A Chat With New Busch Gardens Williamsburg Park President Kevin Lembke

Late last month, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced a new park president; Kevin Lembke. Kevin has worked in the SeaWorld Parks chain in a variety of roles for the past 18 years, most recently serving as the Vice President of Culinary Operations for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

Because there’s only so much that a press release and LinkedIn profile can tell you about a person, we reached out to Busch Gardens to see if Kevin would be willing to answer a few questions about his background, time in the industry, and a few other topics. Thankfully, he was!

C101: For our readers who might not know, tell us a little about your background.

Kevin Lembke: I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I went to high school there and graduated from the University of Buffalo. I come from a large family – one of four kids, most of whom are still up in the Buffalo area. Growing up in Buffalo, I’m a big hockey fan, big Bills fan. I think that’s a prerequisite of being a Buffalo native. I spent lot of time focused on youth sports and watching sports. A lot of that still stays with me today. I still play hockey pretty regularly, and coach my son’s team, and things like that. I moved to Orlando right after college, and got my start with the company. I still very close ties back home and a very big part of who I am.

C101: How did you get your start in the theme park industry?

Kevin Lembke: After spending about a year working for the Buffalo Bills in their marketing department while I was finishing up at UB, I was looking for that next opportunity, and unfortunately at the time, something more permanent with the Bills wasn’t opening up. I kind of took a shot down in Orlando – I knew some family and friends down in the area, and it seemed like a good place to start my search and do something different – get out of Western New York for a little bit.

From the SeaWorld stand point, it was kind of a blind resume type situation where they had a leadership role (Area Manager, Retail Operations) available, and I went through the interview process, met them for the first time, and that’s where I got my start.

C101: You’ve worked in a variety of roles for the Anheuser-Busch/SeaWorld parks. What has the transition been like working your way up from Area Manager of Retail Operations at SeaWorld Orlando to now Park President of Busch Gardens Williamsburg?

Kevin Lembke: I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of different stops along the way all within this company going on 18 years. I think the greatest part about it is gaining the perspective of different lines of business, meeting a lot of different people and different leaders. I spent time at the park level, and spent about 9 years at our corporate office as well. To see the business from a different angle, and providing that support to the parks, which was very valuable. Ultimately, I’m much more of a “park” guy. I enjoy being “in the field” and working side-by-side with the team each day. As great as the corporate experience was, I knew that I had to get back out there. In 2013, Busch Gardens Williamsburg was that opportunity.

Transitioning from the corporate office in Orlando to a great opportunity here as the VP of Merchandise. This park is known for a great tradition of their retail, the themed shops and the country of origin approach. So it was a great opportunity for three years. Then I went to Tampa (to serve as the VP of Culinary Operations), which was another perspective, another park. You learn so much by broadening your horizons. Even though its technically within the same company, its just a unique experience to see how things function in different markets, to see what the demand is from the guest. I think all of that culminated in the opportunity I have now as Park President of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, to bring experiences from a diverse background and different points of view in the business to the role today.

C101: Do you have any mentors or role models in the industry?

Kevin Lembke: There’s been so many along the way that have helped me. No particular names that I’ll mention, but I can tell you from folks who are no longer with the company, to some folks who I still work with on a day-to-day basis, there’s such big teams in the parks, and you get to collaborate with so many different folks from different backgrounds and different experience levels. I think the best think you can try to do is learn from all of those folks. Even the things that don’t work can be such a great learning experience. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some industry leaders who are well respected not only in the tourism industry but in business in general. Absolutely a critical component to where I am today.

C101: As Busch Gardens Williamsburg moves into the 2018 season and beyond, what is your vision for the park?

Kevin Lembke: I think for us, its an exciting time. The park has shown some great growth within the attractions – with InvadR last year, that was an outstanding addition with great guest reviews. It’s a great experience and a natural fit from the theme and other components to the essence of what the park is. If you look at Battle for Eire this year, it’s a different spin on an attraction. It’s Virtual Reality, but at the same time is being done in a way that hasn’t been done before – but with a theme that speaks very well to what we’re about here and with the Ireland tie-in. There’s obviously more to come as we look to launch that. It really fits seamlessly in the Ireland area.

I think between new attraction development, our new membership program which is off to a great start, and provides tremendous value to folks, as far as multiple parks, exclusive looks, special events and access. I’m really excited about the opportunities to provide value for our guests. Looking towards the future, looking for ways to be innovative, and looking for new ways to bring attractions to our guests in a way that helps us evolve but at the same time keeps with the traditions and the essence of what Busch Gardens Williamsburg is about. We aren’t like our regional competitors in the theme and quality we bring forward. I think you can evolve and innovate, but still protect the DNA and charm of this park, and what keeps people coming back.

Loch Ness Monster from The “Coaster Valley” Bridge

C101: Do you have a favorite “hidden gem” at Busch Gardens Williamsburg?

Kevin Lembke: I don’t know if it’s a “hidden” gem, but our “Coaster Valley” as you’re on the bridge coming from Scotland over to the Rhinefeld Area. It can be pretty awesome sometimes, because its not the easiest place to get to with strollers and other things. But when you’re on that bridge in Coaster valley, its just such a unique experience and view. You’re feet away from one of the most iconic roller coasters in the world in Loch Ness Monster, it never fails to deliver.

C101: If you could bring one ride or attraction with you to Busch Gardens Williamsburg from Busch Gardens Tampa, what would you bring?

Kevin Lembke: I’d have to say Cheetah Hunt. It’s just a fantastic ride, it’s a launch coaster with a lot of unique elements. That run out through the Serengeti, with the movement of the cheetah is just fantastic. Anytime I’ve been on it, ridden it with guests, ridden it with family, it received nothing but rave reviews. It’s an outstanding attraction, and I’d take that in a heartbeat.

C101: What’s the most rewarding part about working in the theme park industry?

Kevin Lembke: I think it’s the interaction with the guests. We all need a break away from things from time to time, and that’s what we offer guests. An opportunity to come out with friends and family and just enjoy it. Interacting with folks out in the park and listening to their stories, how much they love bringing their kids to the parks or they came to this park as a kid, and now they’re bringing their own children, those are the stories that make it the most rewarding.

I’m a father of four, and my kids love the parks as well. I understand that connection of bringing families together and enjoying the experience. It’s a privilege to be able to provide those experiences, and I love hearing the feedback as people enjoy what we have to offer.

C101: What’s the most challenging part about working in the theme park industry? 

Kevin Lembke: It’s a highly competitive business. You’re constantly looking for ways to innovate and bring new experiences to guests. It’s a challenge, but its exciting and rewarding. You’re always looking for the next thing. What are the guests telling you? They’re providing feedback with what they do and don’t like, and you want to continue pushing forward. It’s a rewarding challenge, because you want to push in new directions, and when you do that and see the guest feedback, that’s the best part.

C101: What advice would you give to someone who is looking for an executive career in the theme park industry?

Kevin Lembke: I think someone in this industry – its such a people focused business. Both from a team that you work with and your interactions with the public. You have to be collaborative in your approach. You work with such a large team, different disciplines within the park, and then interacting with the guests of varied opinions, and likes and dislikes. You need to be able to collaborate, and find common goals to achieve thing. While you can bring your ideas forward, and kind of push in a new direction, you’re going to need to a team to help push you along, and I’ve certainly had plenty of help along the way in my journey. Collaboration and interpersonal relationships are really critical to that.

C101: And finally, the question we ask most of our interviewees – what is your favorite roller coaster, at any park in the world?

Kevin Lembke: I’ve got to go with Apollo’s Chariot. I don’t just say that because its in our home park, but of all the coasters I’ve ridden throughout the years, I keep coming back to that one as the one that delivers. It’s not only the ride itself, but it’s the setting, the natural setting that its in, you can’t beat it.

Thanks to Kevin for his time and to Nathan Warters at Busch Gardens for helping set this interview up.

You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @Kevin_BGW. (And if you want to learn a little more about him, check out this interview on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s blog!)

Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens for the season on March 24. For more information, visit the park’s website, and follow Busch Gardens Williamsburg on Facebook and Twitter.


You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.