The long, long days of a theme-park executive
Lennard Otto is the chief executive of IMG Worlds of Adventure, Dubai. In his 13 years in the region, the South African has been part of management for Madinat Jumeirah and Wild Wadi, and operations manager for The Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis The Palm and Aquaventure Waterpark.
Mr Otto, 31, was operations director running Abu Dhabi Corniche, before opening and managing Wadi Adventure in Al Ain. Married with two daughters, he joined IMG two years ago. The park, which opened last year, is now adding a multiplex cinema.
I try to wake up before the kids. If the weather is good I sit outside, have coffee and read the news online. Because we’re engaged with businesses in many countries, sometimes there’s a lot happening late at night.
I have breakfast with my daughters, who are four months and two. I’m a creature of habit and have the same every day – Weetabix with hot milk.
I live at The Villa, so it’s a five-minute drive from work. Once I hit the office, the day starts moving fast. I sign documents. There are usually urgent things to be cleared before the park opening; it could be procurement based, contract based, VIPs coming, complimentary service, celebrities or FAM (media) trips.
I have a meeting with the executive team to plan the day. Do we have events, is anyone important coming? Based on online bookings we estimate how many people are coming for the day. About 15 per cent to 20 per cent of tickets are booked online – typically, in this market, it’s about one per cent. When we started we had a big focus on booking online, which alleviates stress on ticketing counters. You have guaranteed business and manage manpower better. We have 28 restaurants, almost 600 F&B employees and 150 people maintaining rides. Last Eid we reached capacity – 20,000 – on several occasions.
I have a meeting with the owners to talk about the day, strategies, what is happening. They conceptualised this park and created brands like The Lost Valley. They’re visionaries when it comes to content and very hands-on. Our numbers have been healthy; hence we’re looking at a second phase adjacent to this –IMG World of Legends – larger than the existing park. We don’t have an opening date yet.
Before people come into the park the characters come to the main entrance. Morning starts with a big show. Everyone wants photos. We’ve had a good winter; although the weather is hot, people still come. From Eid until next Eid – that will be our peak. Once the park opens, I usually go into back-to-back meetings – performance reviews, business reviews, planning initiatives or with potential investors or developers. Lunch isn’t something that happens very often. I live on coffee.
I walk the park at least once a day with either my head of operations, F&B or head of retail to make sure the level of customer service is how it needs to be; the entertainment is high, the energy level high. I’m here seven days a week. I try to join groups to see how they’re reacting.
I grab a bite. Our Chinese restaurant is probably my favourite. We have a chef from Shangri-La in Shanghai. We have special dishes he creates for us– the more chilli the better.
I catch up on paperwork and emails. We have a team of 1,600 people and I’ve almost 200 managers. One of our focuses is to grow the brand outside of the UAE. A lot of investors see theme parks as a great opportunity within their countries, but they might not have the knowledge to run that, or have access to the brands. We’re one of the largest global brand holders for theme parks, so we’ve been in discussions. The model of “indoors” hasn’t been done much globally. This will grow and the brand will grow internationally.
I leave the office. I try to make it for bath time and put the kids to sleep. Sometimes we play tennis, go for walks.
We have dinner. I love steak and enjoy barbecuing. Sometimes I come home and the family is asleep so I barbecue by myself. Spaghetti bolognese is my second favourite. My wife makes the best. Then I lie on the sofa, watching action movies.
One last round of emails before I go to sleep around 1.30am.
The IMG chief executive Lennard Otto works at the theme park seven days a week, starting his day at 6am.