Episode 188 – Nathan Jones talks about driving the guest experience, giving back and diversity and inclusion

DEI, Entrepreneurship, Guest Experience, Podcast

Nathan Jones is the founder and CEO of eXP Maven, a company that analyzes the extensive data that themed entertainment venues already have to find opportunities to improve their guests’ experiences and become more successful.  Nathan founded eXP Maven in 2020, seeing an opportunity to help the attractions industry do more with less and find opportunities for improvement that are beneficial to both the business and its guests.

Nathan grew up in Vancouver.  When he was a child, he attended the Expo 86, the World’s Fair of 1986 that was held in Vancouver.  There, he experienced the wonders of the themed entertainment industry, including instant classic attractions like Vekoma’s Scream Machine roller coaster.  Inspired by the fair, Nathan learned that he could someday have a career in themed entertainment, and that is exactly what he has succeeded in doing since then.

Nathan’s first true taste of the themed entertainment industry came in 1998 when he joined WhiteWater as a construction manager.  Years later, he would leave WhiteWater as one of its vice presidents in order to join Vekoma, the makers of the inspirational Scream Machine that he had experienced years earlier at Expo 86.  When asked about the differences between the two companies and their attractions, Nathan said that there are more similarities than differences.  Despite focusing on different styles of attractions, waterslides versus roller coasters, WhiteWater and Vekoma both make incredibly high precision attractions that require a delicate balance of different criteria, such as weight distribution and monitoring part tolerances, in order to create rides that delight and thrill amusement park guests.  One unique aspect that Nathan loves about WhiteWater is its involvement throughout the entirety of a new project, from concept and design to manufacturing, delivery, and install.  It was that unique vertical integration aspect that drew Nathan back to WhiteWater to become the president of its water rides division.  Later, he would also go on to join Cavu as its COO.

During 2020, much of the attractions industry was being devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.  During this challenging time, Nathan realized that attractions owners and operators were being forced to make difficult decisions and take a deeper, introspective look at their operations in order to survive.  Businesses were looking for ways to work more efficiently and effectively with what they already had instead of investing in new product offerings.  Nathan realized this was his opportunity to use his skills to create a new company that would help new and existing businesses thrive despite the pandemic.

Nathan founded eXP Maven as a company that would utilize the vast amounts of data that attractions operators already have and look across the different silos of information to find trends and common threads that would lead to recommendations for more efficient operations, additional revenue opportunities, and, most importantly, opportunities to improve the guest experience.  Most data dashboards are backwards-looking and tell you about how you did yesterday, but eXP Maven aims to use data to tell you how you can improve tomorrow.  One simple example involves looking at a company’s historical attendance trends and how they correlate with different weather phenomena, like rain.  If the data shows that 30% fewer guests show up on rainy days, then a rainy weather forecast can inform a need for less staff in order to match the expected attendance.  This is known as dynamic staffing.  Another interesting example involves using hundreds of heat sensors around a park to identify things such as areas where people congregate, how well fans and misters are doing at keeping areas cool, and potentially profitable areas for an ice cream cart. 

A key focus of eXP Maven is its focus on creating the right, comprehensive guest experience.  According to Nathan, the guest experience is not limited to the simple model of waiting in a queue line, riding an attraction, and then exiting through a gift shop.  The true guest experience encompasses all the little details that are sometimes overlooked, such as wayfinding signage or having enough shade to shelter guests on sunny days.  It is often all of these little details, not just the big-ticket attractions, that add up to whether a guest has a magical day or a disappointing one.  One way that eXP Maven alleviates operator problems, such as overcrowding in an area or underutilization of a particular food stall, is by offering guests incentives, such as a discount, to go to a snack kiosk across the park that isn’t very crowded.  These suggestions can be tailored for each guest, creating a convenient, curated, all-inclusive guest experience.

Aside from eXP Maven, Nathan gives back to the themed entertainment industry by moderating educational panels, mentoring new industry professionals, and acting on multiple Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) boards and committees.  One of the newest committees to be formalized, TEA’s Diversity Committee, is committed to increasing the representation of people of color and women within the attractions industry by elevating their voices.  Doing so will help a more diverse subset of the next generation realize that they too can join this exciting industry.

Nathan is more than happy to speak with anyone that reaches out to him on his LinkedIn or through eXP Maven’s website.   

To connect with AttractionPros: attractionpros@gmail.com

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