Theme park managers provide a positive, enjoyable experience for customers, while meeting business aims and maintaining safety standards
As a theme park manager you'll be responsible for every aspect of day-to-day operations, including key functions such as:
- managing customer experience
- strategic planning and development
- monitoring health and safety
- overseeing the park's finances
- staff management.
You'll propose and implement strategies to constantly improve customer satisfaction and park development. Additionally, you may also oversee or take sole responsibility for the marketing of the park in order to generate business. You'll be involved in all areas of the park, including rides, retail and food and beverages.
Job titles vary and may include guest experience manager, rides and operations manager or attractions manager.
As a theme park manager, you'll need to:
- ensure all parts of the park are operating effectively in terms of staff and equipment
- oversee the effective application of health and safety regulations and risk assessment to ensure a safe environment for park employees and the public
- plan and implement strategies to achieve continual improvements in visitor and employee satisfaction
- create new events and experiences for visitors
- set budgetary and cost control strategies
- project manage general park developments, including ride design
- liaise with contractors, e.g. for the installation and integration of facilities
- deal with human resources and personnel
- build effective staff teams, through performance management, training and development
- keep abreast of developments in the industry, both internal and external, such as changes in legislation
- understand local community issues and build relationships with local government and external partners
- maintain a critical oversight of marketing functions
- monitor competition.
- Few graduates start in management roles, with most entering at a lower level. As an operations manager, you can expect to achieve a starting salary of around £17,000 to £22,000.
- With experience, and once in a general management role, salaries are in the region of £22,000 to £40,000. This is dependent on the size of the park and location.
Small, family-owned theme parks may offer lower salaries than larger, corporately-owned parks. Larger parks may offer additional benefits, such as health insurance, a pension scheme and discounted/free passes to parks.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Your hours of work will regularly include unsocial hours. During opening times, working hours are usually flexible and will include evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Many parks tend to be open from Easter until October/November and then close for a period during the winter for maintenance work and the installation of new rides and attractions.
What to expect
- Most theme parks are located in the countryside or near seaside resorts and can be found throughout the UK, Europe and America. Safety regulations vary between countries.
- Many UK, European and international parks are corporately owned, often by groups with a chain of parks or facilities, including hotels.
- You'll be accountable for financial performance and the safety of employees and the public, tasked with maximising profit without compromising safety.
- The job may be challenging as you'll be working in a busy, noisy, fast-moving and highly competitive environment. You'll have to ensure that the park is attracting sufficient numbers and achieve consistently high standards of customer service and safety. Tight project management deadlines are a regular feature.
You don't need a degree or HND to become a theme park manager but a qualification in any of the following subjects may be useful:
- facilities management
- hotel and catering or hospitality management
- leisure, travel or tourism management
Staffordshire University offers a two-year Visitor Attraction and Resort Management foundation degree taught in partnership with Alton Towers Resort.
Some of the large leisure groups offer graduate management or trainee manager programmes. Merlin Entertainments, for example, runs a two-year business management programme known as ACCELERATE. During the programme, you'll undertake a range of commercial, operational and strategic placements across all areas of the business.
Merlin entertainments also offers apprenticeships, including one in management.
A postgraduate qualification in leisure and recreation management, marketing, financial management, human resource management or business may improve your chances, although most employers look for practical work experience over academic qualifications.
You'll need to have:
- excellent communication skills in order to motivate and support a team of staff
- excellent time management, planning and organisational skills
- sound business and commercial acumen
- leadership skills and the ability to delegate
- good judgement
- energy and resilience
- marketing skills
- flexibility in order to cope with the varied demands of the work and the constant need for innovation
- technical competence and computer literacy - this may be required, as many of the rides are controlled by sophisticated computer programs.
Knowledge of engineering will come in useful, and some roles may ask for a first aid qualification.
It's vital that you get some customer service experience in theme parks and resorts or a related area. Work experience in the leisure sector may be particularly useful. Apply for seasonal work, either speculatively or through advertised positions. Short-term seasonal contracts can lead to permanent positions and will give you vital experience and contacts.
Employers also look for team leader and management experience in a fast-pasted, customer-facing role. Without it, you'll usually need to start in a non-management or assistant/departmental management post and work your way up.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The commercial or private sector is made up of some very large operators, as well as a large number of smaller companies.
One of the world's largest leisure groups is Merlin Entertainments, which owns and manages numerous LEGOLAND parks and theme park resorts in the UK and overseas. These include:
- Alton Towers
- Chessington World of Adventures
- Gardaland (Italy)
- Heide Park (Germany)
- Thorpe Park
- Warwick Castle.
They also manage many other attractions such as the Dungeons, the London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Sea Life Centres. They have graduate opportunities in various business functions, including running your own attraction.
Parks are increasingly offering themed experiences, where rides form only part of a visit and other attractions include visitor centres, museums, farm parks and zoos, live shows, and sometimes guest accommodation in themed lodges, hotels and camp sites.
Look for job vacancies at:
- British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions (BALPPA)
- Leisure Management
- Leisure Opportunities
- websites of individual theme parks and resorts.
When entering theme park management, you can expect to be trained in the Fairground and Amusement Parks: Guidance on Safe Practice, issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Further health and safety training will normally be provided to ensure that a legal standard for all visitors, contractors and staff is maintained.
Companies usually provide training in general management techniques and customer care across all areas of the park. If you're on a graduate training programme, you will typically rotate through a range of work placements. Once in post, learning curves are often steep and fast-paced.
Managers involved in the design, installation, operation and integration of new rides may be given technological training. Training in crisis management and dealing with the media may also be provided.
Training in skills such as planning, business and financial management and marketing and human resources management may also be available.
Organisations such as BALPPA (UK parks and attractions) and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) promote the interests of the industry throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.
Promotion to middle and senior management is dependent upon your ability. Internal progression can be fast if you work in a large theme park or for a leisure group with multiple parks and attractions. You may need to be geographically flexible in order to make the most of opportunities to progress your career.
Larger parks and resorts often have a team of managers with responsibility for different areas, such as human resources, accommodation and hotels, ride development, food and beverage, technical operations and retail. Sometimes, it's possible to start by specialising and then move into a more general management role.
If you work for a company that owns several attractions and theme parks you may be able to relocate, within the UK or overseas, and further your career development at another location within the organisation.
In a smaller park, you may face a fairly flat management structure, which may mean having to make a couple of sideways moves to broaden your experience.
Some consultancy opportunities exist in areas such as ride development or certification. You could also later transfer to management roles in other areas of hospitality and tourism.