executive impact

A journey into the world of movies

By Chris Betros

March 31 will mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of Universal Studios Japan, one of four Universal Studios theme parks. USJ’s attractions are based on famous movies and fairytales, including “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” Spider-Man,” “Back to the Future,” “Peter Pan,” “Shrek,” Snoopy” and many more.

Japan Today hears more about the theme park from Vernon McGugan, executive officer and general manager of the park operations division.

How long have you worked for USJ?

Twelve great years

How has USJ weathered the recession since 2008? Do you find that people still come to the park but spend less, for example?

While the recession has caused the consumer to be more careful in regard to spending, we see that they are still looking for value for their entertainment money and they continue to spend on items that have an emotional appeal to them.

Are you seeing an increasing number of visitors from China, Taiwan and South Korea?

We have seen some growth over the past year but are hoping for more. We are working with travel agents in these countries to promote our brand. We do have many signs and information in these languages and are continually evaluating the services we provide to them.

How does a theme park like USJ differ from theme parks in other countries?

Japanese guests are very sophisticated in regard to world class entertainment and therefore expect a higher quality product and services. This is a great opportunity for us and we deliver wonderment and imagination to our guests. We have a program called Magical Moments where each of our crew members strives to create lasting memories for the guests of their visit to Universal Studios Japan. This is a unique program to USJ that no other theme park in the world has.

How many new attractions did you open last year and what do you have planned for 2011?

Last year we opened the highly acclaimed Space Fantasy the Ride attraction that has entertained millions of guests already. Next spring we will introduce a new stage show to celebrate our 10th anniversary, called Dreams are Universal. We will also have many happy surprises that our guests will discover throughout the year.

Does the popularity of certain attractions peak when the related movie is released and then drop?

We did see an increased interest in the Spiderman attraction when the latest movie was released.

Which rides or attractions are consistently among the top draws each year?

While each of our attractions and shows has great appeal to our guests, Space Fantasy, Spiderman, Hollywood Dream and Magical Starlight Parade are among the favorites.

What is your strategy for making the theme park more appealing for visitors in future?

Creating wonderment and imagination in every experience, whether it is a new attraction, show, food and merchandise. As I mentioned earlier, we also are creating magical memories with our guests through our crew members.

I understand you are using an access control system equipped with facial recognition technology. Has that worked smoothly?

It has been extremely successful and has made the entrance into the park for our annual pass holders a quick and simple experience.

Is managing crowd numbers, especially on popular days, a big issue?

When we first opened the park, it was a great challenge. Now our team has an immense amount of experience and are able to guide our guests in an easy manner so that we maximize their enjoyment.

Does USJ hire a lot of staff each year?

We hire around 2,000 crew members each year. We do this through job fairs in the Kansai region. We are able to find high quality people that are enthusiastic about working at USJ and who love to interact with our guests.

What sort of people apply for the various jobs?

We mainly recruit part-timers from many walks of life. They could be high school or college students, housewives or retirees.

What is the most enjoyable part about your job?

Creating the wonderment that our guests experience through new attractions, shows, food and merchandise.

How often do you wander through the park, observing the operation?

Probably 3-4 times a week. I enjoy watching the guests have fun and try to see their reactions to our park so we can work on ways to enhance their experience.

Do you ever visit competitors’ theme parks to see what they are doing? Is it a useful exercise?

I do. Usually 4-5 parks a year. I do find that I learn from each of them and try to determine if what they are doing fits the needs of our guests and how we can incorporate these ideas with in our operation and brand.

For more info, visit http://www.usj.co.jp/e/

© Japan Today

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Never liked Universal Studios Japan. Most of the rides are really outdated, being based on movies that are now too old for most young people to recognize.

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There are so many intriguing things about the history of USJ: rumors of bitter name calling during managerial meetings, the difficulty of Osaka public officials in adapting to managing a for-profit theme park, minor scandals involving mis-connected drinking water pipes and the overuse of fireworks, Japanese managers bowing apologetically to visitors while amused foreign managers took pictures, as well as the death of a visitor to the competing Expoland, contributing to its eventual closure.

There is enough here for a chapter of an international management textbook. Vernon McGugan has been around since 2 years before the gate opened and could have likely provided confirmation and detailed insight. Unfortunately, none of these issues were addressed. A missed opportunity.

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It was the crappiest experience of my life.

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You do have to wonder about a theme park that has a big attraction based on Waterworld....

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A hundred times better than disney land, rides are much more fun and fast pass tickets are easier to buy. Been twice want to go again.

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