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.
Theme park managers may also be known as guest experience managers, rides and operations managers or attractions managers.
As a theme park manager, you'll need to:
- plan and implement strategies to achieve constant improvements in visitor and employee satisfaction
- keep abreast of developments in the industry, both internal and external, such as changes in legislation
- oversee the effective application of health and safety regulations and risk assessment to ensure a safe environment for park employees and the public
- set budgetary and financial 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
- 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 data from the Hospitality Guild. 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.
Most 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
- The job may be stressful as you'll under pressure 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'll be accountable for financial performance and the safety of employees and the public, tasked with maximising profit without compromising safety.
- Most theme parks are located in the countryside or near seaside resorts and can be found throughout the UK and Europe. In many areas of Europe, particularly new or expanding tourist destinations, new theme parks are being developed, especially water parks. Safety regulations vary between countries, so some retraining is needed for work abroad.
- Many UK, European and international parks are corporately owned, often by groups with a chain of parks or facilities, including hotels.
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
A postgraduate qualification in leisure and recreation management, marketing, financial management, human resource management or business may improve your chances, although most employers stress the importance of practical work experience over academic qualifications.
You'll need to show evidence of the following:
- flexibility in order to cope with the varied demands of the work and the constant need for innovation
- the ability to motivate staff
- sound business acumen
- leadership skills and the ability to delegate
- sound judgement
- commercial initiative
- excellent communication, time management, planning and organisational skills
- marketing skills
- energy and resilience
- a high degree of 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 it might be possible to train for a first aid qualification once in the job.
Gaining customer service experience in theme parks or a related area is crucial. Management experience, preferably within the leisure industry, is also looked for by employers. Without it, you'll usually need to start in non-management or assistant/departmental management posts and work your way up.
Learn as much as you can about the industry and 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.
Some international parks also offer summer placement schemes specifically for undergraduates. This may involve two to three-month or sandwich placements, offering the opportunity to gain invaluable experience and make contacts in the industry.
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 Group Ltd, which runs a two-year graduate management programme known as Accelerate. The group owns and manages numerous attractions in the UK and overseas, including:
- Alton Towers
- Chessington World of Adventures
- the Dungeons
- Legoland parks
- the London Eye
- Madame Tussauds
- Sea Life Centres
- Thorpe Park.
The tourism market can be dependent on the general economic situation. There has been considerable growth and expansion in the leisure industry in the past few years, and an increasing trend for 'staycation' holidays may mean that it continues to offer a positive outlook for employment.
Considerable diversity and competition exist in the industry and there is a constant need for innovation and novelty to ensure that visitor levels are maintained and increased. Parks are increasingly offering themed experiences, where rides form only part of a visit and other attractions include visitor centres, museums and zoos and sometimes guest accommodation.
Look for job vacancies at:
- British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions (BALPPA)
- Hospitality Guild
- Leisure Management
- Leisure Opportunities
You can also check individual theme park websites.
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. Some larger parks also offer their own management development programmes and can provide assistance with further study and continuing professional development (CPD). 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 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) promote the interests of the industry throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.
The Confederation of Tourism & Hospitality (CTH) in partnership with the Institute of Hospitality, delivers a Level 4 Diploma in Tourism Management.
Promotion to middle and senior management is dependent upon your ability and, frequently, your geographical mobility.
Internal progression can be fast if you work in a large theme park. Larger parks often have a team of managers with responsibility for different areas, such as human resources, accommodation and hotels, ride development, 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.