For more than a year, Marc Swanson ran SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment as its interim CEO. Last month, "interim" was dropped from his title, and he has since wasted no time moving forward with his vision for new attractions, better technology and, perhaps, branded hotels.
Swanson's history with the company goes back more than 20 years, to when he was hired as an internal auditor and the company was owned by Anheuser-Busch. From there, he moved to Sesame Place, the company's theme park just north of Philadelphia.
"One of the things I think that has really helped me in my career was, at that park, there were days we might be short-staffed," Swanson said. "You would find me making chicken fingers or lifeguarding or working at the front gate. I have, I think, a fair understanding of how our parks operate, the challenges of running a park."
In 2008, he moved to Orlando when the company relocated its theme park division headquarters there, working his way up to chief accounting officer, then CFO and now, CEO.
His vision for how to improve the company's performance widened during the pandemic and includes pricing and product strategies, marketing more efficiently and capital project initiatives. He wants to see new rides and attractions in the parks each year.
"Having gone through [the pandemic], we got a lot more creative, more nimble."
SeaWorld embraced special events earlier in the pandemic than many of its peers, Swanson said, finding ways to hold Halloween and Christmas events safely.
Viewing a flamboyance of flamingoes at SeaWorld San Diego. Photo Credit: Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Swanson looks to the future from both the guest's point of view and the business side. For guests, Swanson wants to upgrade and modernize SeaWorld's 12 parks. More special events are on tap.
On the business side, he wants to eliminate waste, find efficiencies and improve technology, including an updated mobile app that will support a better guest experience, he said. "Right now, we're on the verge of beta testing and, hopefully, will roll it out later this year."
SeaWorld is also in the early stages of investing in a customer relationship management system to forge deeper connections with guests and better position offers, promotions and events.
To expand its footprint, Swanson said the company is partnering with Miral, the company developing the leisure destination Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, to open SeaWorld Abu Dhabi. It is looking to develop other parks, as well; a Sesame Place San Diego is opening next year.
SeaWorld is one of the few park companies that does not own hotels, but that may change. "Nothing specific to announce, but I think this is an area we find exciting; there are some pretty cool hotel concepts we think we could do, so that might be another pillar," he said.
To travel advisors specifically, Swanson said his message is that SeaWorld has a collection of parks that have something for everyone, from thrill rides to children's attractions to animal exhibits geared toward education. That is key for agencies, he said: the company has a place to send clients, from the smallest child to their grandparents.
Swanson said he has fond memories of visiting theme parks as a child, and to this day he feels good when he visits SeaWorld's parks.
"For me, it's a fun place to have a career," he said. "It's something you can feel good about, working for and providing a great experience for so many guests."