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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 2, 2018 2 years ago

Hot water

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Volcano Bay execs learn 'be ready for the bad.'
by: Business Observer Staff Writer

Universal's Volcano Bay Water Theme Park at Universal Orlando Resort experienced a lifetime of hurdles — before it opened.

First in the park's series of unfortunate events: slide parts caught fire. Universal ordered more parts, spokeswoman Alyson Lundell says, which delayed the tight construction timetable. Senior director of corporate communications for Universal Orlando Resort, Lundell recently spoke to the Central West Coast chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association about the rocky Volcano Bay opening.

When the Universal team set the opening date — May 25, 2017 — it was chosen in part because Walt Disney World Resort was opening Pandora - The World of Avatar the same week. There was a sense of competitiveness with Disney, Lundell says, and a feeling some reporters wouldn't travel to Orlando twice for spaced out openings. That accelerated the opening and caused further problems. “A competitive spirit is healthy,” she says, in the lessons learned category, “but don't let it cripple you.”

About two months before the park opened, Lundell says her team started crisis planning. At the grand opening, Lundell says the lazy river in the park didn't work, and other parts of the park weren't ready for visitors. It became an all-hands-on-deck situation, with members of the communications team pulling painters' tape off sinks ahead of media walking through the gates.

There was some good news: surrounding the opening, Volcano Bay received 3.3 billion media impressions. But guests, Lundell says, were unkind on TripAdvisor. They blasted the park for the issues.

Lundell says her team didn't shy away from being honest about the problems. And as issues were fixed, the park started to receive more positive reviews on TripAdvisor. That took about a month, which led to another lesson: the importance of preparation. “Even in good times,” Lundell says, “be ready for the bad.”

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