HeritageRail President Mark Ray presents his thoughts on what this crisis means for our member organizations
Following his letter, scroll down for more information and contributions from fellow HeritageRail members and check your organization’s inbox for the most recent e-blasts of information.
Thomas Paine once wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
When Mr. Paine wrote those words, the United States was fighting for its existence. We had recently declared our independence from England and the fight was not going well. We again are in fight for our lives. Not from a foreign invader or a terrorist group but from the disease. A disease that is going to change the way we live forever. Yes, we are in a battle for survival. Once the carnage of the virus is behind us, we must pick up the pieces and rebuild. Right now, we must focus on survival.
It should come as no surprise that our Spring Symposium scheduled for April is canceled. We had considered a delay but no one can predict when this virus outbreak will be behind us. The Fall Conference is also canceled. This was a tougher decision but we think an honest one. Once you can reopen your doors, all of you will be focused on making up lost revenue. Special events will fill your schedules and it is important to the Alliance that all of your focus on healing your organizations both physically and financially.
The American Alliance of Museums is leading an effort to secure relief funding for non-profits. We signed onto a letter yesterday providing our endorsement in support of this initiative. We will keep you posted on this effort. Also, the Small Business Administration is providing low-interest loans as part of a coronavirus disaster loan program. Interest rates range from 3.75% for private-owned organizations to 2.75% for non-profits. Up to $2 million dollars is available per company. We are also looking to conduct webinars to share more information with you.
The Alliance is also looking at reducing membership dues for this year. The Finance Committee is reviewing our budget to remove all spending except what is needed to perform our core functions. Our goal is to reduce our required income and pass those savings onto you in the form of reduced dues for this year. We are also considering a longer grace period since cash flow will be an issue as well.
I encourage all of you to use this time to make your recovery plans. The 3rd and 4th quarter should be strong for us. Even still, we need to pack the second half of the year with as many revenue-producing activities as possible. Consider ways to cut costs which means bare-bones staffing and curtailing any activities funded by your visitation. Also, over-communicate with all your staff and employees regarding the situation. Be fair with them, they deserve it.
PGAV: Collaboration & Adaptation
We’ve been laser focused on the ways operations have shifted to prioritize guest safety: What’s the biggest barrier to reopening? How are operators dealing with shifting guidelines and procedures? How can you balance safety and fun? How do you sanitize a giant crawl-through climbing structure, anyway? We decided to Ask an Expert: Rick Erwin, GM of City Museum in St. Louis, MO. In this short video, Rick covers a lot of ground, specifically: the importance of collaboration and looking outside the industry for solutions, constant adaptation and feedback, and the need to “change everything.”
PGAV: The Operations Balancing Act, Part 2
Our last dispatch featured an Operational Model for an imaginary theme park and tested attendance levels against operational capacity reductions. We found that when attendance increases above 50%, attractions are at capacity, queue lines are maxed out, and guests are pushed onto pathways with nothing to do (You can find that study here). With this in mind, how can we help guests feel that they are still getting a good engaging experience? We asked our team to brainstorm both quick wins and longer term solutions that can be layered on to add value for the guests. . . and possibly generate revenue for the destination. For more thoughts on re-imagining our shift in time and space, see our post on Areas of Improvement.
PGAV: The Operations Balancing Act
Destinations are slowly opening their doors, most under capacity restrictions from local jurisdictions. While these restrictions dictate the number of guests who can pass through the front gate, they don’t determine how guests are managed once on property. So how does reduced attendance correlate with a destination that will also have reduced program capacities (attractions, culinary, and retail) due to social distancing and enhanced sanitizing protocols? What does the guest experience look like? Is the critical Entertainment Factor (measuring the number of attractions a guest can experience per hour) reduced below the threshold of a great experience, leaving guests on pathways with nothing to do? We decided to do some digging to see what we could find out (CLICK HERE).
Latest Survey Results from PGAV:
The desire to travel (but travel safely) is still there for travelers, but they are getting nervous as some states report more cases of the new coronavirus. In a recent survey from H2R Market research, the average distance visitors felt comfortable traveling is around 400 miles one-way. Are you surprised by that number? We were! In the graphic, we started from our own hometown of St. Louis, but you can check the travel circles from your own destination here.
As the news of rising cases continues, it’s no surprise that the number of those intending to travel for leisure is declining, from 50% to 35% since early June. As an industry, we always need to stay as informed as possible on vulnerable areas, so check out the COVID-19 Vulnerability Index as well as all local and state updates. As these travel uncertainties continue, virtual programming and reduced capacity events will continue to be essential for destinations.
With many destinations operating at lower capacities, what are the opportunities for elevated and more exclusive special events? Consider small group revenue-generation ideas, like pop-up tasting dinners with enclosed tents. Also, fitness is high on the list of public interest and concern, especially in light of gym closures. Celebrate the unique qualities of your destination and give the people what they want (a good socially-distanced workout with friends).
Mattel to Provide 100 Face Coverings to the First 50 HRA Members to Respond
If you missed the last e-blast, The Day Out with Thomas Team at Mattel has made a generous offer to our train and trolley members to assist them in their re-opening efforts by providing adult-sized masks. Details are provided below; this offer is available to ALL ACTIVE HRA MEMBERS. Please contact Lynette Rickman, Executive Director, at email@example.com to confirm your membership status and submit your request. Deadline to respond is Sunday, June 21. To become a member of HeritageRail Alliance, click HERE. Thank you to Mattel for their ongoing support!
From the Day Out with Thomas Team:
The Day Out With Thomas team expects face coverings to be a big part in staying safe while operating railroads, trolleys and museums this year. We also understand they can be hard to secure for your staff and guests when reopening.
To continue our commitment of support for the railroad community, Mattel is donating 5,000 cloth face coverings to the HeritageRail Alliance. From making doll dresses to masks, these adult-sized, non-medical face coverings were produced by Mattel and our partners who typically sew toys but have shifted resources to help fill the need for PPE.
As quantity is limited, Mattel can provide 100 face coverings to the first fifty (50) active HRA organizational members to contact Lynette Rickman by Sunday, June 21, 2020.
– The Day Out with Thomas Team
Question: Should my museum require staff and visitors to wear face masks when we reopen?
The American Alliance of Museums offers the following for consideration in determining policies around the wearing of face masks. The information shared here is based on the best available information as of publication and is not intended as legal, employment/human resources, or health and safety advice. Museums are encouraged to seek legal and other expert advice on their specific circumstances. CLICK HERE
A Message from the DOWT Team and Recommended Practices for a Day Out with Thomas
Below is a message from the Day Out with Thomas Team at Mattel, followed by their Best Practices event guide. Did you know it takes the recommended 20 seconds to sing the Thomas song?
Dear HeritageRail Alliance Members,
For 25 years, we have placed the health and wellbeing of every guest, partner, volunteer and employee as a paramount priority when hosting unforgettable family experiences. It has been, and remains, a privilege to be a part of this community for a quarter of a century. Together, we’ve weathered challenging and uncertain times. Now more than ever we are coming together in true collaboration to share solutions while being both reactive and proactive under these circumstances.
As we all adjust given the new normal of heightened sanitary considerations and social distancing, events will resume when we are all confident that we can safely and responsibly do so by taking all precautions possible and following the latest guidelines in each market to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Day Out With Thomas team is dedicated to the preservation of Historic Railroads and is committed to bringing smiles to children’s faces through these special events when safe to do so.
Accommodating the new normal is crucial for reopening events this year and while there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we’re working closely with our partners as this situation changes. With our partners, we are continuing to follow the latest CDC guidelines, adjust plans accordingly and share suggestions for additional health and safety protocols like modifications to hands-on activities, sanitization focused operations processes, onsite signage including social distancing markers, etc. We are working with each event holder individually to plan for different scenarios in their business plans and adjusting royalties accordingly.
As a global team, we’re always carefully researching the best ways for families to enjoy time together in a safe environment. Because we are all in this together, we’re sharing these learnings with all railroads as our industry continues to navigate this difficult situation. This will no doubt have a long-lasting effect on the way we host experiences.
We are confident that our event program and the industry as a whole will come out of this stronger than ever by hosting events with the safety and comfort of every staff member and guest as its priority. We all know that one constant is change, and over the past 75 years Mattel has remained a leader in the industry by continuing to adapt and innovate. With your partnership, we will embark on this next chapter together.
The Day Out With Thomas Team
H2R’s COVID-19 Travel & Attractions Update (05/15/20)
After weeks of isolation and unrelenting use of the phrase “new norm,” it’s no surprise that the top motivator across all demographic groups is the need to “feel normal again.” All age groups are looking for a change of scenery, but Millennials are also interested in being able to get out and socialize with other people. Other notable trends are the desire to celebrate special occasions outside the home (Millennials) and the need for a romantic couples outing (Generation X). So which destination types are sparking getaway daydreams? Across the board, the great outdoors are calling. National and state parks, historic landmarks/places, and natural wonders ranked the highest, especially for those over 35 yrs old. Millennials stray from this a bit with large screen movie theaters ranking first, followed by national/state parks and family entertainment centers. Visits to zoos, aquaria, theme parks, water parks, museums, and performance theaters remain on visitors’ hopeful horizons for 2020, especially among the Millennial and Gen X groups. This is a trend we will continue to watch as more destinations open their doors and visitors begin to feel more confident about venturing outside. For more information and analysis, click HERE to access the full report. In the meantime, consider your current offerings and take this as an opportunity to create new events, repackage existing programs and market messages tailored to traveler needs.
Recommended Practices for Reopening Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums
One of the principle roles of HRA is to provide guidance and support to our members. While we are all in the middle of developing our own internal site specific plans, HRA came together to adopt the following general practices for your consideration (CLICK HERE). We want to continue to be a resource to our members and the railway preservation industry and we hope you will continue to reach out to us with questions and comments on how we can serve your needs. I want to thank the members of the task force and many other members who participated in this effort. We hope you are all well and we look forward to the time when we can gather together again.
Cheryl Marcell, California State Railroad Museum Foundation & HRA Task Force Chair
For-profit Action Letter for Phase 4 Economic Relief Package
Members of Congress are currently negotiating a fourth COVID-19 economic relief package, and your voice is critical to the final language. Although based on a letter prepared by the American Alliance of Museums, the below form letter is designed for use by our for-profit members. Congresspeople rely on constituent feedback in making their decisions, and we encourage you to reach out to your Congressperson and make a one-on-one connection. Your story will help them better understand and appreciate your position!
[ADDRESS OF US SENATOR OR REPRESENTATIVE (Click HERE to find your representative].
Subject: Phase 4 Aid for Museums Impacted by Coronavirus
Dear [RECIPIENTS NAME AND TITLE],
Our local museum community, while grateful for recent economic relief efforts, is facing an existential threat from the closures required to address the COVID-19 pandemic that requires major responses from the U.S. Congress beyond those contained in recent legislation. Overall, museums are vital economic engines, contributing $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generating $12 billion in tax revenue to local, state, and federal governments. Museums are also job providers, supporting 726,000 jobs annually.
[PLEASE SHARE YOUR STORY HERE]
With this in mind, as you develop Phase 4 COVID-19 relief legislation, we urge you to
- Extend, and make railway museums eligible for, the Paycheck Protection Program and loan forgiveness through December 2020; and
- Adjust the Economic Stabilization Fund (or other mid-size loan programs) to support employers, including loan-forgiveness.
[Name, Title, Railway Museum]
Non-profit Action Letter for Phase 4 Economic Relief Package
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is spearheading an effort to include museums in Phase 4 COVID-19 Relief Legislation. We need all of the HeritageRail Alliance members to speak out. A large response from railway preservation organizations will be noticed and respected! Why is this important to us?
- Keeping the SBA and Mid-Size Business Loan Programs eligible to non-profits extends those relief programs to everyone regardless of tax-status.
- The IMLS funding creates another source of grants that can be applied to developing and sharing distance learning content, as well as pandemic recovery planning and implementation.
- The Charitable Deduction Expansion will allow donors to give more by removing the restrictions placed by the CARES act.
- Having access to the funds of the “Moving Forward Framework” can allow us to better prepare for future pandemics. How we prepare for the next one will be a key focus area for the Alliance.
Specifically, AAM is asking Congress to:
- SBA and Mid-Size Business Loan Program:Extend the Paycheck Protection Program and loan forgiveness through December 2020, and make nonprofits with more than 500 employees, including museums, eligible for loan forgiveness. Priority number one is to keep as many employees in their jobs as possible for as long as possible. Many museums employ large numbers of part-time and temporary employees, including students, as part of delivering their public outreach and education missions, and therefore exceed the current 500 employee cap for eligibility in this program. In addition, adjust the Economic Stabilization Fund or other mid-size loan programs to support nonprofit employers with between 500 and 10,000 employees, including loan-forgiveness.
- Funding for IMLS:Include supplemental funding, specifically for museums, to be administered by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to cover needs not filled by the Paycheck Protection Program. This would include assisting museums in developing and sharing distance learning content, as well as pandemic recovery planning and implementation. If the Paycheck Protection Program is inadequate to meet the needs of the museum community, then the supplemental funding must include $6 billion in funding for the IMLS – Office of Museum Services specifically for museums’ general operating support and payroll.
- Charitable Deduction Expansions:Expand the universal charitable deduction provision in the CARES Act by removing the $300 cap. Extend the CARES Act removal of the 60% limit on Adjusted Gross Income that may be deducted through charitable gifts of cash.
- Health and Safety Infrastructure Upgrades:Include nonprofit museums in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s $760 billion “Moving Forward Framework” aspects of the legislation for pandemic-related health and safety infrastructure upgrades related to re-openings and energy-efficient retrofits.
Here’s how you can be heard: Click on the link at the bottom. You will need to enter this information:
- First Name
- Last Name
- Phone Number
- Zip Code
- Title (if applicable)
- Name of Museum or Organization
When you’re done, you can preview the letter. Your specific Members of Congress will be auto-populated. If you’re happy with it, just hit “SEND” and you will be heard – This only takes a few minutes so please advocate! Link: https://www.congressweb.com/AAM/67#/67/
Non-profit and SBA Notes & Resources
- The Paycheck Protection Program will fund up to 8 weeks of payroll costs. The loan will be fully forgiven if most employees are kept on the payroll. The Program includes special provisions for sole proprietors and self-employed individuals. For more information, click here. You can find answers to frequently asked questions here. Applications are expected to re-open on Monday.
- Faith-based groups, nonprofits, veterans organizations, tribal concerns, self-employed individuals, sole proprietorships, and independent contractors are eligible for this program. For frequently asked questions specific to religious groups, click here.
- The Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest federal express bridge loans and debt relief.
- The IRS is extending payroll tax credits to eligible small and midsize businesses.
- Employers, there are new federal paid leave requirements related to COVID-19. You can learn more here and find additional SBA resources here.
H2R’s COVID-19 Travel & Attractions Update (04/30/20)
While a new product or guest experience is great for marketing, it may not be the main driver for guests looking to visit your destination. Most visitors today are focused on attractions that have adopted rules to protect guests’ safety / health (45%) and discounts to help alleviate current economic hardships (31%). As attractions prepare to reopen, we examine the fears making travelers nervous when thinking about visiting destinations. Not surprising, travelers want out but aren’t sure about the other folks that do, too, with overcrowding concerns at 67% and enforcement of social distance buffers at 57%. This supports the forecasted trend of increased road trips in the near future, with travelers preferring quick and easy outs. Click HERE for the complete report.
Insights from PGAV and H2R
Eighty-eight percent (88%) of travelers are concerned about the economy. This statistic is a whopper, especially considering that this ranks higher as a concern than their own health (70%) and the health of family and friends (77%). While the International Monetary Fund predicts the economic impacts of COVID-19 to rival the Great Depression, there is good news. States and local municipalities are beginning to announce their plans for reopening economies, which should help build consumer confidence and give travelers a sigh of relief.
With 61% of travelers noting that they will continue to thoroughly wash their hands following the pandemic (and we have questions for the abstaining 39%), how will this impact your operations and amenities? Also interesting, 53% are avoiding international travel. This could shift tourism closer to home, with opportunities for local attractions to really shine. Local attractions, just like our local restaurants, are part of the cultural fabric of our cities. If you haven’t already, reach out to attractions in your region and consider marketing your offerings as a group, just like this tourism strategy in the Adirondacks. Since we know most travelers are concerned about the economy, can you sell suspended memberships for a reduced rate now, with benefits starting upon reopening? Can guests buy a membership for their family and get a matching donation for a front-line worker family?
As the end of lockdown is appearing on the horizon, PGAV and H2R will continue to understand traveler attitudes and intentions in the near future.
From PGAV and H2R: How Long to Return to a New Normal?
What role does age play in looking to the future? While some Millennials have an optimistic view on the time it will take for the US to return to normal, as a whole, they think it will take 18.2 weeks, which is slightly longer than the 35-54 year old group (17.1 weeks). Those over age 55 foresee the recovery period taking almost six months. The average time frame for all travelers is looking to be around five months, which is good news for holiday festivities.
From PGAV and H2R: Planning a Leisure Trip?
State and local governments are eyeing certain businesses for reopening, but what will it do for travel? According to a recent survey with H2R, 71% of travelers are looking for an “all clear” signal from the government, so reopening local economies may help boost traveler confidence. Half say that they want confirmation of no new COVID-19 cases at the destination in the last two weeks, and 14% want to see a major attraction like Disney World reopen before booking. While wearing masks may become a social mandate, it might not be enforced by governmental entities. This can cause many problems with guest expectations, so how will our industry respond? In the coming weeks, these concerns might begin to appear:
- Will theme parks, museums, zoos, aquariums, dining, retail, hotels, and other attractions all ban together to establish expected guidelines requiring every guest to wear a mask while on property?
- Will attractions allow any face covering, like a bandana or scarf?
- Will attractions that demand masks be viewed as safer than those that don’t?
- Are approved masks distributed (or sold) at ticketed entry points if guests do not wear their own?
- Will portions of staff be designated as face mask enforcement? What do these interactions look like? If you catch a guest not wearing the mask, do they get three strikes? Or immediate removal?
- How will mask rules apply in food & beverage locations? How long will you be allowed to eat and drink unmasked?
The idea of a unified traveler message is an opportunity for all consumer-focused industries from theme parks to Publix, to embrace. Here are the environmental cues travelers are looking for (Download Report)
“Meaningful Connections” a webinar series hosted by Michael Kuehl, Dynamic Ticket Solutions & Josh Miller, North Shore Scenic Railroad:
As the pandemic continues to paralyze the tourist railroad industry, more than ever we need meaningful connections. None of us have the right answers as to how to navigate these uncharted waters. No one has ever even dreamed the scenarios we now face. We are all working in the dark, using our gut instincts to make decisions to try and keep our organizations afloat.
Our goal is to start a conversation within our small, tight knit community, and we figure the best way to achieve this is by hosting a webinar. We do not have the answers, and we are not claiming to be experts…our weekly goal is to start a conversation, share ideas, and help establish or reestablish critical connections.
All webinars are recorded live and available on YouTube.
Coronavirus: Facts, Not Fears
There are steps that companies can take to minimize the risk to their employees and customers. The American Bus Association works with a host of federal and tourism partners including the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration, American Public Transportation Association, US Travel Association and others to keep its members updated with the most current information regarding the current situation related to infectious diseases impacts and methods to limit its spread. Every company is encouraged to scale these actions for their system: Taking Care of Business.
What Will Make People Feel Safe Attending a Cultural Entity Again?
Collen Dilenschneider’s Know Your Own Bone blog is a must-read for everyone involved in the cultural sector. Each week she shares up-to-the-moment data and analysis on the public’s intentions to return to visiting cultural entities following the pandemic, including the following: Research shows that demand for cultural organizations is being redistributed toward some types of entities and away from others. For instance, likelihood to revisit entities that involve minimal movement in smaller spaces – such as symphonies – has decreased, as has the near-term likelihood to visit touch-based entities such as science centers. On the other hand, the likelihood to revisit larger and (particularly outdoor) spaces – such as gardens and zoos – has increased. What if yours is an indoor or touch-based museum? Or what if it’s not and you simply want visitors to feel as safe and comfortable as possible upon reopening? Read the insights…
Three New Scenarios for Financial Survival in 2020
An update to the March post How to Use Scenarios to Plan Your Museum’s COVID-19 Response. Three weeks ago—and it feels like a year….(Click to read more)
Are You a Small or Mid-Sized Employer?
The U.S. Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and U.S. Department of Labor (Labor) recently announced that small and midsize employers can begin taking advantage of two new refundable payroll tax credits provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act designed to immediately and fully reimburse them, dollar-for-dollar, for the cost of providing coronavirus-related leave to their employees. More information on this relief to employees and small and midsize businesses is available HERE.
“How to Captivate, Connect and Communicate with Your Audience During Coronavirus,”
If you missed Cuseum’s webinar, a recording is available for download HERE
Four Ways Museums Can Successfully Leverage Digital Content and Channels during Coronavirus (COVID-19)
As museums remain closed down physically, it is essential that they explore digital tools like as a means of capturing the attention of their audiences and retaining interest in anticipation of the day the doors will open again. The following article explores four types of digital experiences that museums can implement in the coming days and weeks. Various types of museums are covered, including museums that do not have living collections: Leveraging Digital Content. For a relatable example, click on this excerpt from from the NY Transit Museum: News & Notes
A PDF of recommendations from the American Alliance of Museums
The spread of COVID-19 and State responses are affecting our members in different ways. Those in heavily infected areas with State-mandated shut-downs for indefinite periods of time will feel a greater impact and longer recovery time than those in less infected areas where quarantine is still a recommendation or will end on a specific date.
Regardless of your location or the extent to which the virus spreads into your area, you will still need to manage the impact the economy has on your organization, and it is in your best interest to make every effort to be as proactive as possible with your planning, rather than reactive.
The attached document by the American Alliance of Museums contains potential scenarios based on trends and potentially disruptive events resulting from those trends. The thought is that by creating several stories about how things may play out, we can identify how we might adapt to changing circumstances, focus attention on critical indicators, and identify and minimize the attendant risks. Although the scenarios are not based on railway museums, there may be takeaways you can adapt to your organization. Note: The full scenarios referenced in the summary begin on Page 7, and references to Alliance are to the American Alliance of Museums.
If you have strategic plans or suggestions to share with the membership that is working for you, or, just as importantly, that has not worked, please e-mail us with your suggestions so we can share with the rest of the group! Your experiences are valuable learning tools!
Sample Letter: From the California State Railroad Museum to its Donors
The following is a letter from the California State Railroad Museum to its supporters. Feel free to use this as inspiration for your own organization’s development and outreach efforts during this time.
As much as we would love to be full steam ahead for the start of the excursion train season, the California State Railroad Museum Foundation is, like all other non-profit organizations across the state, in a waiting game to find out when our new normal will begin. We’re all anxious for the day that we can once again take in the sights and sounds of the Museum and then safely board one of the historic train cars and see the beauty of the Old Sacramento Waterfront with loved ones. You may not know it, but when you buy a ticket and take a ride on the Sacramento Southern Railroad or make a purchase in our museum store, you are helping to fund programs of the California State Railroad Museum and Foundation. These are our primary fundraising avenues and due to the shutdown caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, we are experiencing major funding shortfalls. We are very fortunate to be supported by hundreds of dedicated volunteers that lead museum tours, provide high-quality interpretation, maintain our locomotives and passenger cars, and keep our railroad operations on track. With a volunteer core dominated by those in the most affected age group, our internal village has dwindled, and we need our greater community to help. Your support is critically needed so please consider making an additional donation today which will support our programs, help get our operations back on track, and create lasting family memories for our railroad fans. You can donate online or by sending a check to: Development Office, California State Railroad Museum Foundation, 106 K Street, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95814.On behalf of the entire team at the California State Railroad Museum Foundation, we thank you for your support and we look forward to seeing you soon in the museum and out on the rails.
With Sincere Appreciation,
President and CEO