This is our conversation with a great professional who has dedicated his entire career to operating water and theme parks. He began his career in Madrid, at Warner Park, and variations in his work led him to form part of the Parques Reunidos organization and participate from the outset in large projects in Vietnam. He currently lives in Dubai and holds the position of Operational Director at the Motiongate Dubai theme park.
Amusement Logic: You have extensive experience in the development, pre-opening and operation of theme and water parks. How does each stage relate to each other?
Fernando Algar Lizana: That’s right, I have been lucky enough to be able to participate in different projects, whether aquatic or themed, in the different opening phases. The opportunity to participate from scratch in the development phase, greatly facilitates both the pre-opening and the daily operations once the park is open.
In the development phase it is essential that construction companies, civil engineering companies, theming companies and ride manufacturers, as well as the park owner themself, are involved with the operational team that will work once the park is open. The operations team can decide on key factors, which in some cases become a great control of future costs in daily operations.
A.L.: Your career began in the operations department of Warner Park in Madrid. How did you evolve to become an operations expert?
F.A.L. Yes, my career in the industry began when I was only 18 years old. I entered the Operations department of Warner Park in Madrid as an Admissions Operator (as a temporary job). I started at the park’s ticket offices and little by little I got the chance to grow and train within the Operations Department. A few years later, I had the opportunity to train and get certified in attractions, which allowed me to develop and get to better know the Operations Department. After a few years, I was able to advance internally in the department by taking on the position of Operations Specialist, where I could supervise both areas, Admissions and Attractions.
Later, the opportunity arose to continue progressing outside Warner Park, working as Operations Project Manager on the new projects where Parques Reunidos was an operator outside Spain, in the Middle East (Dubai) and in South East Asia (Vietnam).
A.L.: You worked at Parques Reunidos for 14 years and were part of the opening team of the Sun World Halong Complex in Vietnam. What was this experience like?
F.A.L.: I was able to form part of the team for new projects outside Parques Reunidos, which as you said, allowed me to be involved in the opening team for SunWorld Halong Complex. Located in the mythical and spectacular Ha Long Bay, consisting of a water park and a theme park, I worked for 8 months on the opening of both. I think I can confirm that that time was one of the best experiences of my life, not only because of the country (landscapes, food, its people…), but also because of the team I belonged to. A group of about 9 Spanish expats who became family during that period. Really, the experience was hard, there were 12-hour working days, with only a couple of days off in more than 3 months. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.
A.L.: What are the differences between operating a theme park and a water park?
F.A.L.: Generally speaking they are very similar, areas such as Admissions, or Gardening and Cleaning, are practically alike. But in the case of water parks, the fundamental difference is the Lifesaving / First aid personnel. This staff must be trained for a multitude of scenarios or accidents. To serve as an example, in a theme park the ratio of accidents/injuries is 1 per 1000 visitors, whilst in a water park it is 1 per 100. This is very easy to explain: in an amusement park, the visitor is secured at all times to a vehicle or mechanical gondola, which we control at all times. However, in a water park the “vehicle” is the visitor themself, the risk factor being higher. For this reason, the safety planning and training of the personnel of a water park is much greater.
A.L.: In Hanoi and Hon Thom Island, also in Vietnam, you worked on the development of a water park and two theme parks. It must have been very intense work, how did it go?
F.A.L.: I was lucky enough to participate in the development phase of several projects that Sun World had in Vietnam. I worked during a very early phase of the project, in which we analysed visitors and different offers based on visitor targets or operational needs. We also reviewed the choice of attractions, trying to cover as much of the target visitors as possible in each of the parks.
Fortunately, one of the parks in which I had the opportunity to participate was Aquatopia Water Park, which has already opened its doors and received the award for best water park in Asia 2020 at the World Travel Awards.
A.L.: How did you go from Parques Reunidos to Dubai Parks and Resorts?
F.A.L.: Actually, although my residence is in Dubai and I work for Dubai Parks and Resorts, I am still part of the Parques Reunidos group, as it is a management contract. In 2017, after my experience in the opening of Vietnam, the then COO (Chief Operating Officer), called me for a meeting at the Parques Reunidos headquarters (in Madrid), and proposed that I come to Dubai. The initial plan was to come as an opening support, with an estimated duration of about 3 months, to help the new management integrate into Motiongate Dubai and Bollywood Parks Dubai the policies and values of the Parques Reunidos group. Three years have now passed and, for the moment, I am very comfortable working and living in Dubai, and with the opportunity to continue to grow within the company.
A.L.: You currently hold the position of Operations Manager at Motiongate Dubai, what does your job involve?
F.A.L.: It consists of the general supervision of the entire operations department, which includes the park’s Attractions, Admissions and Services areas. From the preparation and control of the department’s annual budgets, the management of personnel, reviewing new projects, preparing reports, as well as ensuring that all the safety and service standards and procedures of Parques Reunidos are met.
Actually, all the work is much easier when you have a very good team and I have a team that is really AMAZING!
A.L.: Motiongate is a theme park that is very much linked to intellectual property (IP). What does IP bring to a theme park?
F.A.L.: That’s right, Motiongate is a park that is totally linked to IPs. In our case, we work with four different film studios: Columbia Pictures, Smurfs, Lionsgate and Dreamworks.
I believe this question would be better answered by a marketing or entertainment partner, but what IP brings is the possibility of having well-known characters and brands that promote the park’s appeal. I have to admit that working with an IP sometimes complicates the processes as well, as its managers have to protect the brand and its image.
A.L.: You have worked in Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, what are the main differences between these markets?
F.A.L.: There are no major differences when managing a park in Europe, South East Asia or the Middle East. It’s true that each country has its own regulations and standards, and even totally different cultures. For example, in Europe or South East Asia, the staff we hire is very local, that is to say, we do not have multicultural teams. However, in Motiongate Dubai we can have a staff from over 52 different nationalities.
Besides, both a park in Vietnam and a park in Spain have the same purpose: to make our visitors enjoy themselves with a safe and fun service.
A.L.: How do you see the future of theme parks and water parks and do you think they will be affected in the long term by covid-19?
F.A.L.: I really think (and hope) that this atypical situation due to COVID-19, which is affecting our sector worldwide, will be something specific. Although many health and safety protocols have been established, our sector has been one of the most affected during the pandemic. But it will be one that recovers the easiest. It is true that after a health crisis like this, there is always an associated economic crisis, and that will directly affect our businesses. After all, one of the lines of expenditure in a family economy, which is really easy to eliminate and which we be done without, is leisure and entertainment. But once this whole situation is just a “bad dream”, our visitors will want to return to enjoy their free time safely, together with family or friends, in all our leisure facilities, such as theme parks, water parks or zoos.