By Chad Emerson
Related: “A unique theme park among Disney offerings” – Tokyo DisneySea : - story & slideshow / Youth and Arts Programs are part of how Disney gives back: Tim Hill / On Storytelling and the Theme Park Industry: Interview with J. Michael Roddy
Richard Jackson is Director of Sales and Marketing at CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando. Blooloop’s Chad Emerson caught up with Richard to talk about CoCo Key’s expansion plans and his life in the amusement and leisure industry.
Chad Emerson: Share with us how you get started in the amusement and leisure industry, including how your fluency in German helped you?
Richard Jackson: I worked my way through college in the hotel business as a banquet waiter and bartender. After college I worked in a Miami Hotel as a concierge and was then promoted into sales. I saw an ad for someone with hotel and tourism experience who could also speak German. German was my minor in college. I applied and was hired by The Florida Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism in Tallahassee (Now called VISIT FLORIDA). They needed someone who spoke German to help promote Florida internationally as a tourist destination. I attended trade shows and sales missions in Germany and many other countries around the world working with the major tour operators, airlines and travel companies promoting Florida as the ideal vacation destination.
From the Department of Commerce, Division of Tourism I worked at the Sheraton Sand Key in Clearwater Beach Florida handling their Travel Industry sales both domestically and internationally. Following the Sheraton Sand Key, I was the second person hired at Universal Studios in sales and marketing as the Director of Travel Industry Sales. I worked there for 17 years in various positions VP of Corporate Sponsorship, VP of Marketing Operations, V.P. of In Market Sales and VP of International and Domestic Sales. I was recruited by Wyndham Vacation Ownership to serve in two roles as both their VP of Rental Sales and Channel Marketing and VP of Strategic Alliances. After 4 years at Wyndham I started my own consulting business and was hired as the first employee at CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando.
Emerson: You were a key member of the team that developed Destination Universal. What were some of the innovations and “firsts” that the program brought to Central Florida?
Jackson: We created an alliance between Sea World, Universal Studios and Wet n Wild and branded it Destination Universal. This included partner hotels, free transportation to the parks, a multi-park ticket called the Vacation Value Pass (which today is the Orlando Flex Ticket that now includes 6 parks), joint sales and marketing programs and a travel company (Universal Vacations) as a call to action.
Emerson: What are some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had while working in the industry?
Jackson: The Hospitality and Tourism industry is very stimulating, there are many moving parts. No day is the same and you deal in several disciplines: sales, marketing, advertising, promotions, public relations, search engine optimization, yield management, entertainment, operations, client management, food and beverage, finance and a very diverse clientele. It has given me the opportunity to travel the world and work with many cultures. I have worked in many industries from Hotels to Theme Parks, Corporate Alliances, Vacation Ownership, Destination Marketing and my own consulting company. I have built many relationships for years and most of the people I deal with are long term friends and colleagues. Working in this industry for me is truly a labor of love.
Emerson: What about your most challenging experiences?
Jackson: Switching from sales and marketing to operations and being responsible for the profit and loss of a new business. I inherited an unrealistic proforma and trying to make the business profitable was a challenge. I learned a lot.
Emerson: Share with us how and why CoCo Key ended up expanding into Central Florida at a time when many companies are delaying expansion plans?
Jackson: Our experience with other properties indicates that even during the difficult economy over the last couple of years, families are still looking for fun experiences they can have together at reasonable prices. CoCo Key delivers that, particularly in Orlando where there are many high-profile attractions.
This property will attract local visitors, and again our experience has been that during the difficult economy people were more likely to visit drive-to destinations than fly-to destinations.
The financing that CNL Lifestyle Properties was able to make available, and the capital costs associated with this project at this time during the economic cycle, made it very attractive to go ahead with this now.
Emerson: It’s a beautiful day in Central Florida. How would you spend the perfect day at a theme park?
Jackson: Start out with my family and go to Islands of Adventure and ride The Hulk, Spiderman and then the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We would eat lunch at Mythos and then over to Universal Studios to ride the Hollywood Rip Ride Roller Coaster and the Mummy. My children and I love coasters. We would then head to CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort to cool off and enjoy the 14 slides and 4 pools.