Episode 332: Steve Thomas talks about lessons from the oil field, guest centricity, and no paper signs

Guest Experience, Leadership, Podcast

Steve Thomas is the General Manager at Belmont Park in San Diego, CA.  Steve’s background includes working in oil fields in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico until he decided to move back to his hometown of San Diego in 2017.  At that time, Belmont Park had recently been acquired by a real estate developer who had a new vision for the park, which was falling into disrepair.  After identifying the challenges needed to make necessary improvements, he took on the role of Maintenance Manager and immediately implemented enhancements.  Not long after, he approached the park’s ownership with the interest of becoming General Manager.  Since becoming GM in 2018, Steve’s main focus has been on unification, which included acquiring all of the concessions operators on the property and bringing them all under one roof.  In this interview, Steve talks about lessons from the oil field, guest centricity, and no paper signs.

Lessons from the oil field

“Don’t be bitter about spending a little more time in a role. Have patience.”

Steve became a Floorhand for a drilling company after finding them at a recruiting event and learned the job from the lowest position in the ranks.  After being passed up for a promotion to Driller a year later, Steve was initially disappointed, but he took the next seven to eight months to fully prepare himself for the role.  When he got it, his proficiency was even higher than those who had been drilling for years.  Steve stresses that patience pays off when it comes to growing in your career.

As a Driller, Steve says he gained valuable leadership lessons that translated into his role today at Belmont Park.  When he was promoted to Driller, he found that he was doing the majority of the work because he could get it done better and quicker than anyone else, until he realized that this was the wrong approach.  Instead, when he began learning more about what his team member’s best skill sets were, coaching, and operating as a team, their productivity went up substantially.

Guest centricity

“Everything that we do is with the guest in mind.”

Because of the number of businesses that operated at Belmont Park, Steve said that walking into the park felt more like walking into a strip mall than an amusement park.  When your ticket allows you certain attractions but not others, employees are wearing different uniforms, and information is difficult to find, it creates a confusing experience that Steve described as fragmented and broken.  By working to acquire all of the concessionaires, not only was it a good business decision, it made for a much smoother guest experience.

When describing his guest experience philosophy, Steve says that his focus is to ask, “What is that extra thing?” at every touchpoint in the park.  From purchasing tickets to dining in the restaurants, Steve describes the concept of guest centricity of exceeding expectations and that everything that the park does is with the guest in mind.

No paper signs

“There’s a lack of care for the guest when there’s a crooked paper sign taped to a window.”

When comparing Belmont Park to Disneyland, Steve stresses that they can’t compete on the size of the park or the number of rides, but they can compete on guest experience.  And part of the guest experience strategy is that there are no paper signs in the parks due to the lack of care that it shows to the guest.

The standard of no paper signs is literal, but also represents the overarching standard.  To be considered world-class, you can’t have paper signs taped to a window.  This same standard extends into never walking past a piece of trash without picking it up, which helps to align Belmont Park’s definition of world-class.


Having opened in 1925, Belmont Park will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2025.  While the plans are still coming together at the time of this interview, Steve is excited to be a part of the centennial celebration and is excited to rally the team and acknowledge this historic milestone.

To learn more about Belmont Park, visit the park’s website and follow the park on Instagram.  To connect with Steve directly, he can be reached at steve@belmontpark.com.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the incredible work of our faaaaaantastic team:

  • Scheduling and correspondence by Kristen Karaliunas
  • Audio and video editing by Abby Giganan

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