Amusement park managers are responsible for overseeing the budgets, staffing and day-to-day operations of amusement and theme parks. While there are no specific training programs in the field, students who are interested in the career might consider enrolling in an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree program in recreation, hospitality or tourism management. These programs not only focus on how to communicate and market recreational facilities, but how to become a leader and operate such an establishment. In addition to a management role, some other positions may include vice president, administrator or event planner.
Prerequisite requirements vary according to the level of study, but will generally involve a high school diploma or GED for the undergraduate programs and presentation of undergraduate transcripts for the master's degree program.
Over the course of the program, students may be asked to do fieldwork or complete a practicum, internship or thesis paper.
Associate of Applied Science in Recreation Management
A 2-year associate's degree program in recreation management may be an ideal stepping stone for individuals who are interested in working at outdoor amusement parks, aquatic centers, recreation centers or parks. Such degree programs provide students with a foundational understanding of recreation and leisure studies. Students also gain management and leadership skills through classroom seminars and practicum experiences.
The core curriculum alternates between recreation theory, management theory and practical experiences. Other than leisure studies, some specific examples include:
- Philosophy of recreation
- Leadership principles
- Facilities management
- Recreation programming
- Recreation management practicum
Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management
Bachelor's degree programs in hospitality management combine the principles of management with the principles of hospitality and recreation. Students learn the basics of organizational management, human resource management and program planning so that they might eventually staff and oversee operations of recreation centers. They also learn about outdoor recreation management principles, legal liability for recreation centers and safety regulations for recreation centers.
Students may want to enroll in a school with a curriculum accredited by an organization like the National Recreation and Park Association. In addition to leisure activities and program planning, some recommended courses include:
- Introduction to recreation and leisure
- Outdoor recreation management
- Management principles
- Legal liability
- Safety regulations
- Recreation administration
Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management
The graduate program most applicable to the field of amusement park management is a 2-year Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism Management program. Such programs are designed to allow students to develop their critical decision-making, leadership, research and management skills as they apply to the hospitality field. Students often study issues affecting the tourism and hospitality industry today as well as aspects of hospitality and tourism management from a national and even global perspective.
Other than tourism development and hospitality human resource management, some core courses might include:
- Current issues in hospitality and tourism management
- Hospitality marketing
- Statistics for management
- Family and consumer studies research
- Tourism and global issues
- Philosophy of leisure and sport
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that more than 5,400 individuals held management positions at amusement parks and arcades in the United States as of May 2018, and these professionals earned a mean annual wage of $91,300 in 2018. It's important to note that this figure includes the highest levels of managers, such as chief executives; salaries for lower-level and mid-level managers will be significantly less. For instance, in September 2019, PayScale.com reported that the median salary for operations managers in the amusement park industry was $59,000.
Popular Career Options
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs may find work in a variety of different types of amusement parks. Depending on the park and its associated attractions, a graduate of an amusement park management program may take a position as a:
- Recreation administrator
- Recreation resources manager
- Marina manager
- Community center director
- Water park manager
Graduates of master's degree programs are prepared for administration and management position with skills in marketing, managing and financing. They may assume positions as a(n):
- General manager
- Manager of special events
- Vice president of operations
- Director of visitors bureau
Amusement park managers are not required to gain certification before obtaining a job in the field. However, they can elect to receive certification from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). They must pass an examination and have either a bachelor's degree or five years of work experience in the field before earning certification. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions also offers certification for attractions managers and attractions professionals.
Programs to suit students looking to go into amusement park management include hospitality or recreation management degrees. The general leadership and administration skills gained during these undergraduate and graduate programs are transferable to leadership positions in most any hospitality or entertainment institution.