Gateway Ticketing Systems’ industry webinars inform, support

Regular series offers interactive forum on crisis management

ATDean Lamanna

GILBERTSVILLE, Pa. — During the second week of March, when Randy Josselyn, Matthew Hoenstine and other team members of the global ticketing software solutions company Gateway Ticketing Systems, Inc., attended a gathering of industry professionals in Los Angeles hosted by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the business of fun and the American way of life were on the cusp of capsizing.

On March 11, the first day of the three-day summit, the World Health Organization officially declared the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19 — then already rampaging through Asia and Europe — a pandemic. Two days later, President Donald J. Trump announced a national emergency as the outbreak emerged in the U.S.

Within seven days, California and its many parks and attractions would be on lockdown, and other cities and regions around the nation would soon follow suit.

“I’d say that was the week where I really felt that the world changed,” said Josselyn, principal, wildlife and conservation, at Gateway.

Josselyn and Hoenstine, principal, destinations, at Gateway, told Amusement Today that, while they were not expecting a shutdown of the U.S. economy, they were not completely caught off-guard by the news that broke during the IAAPA conference. Since earlier this past winter, they had been monitoring the outbreak’s overseas impacts through their company’s international client base.

“Because parks in Asia had already begun to shutter, we had started to understand what their needs were,” Hoenstine said. “Being onsite with attractions in California that week enabled us to help them with some things that they would need to wrap up to effect a closure.”

By the second evening of the Los Angeles event, the Gateway team was powwowing urgently on a more formal and focused plan to communicate what it had already learned from its foreign customers to other attraction operators comprising its clientele. “We have an amazing community of customers, and we knew we needed to talk to them as soon as possible” about how they could continue to deliver the best guest experience, Josselyn said. A webinar was the agreed-upon format. “That was a Thursday evening, and we were set to return home Friday. And we said, ‘Next Wednesday! Let’s do it.’”

Gateway’s Webinar Wednesdays series was launched March 18 with “Galaxy Best Practices During a Time of Crisis,” named for Gateway’s highly integrative Galaxy software. Cohosted by Josselyn and Hoenstine, who represent a combined 45 years of attractions experience (including admissions system management for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and Universal Orlando Resort, respectively), each typically 90-minute episode, streamed online via the Webex Events platform, features industry experts, helpful charts and graphs, and a Q&A-enabled audience that was averaging 420 attendees as of early June. The series ran weekly through May, then went biweekly as attractions began reopening.

“Our customers were really receptive to this opportunity to gather and talk and listen and share,” Josselyn said. “The day after our first webinar, it was logical for us to say, ‘Let’s really open this up to everybody.’”

Added Hoenstine: “We wanted to use all of our learnings and make sure everyone in the industry had all the tools they might need, because a pandemic is nothing that anybody ever plans for or expects. We just realized, ‘Hey, there is this need and we’ve got ways to help.’”

In addition to providing key takeaways for attractions operators (see sidebar) from seasoned panelists — the diverse guest roster has included Kevin Kopeny of Universal Studios Hollywood operations, park operations executive Alan Mahony of Atlantis Sanya water park and marine life-themed resort in China, and industry experts Matt Heller and Josh Liebman of the podcast AttractionsPros — the webinars have served an important moral support function at a singularly debilitating time for the business.

“I wouldn’t say that was intentional, but it’s authentic because it’s kind of who we are,” Josselyn said. “Matthew and I love this industry and the people that are working in it, and we love sharing. When you have a strong passion for this industry, the emotions are going to surface. And whether you’re a friend of ours in the United States or Canada or Asia or Europe — whether you’re using our ticketing software or not — we’re all in this together.”

“Randy and I have sat in the seats that people participating in the webinar have sat in,” Hoenstine said. “We have been yelled at by park guests, we have had joyous moments with employees of accomplishing certain things. So the focus of the webinar concept, as in our day-to-day business, became, ‘What would I need if I’m out there struggling right now, especially with something I haven’t dealt with before?’”

Topics have run the gamut, with episodes dedicated to strategizing reopening, transitioning to a capacity-managed attraction, generating revenue outside the box, managing pass updates, analyzing recent industry consumer surveys and more.

The April 29 webinar, “Recreating Trust with Your Guests & Retraining Your Team,” featuring panelists from Attraction Pros and Zoo Miami in addition to Gateway’s own business solutions manager, Kelly Bules, resonated strongly with Hoenstine. “Those are the only things that are going to make us successful coming out of this,” he said. “If we can’t effectively communicate, if we can’t demonstrate how we are a safe place to be, I don’t know how we get the industry back. We have such a great history when it comes to safety and doing all the right things. This is a real inflection point for us to make sure that we double down on that and get that word out.”

Topic choices have been based on the hosts’ instincts and pooled news research, as well as questions typed in during each episode by registered attendees (fielded and organized by a behind-the-scenes crew) and the conversational direction by the end of a given episode.

“Matthew and I have a good feel for what we’d want to hear about,” Josselyn said. “We usually propose a couple ideas: ‘I think next week should be this, and then let’s do this the following week.’ So maybe there’s some kind of rhythm. That’s kind of how it got started. And then, going forward, as we kind of had an idea of what may be a good fit the next week, we asked or polled people during the webinar and listened to them.”

One of the hosts spends some time with each panelist in advance for a casual work-through of the proposed topic.

“Those discussions ultimately turn into the webinar,” Hoenstine said. “But we really don’t put the panelists together for a dry run. On the day of the webinar, the conversation is genuine — it’s happening in that moment. And we’re very dynamic, making decisions on the fly about what we need to drill into more as we get questions from the attendees and then pivoting based on the needs of the community.”

Both hosts believe in the industry’s resilience, which, reminded Josselyn, is founded on innovation. “The marketing message is, ‘Hey, we get it. Things are different. But look how we’re going to do it,’ he said, noting enthusiastic and informative reopening approaches deployed by Europa-Park in Germany and Efteling in the Netherlands. “I love the creative spirit of our industry and that we’re going to be a place of joy and happiness for all these families that are going through some tough times.”

“The industry is going to survive because we deliver unique experiences that you cannot get in any other way,” said Hoenstine. “People want the opportunity to socialize; they want to be around their family and friends. Attractions give us the ability to be together in an environment that brings joy and happiness.”

For upcoming webinars, attendee registration and viewing previously recorded webinars, plus Gateway’s line of COVID-19 operational support products, visit the company online.


This article appears in the JULY 2020 issue of Amusement Today.
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