I hope that everyone has seen our announcement of this year's Theme Park Insider Award winners. We've been doing this for 17 years now, and while I've enjoyed this part of the Theme Park Insider experience, I also have decided it is time to make some changes in the way we handle the awards.
The Theme Park Insider Awards are determined by the collective ratings submitted by readers for the rides, shows, restaurants, and hotels that we list on the website. The locations with the highest average rating and a minimum number of ratings win. For the "Best New..." awards, locations that open between July 1 and June 30 of the next year are eligible, since I announce the awards each year on July 4.
My journalism background informed by decision to announce the awards on the Fourth of July. I knew that newspapers and TV stations were looking for relevant, holiday-themed stories to fill their newshole on what is almost always a glacially slow day for news. A feature on theme parks, which millions of people will visit across the country on the holiday, would fulfill that need... but what makes that story a better choice than focusing on the beach, or national parks, or any other popular holiday destination?
So I decided to provide what we in the journalism business would call a "news peg" - an international awards competition honoring the world's best in the theme park business. And while that was a great strategy back when people actually paid attention to newspapers and TV stations, it's become pretty much irrelevant now, when attention for websites (such as ours) is driven more by social media than old-school media.
The mid-summer announcement also worked when parks has their acts together and got all their new rides opened by Memorial Day, giving readers a month of rating and reviewing before the eligibility window closed on June 30. But with more and more debuts sliding into June and July, or even later, the July 4 announcement has become awkward... as we see this year, when the Best New Dark Ride Award went to an attraction that opened the previous summer.
It just makes more sense to make the eligibility period be the calendar year, which would necessitate moving the announcement of the awards to January. In addition, since the whole purpose of the awards was to draw attention to the site while signaling to potential readers what kinds of parks and attractions the current readers of the site valued most, I also think that I need to shift the focus of the awards from meeting a need of newspapers and TV stations toward fueling some more social media buzz.
I like that we haven't reduced the awards to a straight ballot-stuffing popularity contest, a la USA Today's awards. Those types of contests always will be won by the parks that are willing to use their social media influence to drive their fans to vote. Disney and Universal won't do that, but Six Flags will. But I want our awards to reflect what this community values as the best of the best, instead of what a drive-by influx of one-time visitors voted for.
That said, many Theme Park Insider readers have been frustrated by not being able to take a more active, direct role in the selection of the awards. Others don't understand how the ratings select the winners. So I am considering a new model for selecting the winners of next year's awards.
I will use the collective reader ratings to select finalists in each of the categories, then put the finalists up for a popular vote to determine the winners. That allows us to have it both ways — to offer a limited selection of finalists that all have won the support of the community, but also to offer a vote that will inspire active participation by both existing and new members of the community.
The votes would be open for a week in early January, with the announcement of the winners following.
The next question is... do we announce awards next January, based on six months of eligibility for new attractions? Or do we wait until January 2020, and open an 18-month eligibility window?
At this point, I am leaning toward having an awards in January 2019, but not including Best New Attraction categories then, leaving them to return in January 2020. The January 2019 awards would be for Best Park, Hotel, Restaurant, and bringing back the Best Overall Attraction awards. (Sorry, Infinity Falls.)
My hope is that these changes will revitalize the awards, help drive more attention and traffic to the Theme Park Insider community and give us something fun to do in January when not much tends to happen in the theme park business. Thoughts?Tweet
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