people per seat at a table, so our normal hourly guests is around 81. Nowhere near the turnover of an amusement park, just humor my comparison. We normally have 16+2 labor hours (hourly employees+management) giving us a CPH of 4.5 for peak hours. That is a pretty high productivity for the service industry, anything over that would raise a “not enough coverage” alert.

My questions:
Do amusement parks worry about productivity, and if they have enough employees on the clock to take care of their guests? Do they need to watch their labor costs as close as most other service establishments, and if so, do they jeopardize their coverage to reach their goals?

This may be a stupid “case study” but it’s something that I’m very much interested in, anyone have any light to shed on this matter?

Thursday, October 20, 2005 2:29 AM
Interesting and well thought out analysis.

In my experience, at least in terms of ride operations, hourly counts of capacity are probably one of the most common figures that is looked at.

Parks do calculate the number of rides taken on a particular ride divided by the number of guests in the park (giving a percentage of guests that went on that ride during a given day).

Financially, the per capita spending of each guest is a major concern.

I'd say that turnstile counts per hour are the main analysis for productivity in a theme park, but I'm sure they could do any sort of calculation that might go deeper into productivity issues.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 9:33 AM
Interesting, Da.
Given your thoroughness you probably considered the following, but your labor cost percentage calculation is based on the assumption that Mantis is the only thing that those customers did during that hour. If they ride 2 rides your labor cost per hour per guest would double, 3 rides triple etc etc. Add in the cost of support labor just to have the park open (Ticket sales, janitors, security, etc etc) and you can see that the amount of labor to support every guest is still high.

You can also see why many parks don't run more than one train op when the crowds don't support it.

And your statement that GCA doesn't really have any effect is way off. As CFMatt says, Amusement parks call it per cap and it's what many parks live and die by. When I worked as a Caricature artist at PKD the managers got hourly weather, attendance, and per cap reports on their radios.

As for whether parks worry about productivity and the too many workers/not enough guests too few workers/too many guests balance, the answer is absolutely. When Pressler was at Disney he was absolutely obsessed with it, of course in his case it was always how few people can we schedule and not get too many complaints from anyone besides Annual Pass holders. Most parks have a more holistic view and realize that understaffing for the sake of saving a penny hurts in the long run, so they work hard to find a balance that probably leans a little towards the overstaffed side.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 9:35 AM
Well-run parks measure all kinds of statistics and push that back into operational analysis. They keep track of how many cycles the ride makes, how many people actually ride on those cycles, and not just the per-caps of how much people spend when they visit the park, but the individualized per-caps of every item in the park sold. Well, maybe not every item, but certainly every class of item. You can calculate how long the average customer stays in the park, how much he spends, how many rides he takes, what he pays to get in...then there are the season pass holders, where you know how often they visit, and thanks to discount programs, you also know what they like to eat, what they like to buy, and how many years they have been passholders. If they are smart, they know how long the lines are and how quickly the lines move, and they know exactly how the line movement impacts customer satisfaction.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 10:17 AM
Well, you used Cedar Point as an example, and I can tell you that they measure and budget virtually everything. Based on years of history, they know that on average they can expect a certain number of people through the gate and the average price that they paid to get in. Because they're fanatic about having every ride open, that's part of the cost right there. Beyond that, stores and eateries are staffed based on what they believe they'll sell. Most of the time they get it right, but on freakishly busy nights like last Friday, they may get it wrong and need to adjust for next year.

The funny thing is that on the surface, an amusement park may appear as a high-margin business. It's also very capital intensive though, and you have to constantly improve the park to keep it interesting.

Thursday, October 20, 2005 10:47 AM
$10 per hour? That is not the Cedar Point I know. I think that average might be a bit high. Otherwise, very interesting analysis.
Thursday, October 20, 2005 12:01 PM
And here we worried all those years that Big Brother was watching us, when in reality it was Mr. Six, Scooby-Doo, Snoopy, and a big Hershey Kiss.
Thursday, October 20, 2005 12:05 PM
One of my favorite amusement park financial rules I have ever herd, and from a family park owner....

"If we need it, we buy it, if we don't need it, we don't buy it, and at the end of the season, we count all of the money..."

Simple, and it works. Statistics are great, and perhaps have a place at some level of park operations, but I think that some of the operators I speak with confuse running a park with running IBM. It really is not rocket science and it seems that some operators sometimes get too caught up in numbers and try to run the park from their computers.

Give me old school, manage from the deck, walking around (MBWA) to manage the park any day...that's what it is all about to me... Walk around Geauga for a few hours and I will bet you will run into Spehn at least 3 times.... I was at CP last Saturday and saw Kinzel 2 twice. How many times do you ever see K. Burke? Or even know what he looks like? The Cedar Fair parks seem to balance this quite well. *** Edited 10/20/2005 4:10:42 PM UTC by Hanging n' Banging***

Thursday, October 20, 2005 12:34 PM
Waiting to count the money is an irresponsible way to do thing. If I lived by that rule in my personal finances, I'd be bankrupt by now.
Thursday, October 20, 2005 1:31 PM
You might not think that rollercoaster productivity will effect park revenues since admission has already been collected, but it does!

If you have people waiting in line, then you have people not spending money in the park. Also, people waiting in line will leave with a negative impression of the ride productivity and consider that for future trips.

Kinda reminds me of the SFMM trip report I read earlier where lines for all major rides were consistently 1-4hrs wait time. That definitly influences my personal decision to visit a park if I feel that my money spent will go towards waiting in line.

Line:The Ride is not worth a $50 admission price!!

Thursday, October 20, 2005 3:37 PM

Give me old school, manage from the deck, walking around (MBWA) to manage the park any day...

at SFDL, in food service anyway, all my managers are walking around all the time, until about 530ish when they have a meeting, but sometimes later. the director, mr. botecelli, food ops manager mike senko, and on down, are always out there. i think its pretty cool to work for such a big place and the boss knows ur name, not just from ur nametag. he knows who does well and who does bad, so in my opinion, its the only way to do it!

Thursday, October 20, 2005 4:51 PM
Measuring outcomes and hands-on management are NOT mutually exclusive.
Thursday, October 20, 2005 7:31 PM
Remember that the cost of a ride attendant is far more than the wages. There are overheads for supervision, accounting, personnel, etc. There's FICA, workmans comp, and any other insurances to be paid. There are costs for costumes and facilities. I don't know what's typical for total cost in the amusement industry, but I would guess it's probably twice the wages.

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