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Celebrating Women: Marilyn Hannes

Meet the Park President San Diego of SeaWorld and Aquatica


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Photo by Jennifer Siegwart

When did you join SeaWorld?

I began my career with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment as director of travel industry sales for SeaWorld San Diego 19 years ago.

Have you always been in the tourism business?

Prior to joining SeaWorld, I was a hotel executive for 20 years.

What is the history of SeaWorld?

We are 53 years old and have 12 parks around the country. The company went public in 2013 and is governed by a board of directors. I was promoted to park president San Diego in April 2016, and I’m the first woman to hold that position.

Do you have a family?

Yes, I have five children. I was in San Diego while they were growing up, then I spent a year in the corporate office in Orlando. When I became president here, it was like coming home. The timing was perfect to relocate with my husband, Phil, and my youngest son, Brandon. This is my dream job. I had asked several times if it would be possible for a marketing woman to become park president.

What challenges have you faced coming into this role?

We’re moving forward as a brand in this new time. We need to do a better job of telling our story. We’re a purpose-driven park caring about animals and doing rescue, research, and conservation. It’s a very exciting time, and we’re giving our ambassadors an opportunity to deliver experiences that matter.

How do you see the future of the park?

Our cornerstone is our Ocean Explorer attraction with new species in the Park, and the new Orca presentation is the Orca Encounter.

What does SeaWorld do to give back?

It was a rare instance in which the nonprofit, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, opened before the for-profit, SeaWorld. The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund was founded in 2003 and has granted $14 million in support of animal rescue and research, education, and conservation projects. SeaWorld San Diego provides donations to assist many nonprofit charitable organizations and schools. We target causes that specifically benefit environmental protection and conservation programs as well as underserved youth.

How do you overcome obstacles?

Turn them into opportunities. I do mini seminars outside and inside SeaWorld. Mentoring is a personal passion of mine. I share common-sense, practical tips on how you can make progress in your career.

Who was your mentor?

I’ve had a whole stream of mentors who taught me and coached me along the way. Many hotel general managers, and Bill Thomas, who was a vice president of marketing for 29 years, were all mentors.

What does the future hold for you?

I just finally got my dream job and I really believe in my company. We have a great turnaround story for SeaWorld San Diego and our other 11 parks, and I’m excited to be moving forward.

Do you have any advice for others?

Follow your passion and build strong teams based on trust and collaboration. Focus on your work ethic—it can help you stand out in a crowd.

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