The evolving relationship of leisure and retail, with Yael Coifman

In today’s Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Yael Coifman, Co-Founder and Senior Partner of Leisure Development Partners.

We discuss the impact of COVID on the leisure and attractions sector, the fusion of leisure and retail space that will be accelerated by the pandemic, and we also talk a little bit about learning Spanish.

“We’ve been doing work with retail mall owners and developers, as they’re starting to realise that they do need to do something more, that the anchor stores and stuff like that is not enough to get people in.”

What will you learn from this podcast?

  • The impact of COVID on the leisure and attractions sector
  • The fusion of leisure and retail space that will be accelerated by the pandemic
  • Learning Spanish

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Yael Coifman

Kelly Molson: Yael, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, I’m absolutely delighted that you could spare some time to come on, so thank you. 

Yael Coifman: Thanks for having me Kelly, I’m looking forward to it. 

Kelly Molson: Me too. Maybe you won’t be looking forward to this bit, because this is the bit that everyone doesn’t like, but it’s the icebreaker question round. I think I’ve been quite easy on you Yael, to be honest.

Okay, let’s start. If you were stranded on a desert island what is the one luxury item that you would miss the most? 

Yael Coifman: Oh, it’s got to be the fizz, champagne.

Kelly Molson: Yes. I knew that we would get on, you are a lady after my own heart. 

Yael Coifman: I mean, I grant you I miss the really good cheese and bread and stuff, but you can always on a desert island find some way to make cheese, or make bread, but you can’t make your own fizz. So that would be it.

Kelly Molson: Great answer, we’re going to get on well. Okay, I have to ask you this, what is your favorite attraction?

Yael Coifman: Well, my favorite park of all time is Islands of Adventure in Orlando. Hands down, that is just the best park in my opinion. I think on the hand in regards to favorite ride, I really enjoyed the SheiKra rollercoaster at Busch Gardens. 

Kelly Molson: Oh God, that is good. 

Yael Coifman: It’s good because it’s kind of a blend of … what’s it called? Oblivion at Alton Towers, but Oblivion ends too soon, and SheiKra keeps going. So I just really enjoy that one as a rollercoaster.

Kelly Molson: Busch Gardens is one of the best places that I’ve ever visited.

Yael Coifman: It is a great park, yeah. 

Kelly Molson: Just love it, I haven’t been for a really long time, I went with my parents a very, very long time ago. Oh, it’s a great place. Good, I wasn’t expecting that as well. 

Okay, back to the stupid ones. If you could only eat one sandwich for the rest of the time, what sandwich would it be?

Yael Coifman: Oh, all-day breakfast. 

Kelly Molson: That’s a good choice. That’s a good choice, yes, because of so many different fillings.

Yael Coifman: Yeah, and you can have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

Kelly Molson: I thought about this way too hard before I asked you, and I thought I would go with ham and crisp sandwich because then I’d have ham and I’d also get crisps as well. You definitely out trumped me on the sandwich choice there. 

All right, the last one is I want to know your unpopular opinion. So something that you believe to be true that almost nobody else agrees with you on.

Yael Coifman: Okay, well I’m qualifying this with saying that there’s nobody else in the UK agrees with me on. 

Kelly Molson: Okay.

Yael Coifman: As an American living in the UK, and all that kind of stuff, I personally do not agree that university education should be paid for, for all university students. I don’t think it should be covered by the government. I think you can have assistance, you can have government loans, but realistically, not everybody necessarily deserves to go to university, or should be going to university, and if they’re not willing to invest in themselves why should we as the taxpayers invest in them. That’s my perspective.  

Kelly Molson: I mean this could be quite controversial but I’m glad that you raised it. It’s interesting actually because we did have our last guest on, Simon Jones, from Digital Visitor, we also talked a lot about university and his take on university was that not everybody needs to go. So it wasn’t about the payment of it, it was not everybody needs to go to university, you can still have a brilliant career if you choose not to take that path, as well, so.

Yael Coifman: But I do think there’s an element of it which is asking people to invest in themselves. And clearly, as one who came from the US I’m not saying that those tuition fees make any sense whatsoever, they’re way, way too high in terms of the American universities, so that’s not the right system either. But there is an element of investing in yourself. So if it’s 100% paid for by the government then the students aren’t taking a stake in their own future. I mean when I was at university I was still working 40 hours a week while going to classes. You don’t really see that here.

Kelly Molson: No, it’s true. I mean, I can’t comment on university, I didn’t actually go, so I choose the route that Simon talked about and I decided that I wanted to go out and work and work my way up. Which was easier than in the career that I choose, but yeah, I worked the whole way through college. I was going to say I had terrible jobs through college, but I had a few terrible jobs through college. But actually, my favorite one was in retail, which is something that we’re going to talk a little bit about today. I worked at Argos. 

Yael Coifman: Oh, well there you go.

Kelly Molson: I worked in Argos as a Saturday girl, I was a picker, and then I was on the tills, and then customer service. And then I got promoted to jewelry. 

Yael Coifman: Ooh, a big step up. 

Kelly Molson: It was the pinnacle, it was the pinnacle of my Argos career. Thank you for sharing that with me, I appreciate it. 

So what I’d love to do, there’s a topic that I want to focus on for our talk today. I’d love it if you could share a little bit about what Leisure Development Partners does, and maybe what a typical project looks like for you. If you have a typical project that is.

Yael Coifman: Well, I was going to say, the purpose of this conversation, with this little bit here, there is no such thing as a typical project. Our specialty is really in the market and financial analysis for any forms of leisure attractions. So that can range from small specialty museums to major theme parks, multi-theme park regional destination resorts, arenas and stadium, and aquaria, anything that’s built which has to do with how people spend their leisure time. And we do work globally. 

So, the majority of our work is for new projects and new ideas, I’d say probably about 70% of it. Normally a client will come to us with an idea and they want to know if it will work financially. So we do the market testing for it, and concept testing, and all that kind of stuff, to get to at the end of the day how many people are going to visit, what are they going to spend, what are the related operating costs, what’s the final profit and loss at the end of the day over a 10 year period of time? And then given the level of investment, is there any return on investment or is this just a bad project for the market? So that’s kind of the bread and butter of what we do. We also every once in a while we’ll work with existing attractions to improve their performance, as well as with banks, or private equity funds, that are looking to do acquisitions, existing facilities. 

Kelly Molson: Would you also work with attractions that are looking to maybe expand into different locations as well? Would that be-

Yael Coifman: Absolutely, yeah. Along those lines, there are two things we do actually, with existing attractions if they’re looking expand, period, as in not just a new ride, but an entirely new land in a theme park, for example, or adding a hotel, or adding a water park as a second gate, or something like that, we would definitely work with them along those lines to see how it would work, and what the impact would be and if it was worth the investment. Then also with existing attractions, if they’re looking roll out, we could do a roll-out strategy for them, or in some cases if they have potential partners like we’ve done a lot of work with KidZania for example. So a lot of times with KidZania first looking at new locations, we will actually do the feasibility study for that location to see if they want to progress, or not, to the next level. 

Kelly Molson: Amazing. That takes to make me to what I really want to focus our conversation on today, and it’s actually around the white paper that you pushed out a little while ago. So you released a white paper which is called COVID and Beyond, the Evolving Relationship with Leisure and Retail. In it, you discuss the impact of COVID, what that impact has been on the leisure and attractions sector, and how this could impact the retail and leisure relationship which I think is really exciting. 

I guess it kind of starts with the decline across physical retail sectors due to the rise in e-commerce, I guess that’s the starting point of this conversation. What was it that prompted the white paper and can you tell us a little bit about what’s in it and where those thoughts have come from?

Yael Coifman: Yeah, sure. The white paper was basically just taking a state of the industry of where we are now post-COVID and what it means for attractions and retail, and how they can work together. We’ve been doing work with, not retailers, but retail mall owners and developers, a lot, over the last five or six years, as they’re starting to realize that they do need to do something more, that just the anchor stores and stuff like that is not enough to get people in. So they were already seeing the writing on the wall in terms of the increase in online retail, and more spending online and less in bricks and mortar establishments. But the challenge all along has been the fact that they still very much have that bricks and mortar mindset, and the attraction has to come in and pay rent. It’s just filling space. They’re looking at attractions or leisure as tenants. 

So one of the reasons that we decided to write a white paper was saying okay, let’s look at where we are now, and let’s look at what people want to do. Taking aside the online thing, which was happening anyway, because of COVID there are three keys things that actually really came out of it. One is, you have a lot more people that weren’t used to shopping online, that became used to shopping online. So it was an exponential growth. Not just a growth we’ve seen over the last five or six years, but a lot of people that were not really used to it, the older generation that might never have used Amazon before, that might never have ordered click and collect from Sainsbury’s, or wherever the case may be, we’re finally starting to do it and we’re realizing how easy it was. Not just to order online but also to return, which has always been a thing that was worried about. 

So that was one thing that came out of COVID. The other thing was the incredibly high uptake of streaming as entertainment in-home. The fact that I don’t know if you noticed this or not in the white paper, but I was shocked. Disney+ launched and it reached its five-year target for subscriptions within six months. 

Kelly Molson: I mean it’s mad right, but when they launched who knew that we were going to be in the situation that we’re in. So that clearly had a huge impact on it.

Yael Coifman: It was primarily COVID, and Netflix as well. Just the amount to subscribers I think just again, exponential. Again, the thing here, it’s not just more people doing it, it’s people that had never considered doing it before. So older generation, parents who would have just maybe let their kids do it all the time now, are now saying, “Oh actually, there’s interesting stuff for me too.” Remember what helped that was the fact that a lot of these online platforms were developing their own content as well. So we’re seeing a little bit more of that.

So there’s the increase in online and in-home online entertainment, not just movies and films, but gaming as well, etc. Then the third thing was the fact that people were locked up and they couldn’t do anything. Yes, there is hesitation about going out to attractions and crowded facilities, and people are nervous, but when we saw how quickly, at least here in Europe, how quickly when things opened up, people were going back out to attractions and theme parks. We spoke with quite a few different operators throughout Europe that said actually, the moment they opened up it wasn’t that bad. They were at lower capacity but they were doing pre-bookings throughout the entire week. People were adjusting, they were readjusting their schedules so that they could go during the times when they in the old days would have said, “Oh, just on the weekend.” So that hunger just to go out and do things socially, especially outdoor experiences, and other areas that you can socially distance a bit more was very, very apparent in regards to August and September when everything basically opened up. 

So those three coming together when you look at that from the retail perspective, retailers need attractions now. They have lost their core constituency. The importance of getting forms of leisure attractions into retail settings, or any sort of commercial mixed-use developments, is much, much higher than it was six months ago, or a year ago. Personally, I always thought it was important, but now they are recognizing it, so it’s kind of changing to this shift in perspective from the retail developer side. That’s a lot of what our white paper lays out, is what are the benefits of bringing in attractions but also what are the keys things that have to be considered, and why would you do that? Why would you as a landowner, as a developer, say “Okay, I’m not going to get a Debenhams into an anchor store anymore, because they’re closing them all down, but I need to fill that space but it’s not going to be a commercial tenant. So at which point do I make that investment?” That’s the heart and soul of the paper basically. 

Kelly Molson: Let’s take Westfield Stratford as an example of a shopping center, a shopping mall. You’ve got a real mix of leisure facilities there, so I think there’s a bowling alley, there’s a cinema, there’s a gaming center, there’s a casino. What other types of attractions are going to be a really natural fit for this, and what are the benefits for attractions going into these spaces? 

Yael Coifman: So I think what’s interesting what you just brought up there, and this is where there’s a lot of times there’s a disconnect. So bowling, cinema-

Kelly Molson: They’re very standard aren’t they? They’re the ones that you expect to see.

Yael Coifman: They’re standard and those are what we would term commercial leisure. They can pay rent, basically. It might be slightly more of an anchor rent, but they’re commercial leisure, commercial ventures that are pretty standard. They also don’t have much drawing power, cinemas typical user catchment is 20 minutes drive tops, bowling even less so, depending on the location where you are. I think Westfield Stratford is a good example because it is in a unique situation where it’s the east side of London, but it also has some pretty strong competitors nearby, Lakeside, for example. Lakeside has put in a Nickelodeon Park. That I would consider an attraction, but that’s the difference.  

Attractions, these smaller attractions, we see some of them in South Bank, for example, Shrek, or the London Dungeon, etc. Those are actually more attractions, and that means that they have higher drawing power. They can sometimes appeal to tourists, not just the resident market, but they also typically have higher operating costs because you need more staff. They might have higher capital investment requirements in the first days as well. So it’s not just a simple fit-out, like a cinema, where you just get a bunch of screen sound systems and a bunch of chairs. That’s where the really big difference is. 

So if you look at, now again looking at Stratford, so what could you put in there? Well, you’d want to do things there that would actually extend the catchment, the drawing power, of the facility itself. We’ve seen that in places like Dubai, where they put in the Dubai Aquarium into Mall of Dubai or the ski hill in Mall of the Emirates. They were really in recent years the forefront of putting in major attraction draws. You’d see that in the US now with the American Dream Project going on in New Jersey, where they have a water park, and a theme park, and a ski thing that are going in there. They’re really making clusters of these attractions that can draw from two hours away. That’s different.

Kelly Molson: That’s a big difference, isn’t it?

Yael Coifman: That’s a big difference. So that’s where these mall developers have to start balancing out the benefits versus the cost because they are going to have to invest, they have to put some skin in the game. Most of these attractions are not justifiable as standalone investments, so they have to invest into the attraction themselves, partner with the attraction operator, so that there actually is a benefit to the mall overall. That’s where the struggle has been over years is convincing them of that, and I really do see a shift in this these days, where they’re starting to realize, they have to partner, they have to put some investment into it too, they’re not going to have somebody just come in and solve their problem for them and pay them a commercial rent.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I can see there’s a huge difference between this is a cinema, this is a standard fit-out, and they come in and they plug their thing into that hole. But yeah, like you mention, the Shrek experience, completely different. It’s hugely, hugely different. 

Yael Coifman: Sorry, can I just add one thing to that? 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, please.

Yael Coifman: Because you brought up Shrek again, and I forget to mention. This is also where IP becomes very valuable, Intellectual Property. So you have Shrek as intellectual property, or you have Nickelodeon Lakeside as an IP as well. That has a brand recognition that can also increase the drawing power, and also can remain relevant as long as new content is put on online. So that’s a way to connect the attraction with the in-home entertainment as well, so that’s where the strength of IP comes in. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve got kids that are sitting at home watching Nickelodeon, they make that connection. They have that, mum, dad, I want to go here. 

Yael Coifman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kelly Molson: Okay, yeah, of course. So how do you choose the right partnership? How does a shopping center, or an attraction look and work out who’s going to be the best fit for each other? How does that happen?

Yael Coifman: Well, they hire someone like us. 

Kelly Molson: Of course, they do. 

Yael Coifman: Thank you. Oh my God, that’s brilliant. No, I think it’s really, really important that any shopping center that’s out there, that they don’t just take whoever comes knocking, because that’s not necessarily the best fit for them. They have to have a really good understanding of their market. Not their shoppers market, but their attractions market. That’s why I was saying it’s important to hire a feasibility consultant that can look at the overall environment available to any attraction that went in there. Also, look at the competitive environment, what else is out there? Again my example from earlier, if you look at Stratford and you look at Lakeside, Lakeside has a Nickelodeon park that’s part of its development, you would therefore never want to put in another Nickelodeon park within Stratford as you just cannibalizing each other. And you probably wouldn’t want to do an attraction which was targeting the same age range, because you’d just be cannibalizing each other. 

Understanding the competitive environment is incredibly important. It is the key thing. That helps you strategize and get to a shortlist of different types that could work, but then the next thing is actually doing a solid feasibility study and looking at what the performance could be of the facilities. As I said earlier, how many people are coming? How much are they going to spend? What’s the potential benefit to the center overall in terms of the impact on other retail tenants and F and B tenants within the mall? All of it is incredibly important and then fortunately for us that data is not available publicly. The KPI’s that you use for the analysis is all very confidential. The attractions industry is different that way than others. In the hotel industry, for example, you can purchase reports telling you how different hotels are working in different markets. What the occupancy rates are, what the average daily rates are, all that kind of stuff. That does not exist in the attractions industry, you need the function of actually building up your database of KPI’s for different markets, and types of attractions, over time. 

Kelly Molson: Is that why, because you mentioned in the white paper, that it’s actually really difficult to measure the benefits of entertainment in a retail environment. Is that why? Is that what it comes back to? Just not access to the data?

Yael Coifman: Well, it comes down to two things, one is making sure that your business plan is actually based on real comparables, and assumptions based on real key performance indicators from other locations. That’s one, so you actually understand how the attraction itself will work. The second thing is measuring the benefits in the rest of the mall, and part of that depends on the type of attraction. There is some research that’s been done saying, for example, if you to an attraction in the mall how much will each of those visitors spend in other locations? But more research could be done, and this is something where the retail industry has been remiss. They don’t know their customers, as well as the attractions industry, do. You look at the amount of data that companies like Merlin, or Disney, or whatever have. They know who’s coming, they know how much they’re spending, they know where they’re coming from. Retailers aren’t that great at that and they also tend to ask not necessarily the best questions. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, you’re right. Is that harder when you’re in a large mall, you’re not going to be as granular about your audience? Does that make sense? So are you relying on … So Westfield, are you relying on Westfield to give you the data about who’s coming through Westfield stores rather than-

Yael Coifman: Yeah, exactly. And the thing is, it is their responsibility and it has been for years, is a thing, the concept of a mall intercept survey is one of the basics you learn when you’re doing statistics and everything else at business school. So they’ve always done this, they’re just not asking the right questions, and part of it has to do with the fact that they’ve never seen leisure as a benefit, so it’s never really on their list. So they’re more concerned saying, who’s coming? How frequently do you come? What do you spend? But they’re not saying, what was your primary reason for coming? Was it to go to the cinema first, and then did you spend on other things while you were here? Or did you come here first and then you decided to go to the family entertainment center? For example. It’s figuring out what the primary driver is and that’s something that’s always been missing from a lot of their surveys. 

Hopefully, now they’ll start seeing that there’s actually a value to that, because if they can get those stats in, then they can justify to their retailers why they might have to pay a little bit of the share for this attraction to come in because they will benefit as well. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s hugely beneficial isn’t it to understand if someone who’s coming to the center to go to the cinema, and then they might go to a couple of those shops that are there, or if they’re coming for the shops. My guess is it’s kind of flipping.

Yael Coifman: I think it’s flipping more towards entertainment.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, for sure. Okay, I don’t know if this will be a good fit for you actually. I saw something, there’s an organization in Cambridge, they’re called Sook. They have a retail space in Cambridge, and they have a retail space in South Molton Street, and I think one on Oxford Street as well. Basically, they are an adaptive retail space. So, you can kind of set it up, so if I wanted, for example, if I wanted to run a workshop for my agency, I could hire this retail space, kit it all out with all of my … they’ve got screens you can put up all of your things, all of your branding, etc. on. You can rent it by the hour. So I could rent a retail space in the middle of Cambridge for XX amount per hour. Brilliant, it’s a really good opportunity for small organizations to get into a different audience. I’m thinking about how attractions can maybe reach a different audience, or reach a different demographic that wouldn’t normally come to their venue, things like museums, for example, could use a few spaces like that for doing a pop-up museum, or a pop-up gallery, or that kind of thing. Do you do anything like that, in terms of that merge of retail space?  

Yael Coifman: Well, it’s a bit more challenging. I mean, I can see where you’re going with it, and I think that we will see that, we will see some empty retail space which is being used sometimes for attractions or experiences. But it’s going to be done of the cheap, because the thing is with most quality attractions, or even museum experiences, there is a level of investment which is necessary, and you need a certain amount of time to run that attraction to get your return on that investment. So, unless you’re doing a cheap and cheerful haunted house thing for Halloween, for example, or something like that, I can’t really see that working so well.

Kelly Molson: It’s a short-term fix, isn’t it? 

Yael Coifman: It’s the short-term thing which is the challenge. I mean, unless it’s one of those things where you had a traveling exhibition. Like The Body, for example, which are going places. But that’s already all done, and the way they pay back their capital is if they do multiple locations over a year, or two years, or whatever. But to just set something up for three months and then go away, it’s really hard to make that work financially.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, for sure. So if attractions are listening, which I hope that you are listening to this podcast, attractions. Are there any downsides to this for attractions? If this is something that they’re thinking of at the moment, this merge, are there any downsides? Is this just a massive benefit? Can you highlight anything?

Yael Coifman: I think it opens the opportunity up a lot more for attractions now in terms of the situation that we’re currently in. But I think the downside, I hate to say downside, it’s not necessarily a downside, I think it’s a challenge, is you’re still going to be dealing with hardcore real estate professionals that every step of the way you’re going to have to justify your decisions and why you’re doing this, and explain to people who don’t understand the attractions industry why you’re doing the things that you do. So, it is going to be an uphill battle for a while. There are people out there that are starting to get it, they really want to learn, they want to understand. Then there are others that still just think in terms of square footage, and that’s it. So that’s probably the biggest single challenge.

I think the other challenge is to be flexible. Be a bit more flexible, not about your business model, I mean if it’s a solid business plan, it’s a solid business plan, but be flexible in regards to how it’s funded. Because we also have to remember that a lot of these larger retail developments, or malls, or shopping centers, they want to be flexible now too, but they’re owned by pension funds, and reet. So it’s not as easy as you’d think for them to find the money, and it’s not that they don’t want to help or work with you, it’s just that they have to find a workaround to get there. So I think that’s probably the key lesson for both sides is that flexibility is key to make these deals work.

Kelly Molson: And there is a way to make it work all the time isn’t there? I mean, for instance, just thinking about this whole mixture of retail and leisure, there’s now going to be a mixture of retail and rental. John Lewis is going to sell off some of its stores and they’re going to become housing. Which is kind of obvious right? You could see that [crosstalk 00:28:27]. 

Yeah, it’d just be really interesting that people will now be living, and shopping, and all these brilliant experiences all in one place. 

Yael Coifman: Yeah, you’re kind of recreating the old city center in one sense, before people starting moving out to the suburbs and getting their houses, and all that kind of stuff. Everything used to be just on top of each other. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, thank you for sharing all that. It is fascinating to hear about what potentially could happen, it makes me feel really excited because I don’t really like shopping that much. 

Yael Coifman: I can’t stand it.

Kelly Molson: It’s horrible.

Yael Coifman: I can’t stand shopping, this is the whole thing. I’m one of those people if I have to go, I have my list, I go in, I get it, and I get right back out again. I’m not one of those girly girls that love to go shopping.

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I feel exactly the same and most of my shopping I do online now, but I do miss the experience of a brilliant shop. I don’t want to just go to a shop to get the basic stuff, but if there’s something special I want to buy I love that feeling of going somewhere really wonderful where you just get this incredible experience of someone looking after you, or really tailoring that service to you, but I think that is becoming less, and less, and less now. We’re really lucky in the town that I live in that we have a lot of independents, and you tend to get that in those small independent shops still, which is lovely. So yeah, I’ll carry on shopping here, but I’ll get my clothes online. 

Yael Coifman: Yeah.

Kelly Molson: I want to talk a little bit about sustainability. It’s on topic, but slightly off-topic, I know it’s something that you’re really passionate about, and it’s something that we had a quick chat about when we spoke before the podcast in the fact that there’s been an awful lot of really great work that’s taken place in the last few years to … I mean I’ve personally been more sustainable about the things that I’m using in my home, but the awareness of sustainability of what our surroundings are, or what we’re using, and unfortunately the COVID pandemic has really taken a step back for us really because there’s an awful lot of single-use plastics that are happening now. There’s not a lot that we can do to control that unfortunately at the moment, but I just wondered if you could share what your thoughts are around sustainability in the leisure industry because it’s something that I really want to keep it current and not be forgotten about.

Yael Coifman: I think that is actually the key thing. I mean people are shoving it aside. To be frank, you look at the attractions industry, not everybody was doing a good job anyway. There were quite a lot of parks that were perfectly happy to keep giving plastic straws out until the government outlawed it or individual plastic cups, or in some cases even styrofoam, god forbid, depending on the country you’re in. 

There are some parks though that actually were leaders in regards to really taking sustainability seriously. PortAventura is a very good example of that, in Spain, their sustainability office is not the one that’s tucked down at the end of the hallway behind a broom closet, it’s actually quite important for them, and it does shape every decision that they make. Not just in terms of shall, we have plastic cups or paper cups, but in regards to any kind of corporate decision, what’s that impact going to be? We need to take that into account. So they’ve actually really integrated it into the decision-making process, into their education process as well, where Oscar the Grouch, for example, is their mascot that teaches all the kids about recycling. So they’ve really done a good job leveraging it. 

The Looping Group in France is another one as well, there are quite a few parks just trying to take it on board, but a lot of them hadn’t fully embraced it. I think the problem that we have now with COVID is that they found it too easy to slip backwards into their old habits. It’s easier just to give single-use plastics to guests when they’re coming in. It’s easy to say, we have to use plastic gloves because we have to clean everything, and keep it hygienic, and all that kind of stuff. Then you have a bunch of plastic gloves all over the place or disposal masks, and blaming it on COVID. 

I’m not trying to blame them, it’s been a very, very difficult season for the attractions. It’s been incredibly challenging, and I celebrate each and every one of them for actually reopening and doing what they could. But there is a question of let’s not drop the ball on this one, Covid will not be around forever. We don’t know how long it’s going to be, I don’t have a crystal ball, you don’t either, but in five years time hopefully, it will have moved on with either a vaccine or much better treatment options, and it’s going to be back to normal. There’s no reason not to keep that planning going now, to take this time now when things are slower when capacity is down, and in some cases a lot of the parks might be closing soon for the winter season anyway. Look at your strategy and look at your sustainability goals, and how you’re integrating them. Take the opportunity to take a step back and reassess, and make sure that you still keep with your targets so you know where you want to be in five years, even though now you’re dealing with what has to be dealt with. I guess that’s the key thing that kind of concerns me a bit.

Kelly Molson: I completely agree with you and I think it’s about when it’s the right time to do that, isn’t it? I think like you say if we’re coming to attractions have done anything and everything that they can to be open, and to stay open for as long as possible this year, understandably, but I think yeah, now is the time to take a little bit of a step back and say what are we doing and how can we improve that for when we reopen in a few months? What can we do to improve that? 

We are going to have Holkham Estates come on the podcast in a few weeks, which I’m really excited about, and they’re going to be talking about their sustainability plan for 2021, so if you are interested in learning a little bit more about that, and understanding what their plans are, then definitely stay tuned. 

Yael, I’ve loved having you on the podcast today, thank you. I do have one final question for you.

Yael Coifman: Okay.

Kelly Molson: Which is a book recommendation. We ask all of our lovely guests if there’s a book that they would recommend to our listeners that it’s either helped shape their career in some way or just they love it for whatever reason. So have you got one that you could recommend for us today?

Yael Coifman: I’m actually going to answer this in a completely different way, starting off by saying no.

Kelly Molson: Okay, no one has ever done this before, you rebel.

Yael Coifman: Because, okay let’s be honest, the traditionalist would probably say it’s probably Buzz Price’s book, or it’s The Experience Economy or any of that kind of stuff. And the truth is no, they haven’t shaped my career. 

What did shape my career is the fact that when I was doing my undergraduate degree I did it economics and political science, and I read a book called The Economics of Latin America. That got me very interested in Latin America and then made me want to actually get into that from the political standpoint. So I went to go live in Spain for several years so I could learn Spanish. While I was there I got involved in the leisure and tourism industry in the sense that I used to run tours for all those bratty US high school kids that do Europe in 10 days.

Kelly Molson: Great job.

Yael Coifman: Yeah, it was brilliant. Then I went back to the US and I did my MBA. But the thing is what I got out of that was actually learning Spanish and becoming fluent in it, and that shaped my career more than anything else because it meant that I had much more mobility in my job, I was given responsibility for all of Latin America because I was the only senior staff member that actually spoke Spanish. It’s been incredibly useful here, I also speak French. So I answered your question in a different way than what you expected, I think. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, you did, but I love it, I love that you did that because I am attempting to learn Spanish myself at the moment, quite badly, via Duolingo as well because I’m doing Duolingo is an app, you can do 5 or 10 minutes a day, and it’s quite good in the sense that there are words that are sticking, but there’s nothing that beats going and actually living in a country and learning it in that way, is there?

Yael Coifman: No, 100%. I would say of all the things that I did that is the one that probably shaped and helped my career more than anything else was learning … Granted, I did know French before anyway, but Spanish is, after Mandarin, I think it’s the second-highest language in the world in terms of speaking so that just opens up so many doors it’s just ridiculous.

Kelly Molson: So, this is for me and not for our listeners, sorry listeners. So normally we offer the chance for our listeners to win the book that’s recommended, but I’m going to ask you a question but this is for me personally. I can’t go to Spain right now, sadly, I’d love to, it’s warm. What else can I do to help improve my Spanish? What else could you recommend that would help me?

Yael Coifman: Right, so one of the things, and I don’t know if you can get this but you might be able to on YouTube or something, one of the things that used to help me when I was living in Spain, granted remember I had maybe one semester of Spanish, so I was not doing well in the early months, was I would actually watch American television shows dubbed in Spanish.

Kelly Molson: Oh, that’s a great idea.

Yael Coifman: The reason for that is they actually … the Spanish language, the sentences are a lot longer normally, they speak a lot more quickly, Americans don’t speak that quickly, with me as an exception clearly. But it was the early days of 90210, so yes, I’m dating myself now. 

Kelly Molson: I love that.

Yael Coifman: I would watch 90210 in Spanish, and that actually helped. The other thing which again sounds really stupid, but I read really cheesy harlequin romances, I think here you call them something and Boone.

Kelly Molson: Mills and Boone, yes.

Yael Coifman: Because again, not really difficult in terms of sentence structure. 

Kelly Molson: Love it.

Yael Coifman: But then you start reading it quickly, and you start skimming and seeing the words, and understanding what’s happening because it’s not challenging to be honest, it’s just a way to get it in. 

Kelly Molson: Thank you. So sorry listeners, you don’t get to win anything this episode, but maybe you’re trying to learn Spanish just like me and Yael has completely helped you out.

Yael Coifman: There you go. 

Kelly Molson: So what I’m going to do, I’m going to find my favorite cheesy programs and I’m going to watch them Spanish dubbed. That’s the way forward.

Yael Coifman: That’s the way to do it. 

Kelly Molson: Do I admit what my favorite cheesy programs are? I’m not sure. I could do for a bit of 90210 though, that’s a good retro. 

Yael Coifman: I think you kind of have admit it, given the fact that I’ve admitted I used to watch 90210. 

Kelly Molson: Okay, I tell you what I’m loving at the moment, it’s new, it’s not retro, but I’m loving Cobra Kai on Netflix if anyone’s watching it. So good, it’s so good.

Yael Coifman: I haven’t seen it yet.

Kelly Molson: I am the Retro Queen, I am the ’80s film queen. I’m a really nostalgic person so I’ll watch those films over and over again, they just give me such a great sense of comfort. I was a bit poorly last week, so I sat on the sofa with a duvet watching Karate Kid, and then I was like, right great, well I’m in the zone now-

Yael Coifman: You’re in the zone, you can go to Cobra Kai.

Kelly Molson: Oh my God, it’s so good. It’s really good, we were obsessed with it. Every night we’re just like … and the episodes are 25 minutes long so-

Yael Coifman: Perfect.

Kelly Molson: Anyway, so completely off topic there, but-

Yael Coifman: Completely.

Kelly Molson: Yael, thank you so much for spending time with me today, I really enjoyed it.

Yael Coifman: My pleasure, yeah.

Kelly Molson: I’m going to put all of your contact details into the show notes, but just for the listeners who aren’t going to go and read those show notes, where’s the best place that they can connect with you and find you?

Yael Coifman: Either via our website, they can just email directly from there, or LinkedIn is probably best. 

Kelly Molson: Cool and what’s your website address?

Yael Coifman: Leisuredevelopment.co.uk.

Kelly Molson: There you go kids, if you are listening and you want to chat with Yael, that is where to get her. Thank you so much for coming on, it’s been a pleasure.

Yael Coifman: Okay, thanks Kelly, it was fun. 

Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at info@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.


Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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