Although a mainstay of family fun in Arkansas, Magic Springs Theme and Water Park in Hot Springs has undergone its fair share of changes since reopening in 2000. The park opened as Magic Springs Family Fun Park in 1977, closed in 1995 due to financial struggles, reopened under new ownership in 2000 and is now up and running at full speed thanks in part to owners EPR Properties, operators Premier Parks and some very sturdy leadership.
Jesskya Hanna takes over this month as general manager for the retiring Jack Bateman. Hanna, a Hot Springs native, has deep roots in Arkansas tourism, spending many summers on the Little Red River with her father, who worked as a fishing guide. Growing up, she was inspired by her dad’s stories of his time as a lifeguard and safety instructor.
“When Magic Springs opened its water park in 2000, I knew I’d get my chance to be a lifeguard. Little did I know, I’d never really leave,” Hanna said. “From my first lifeguard class to today, Magic Springs has been my family. Led by incredible supervisors, I was inspired from the start to be successful and take my job seriously, all while staying focused on a future career at the park.”
Hanna worked at the park seasonally for several years in the early 2000’s, valuing each experience and opportunity. She was elevated to head lifeguard, then aquatics supervisor. When she and her husband, Tim, moved to Hot Springs to start their family, she was offered a full-time job as the water park manager and quickly became the operations director.
In 2012, Hanna became the assistant general manager of the park before her promotion to general manager, and she’s seen the park endure through some less-than-ideal times for the tourism industry.
“Like many others in the tourism industry, the pandemic has been difficult to weather, but our industry always requires us to be flexible and willing to quickly adapt to changes as they occur,” Hanna said.
She is most proud of the way her team worked “tirelessly” to respond to the ever-changing environment and what she described as “the biggest challenge we’ve faced” in the park’s history.
“We worked through supply chain issues, staffing shortages and new protocols to ensure our guests can have the same thrilling experience they expect at the park in 2022. We are undergoing massive hiring efforts for the 2022 season, which includes a specific international hiring strategy that was put on hold during the pandemic. We have developed and implemented new maintenance and operations initiatives to get ahead of lingering supply-chain breakdowns as well. It’s been a challenge, but we always say, ‘Fun is in the job description.’ We are encouraged as we overcome each new obstacle and pursue exciting opportunities to bring the magic back.”
Hanna carries that same spirit into the upcoming travel and tourism season, which looks promising considering the recent decline in COVID-19 cases across the country. The park opens May 7, the water park is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend, and the Magic Springs Summer Concert Series will run each weekend from June 4 to Sept. 4.
Compared to her previous jobs at Magic Springs, Hanna expects her new role as GM to be much the same and said she’ll lean heavily on her “talented, dependable and loyal” leadership team.
“For the last 10 years, I’ve been part of the management team and learned how to make those high-level decisions for the park. That’s going to stay the same in many ways,” she said. “My new role means I make the final decisions, bolstered by their input and expertise, for the day-to-day operation as well as the park’s future.
“I want to continue to build an innovative approach to and am seeking ways to modernize our environment, both for our employees and our guests. We are memory makers at our core, and we will continue that tradition moving forward.”
A tribute and a promise
Jessyka Hanna credits her predecessor, longtime Magic Springs general manager Jack Bateman, for his work and guiding the park through the pandemic.
“Jack has been an asset to the tourism and attractions industry for more than 40 years and his expertise greatly benefited Magic Springs,” she said. “He skillfully managed our team and worked to equip each of our experts with what they needed to succeed. Jack is all about exploring new ideas, and he helped bring innovation to the way we were operating. I was fortunate to learn from him and have spent the last five years growing as a leader in the company.”
In a letter last fall to park employees, Bateman commended their work and promised a return of the “magic.”
“…Attractions, restaurants and hotels are struggling to keep up as we face lower budgets, loss of staff and difficulty hiring trained teammates. The high demand in the job market has taken a toll on productivity across all disciplines, as many businesses are mass-hiring following previous large lay-offs at the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, national supply chain issues continue to have serious implications as almost every consumer-facing industry has been impacted, causing a decline in brand promise…
As we begin planning for the new year, industry leaders, particularly in Arkansas, must work together to provide visitors and residents with a diverse array of entertainment and recreational options across the state. In the last two years, organizations have made innovative, creative adaptations to their regular programming or offerings in order to meet the evolving needs of its guests. We’ve seen virtual innovations, new programs, fresh ideas and unique outreach of which we should all be proud.
For Magic Springs, we are bringing the magic back by adding more value to our operating season. We will extend our operating season to open earlier in the spring so guests can enjoy more rides, more concerts and more much-needed fun.
We are honored to provide a small sense of normalcy as Arkansans continue to navigate through the pandemic and to work alongside so many passionate, talented tourism leaders to rebuild our industry, restore consumer confidence and bring Arkansans and visitors alike the entertainment they deserve. In order to move forward, we have to be honest amidst the ups and downs, and work together to bring the magic back to Arkansas tourism.”