Thursday, May 10, 2018

ITEC's Patrick Kling with 8 Tips & Methods that any business can apply from the Theme Park Industry


By Patrick Kling, Project Coordinator


                               More on Patrick Kling can be found here.

Theme Parks are serious business.

In fact, in 2017 the Walt Disney Company’s Parks and Resort division took in 18.4 Billion Dollars in Revenue. This isn’t a fluke. This is a meticulously ran division and an important part of the strategic vision for the Walt Disney Company.

While you may not be in the business of building Hogwarts castles or tea cups, there are lessons from theme park operations and design that you can apply to your business.

So lower your lap bar, remain seated at all times and put on your 3D glasses… let’s go!

1. Encourage your employees to use your business, product or service

At any given moment there are countless theme park employees and designers walking (or 'playing' as we affectionately call it) around Disney and Universal parks. Companies encourage this by granting their employees generous admission access. This isn’t just a perk, it's a smart business practice. Employees are the toughest critics and often know when something is wrong and can impact change in your organization. They also make great brand ambassadors for your business.

Consider encouraging your employees to use your business’s services or product by increasing discounts, and don’t be afraid to facilitate feedback from them. They live and breath your brand every day and are likely to care the most.


2. "Yes, If” versus “No, Because"

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Gurr, a famed theme park designer whose first project was designing the Autopia vehicles at Disneyland. He went on to design then Monorail’s, Haunted Mansion ‘Doom Buggies’ and even the King Kong animatronics for Universal parks. He was speaking to several of my fellow theme park industry design folk and shared fascinating stories.

They mostly revolved around his former boss, Walt Disney.

While Walt Disney and other creatives would dream up the impossible, forward thinking attractions, it was up to Bob Gurr to figure out how to actually build them!

Walt Disney hated it when anyone would tell him “No”

That’s why Bob Gurr adopted the mantra is “Yes, if”

Even if something seems impossible, there may be a way to make it happen. Let’s take a practical example:

“We need to finish finalizing the year end budget by Friday”

Less productive response - "No, because I am already overworked, and don’t have time to do it.”

More Productive response - "Yes, if I can shift some of my workload, or get more help.”

This mantra and thinking can help get proper resources needed to accomplish a task, or let leaders make the decisions themselves on what to prioritize. Try it at your business and watch your communication and productivity improve!

3. Queue management 

Theme parks are infamous for their endless lines snaking through switchbacks and seemingly endless hallways. In recent years, industry leaders like Disney and Universal have rolled out innovative queue management systems like Fast Pass, or waiting areas like at "Jimmy Fallon’s Race Through New York" attraction. The Jimmy Fallon attraction is quite unique as guests can lounge and be entertained by the Tonight Show’s zany, contemporary a capella group, The Ragtime Gals, while they wait for their ride to begin.




Jimmy Fallon soaks in the smooth barber shop tunes of the Ragtag Gals during a preview of his attraction. The Ragtag Gals perform daily in front of audiences who are waiting to board the ride. 
©Universal Orlando





At your business it may be common to have people waiting. Waiting to be seated, waiting to be seen, waiting on hold, waiting to place their order, or waiting for answers. Here are some principles to learn from:
  • Give your customers an accurate wait time
  • Keep customers informed of delays
  • Entertain or occupy your customers while they wait
  • Be careful of bottlenecks in your wait, ensure multiple people can attend one line
Applying these principles will lead to higher efficiencies and less perceived wait from customers.

4. Nurture and give perks to your biggest fans

Word-of-mouth continues to be one of the best forms of advertising. When you have a repeat customer, it is likely they are in your targeted demographic and know others that would be interested in your business as well.

Nurture them!

Theme parks have upped their fan appreciation over the past several years. Since the inception of seasonal and annual passes decades ago, theme parks have cultivated a dedicated and huge fan base. Disney and Universal have seized this opportunity and hold various events throughout the year that attracts and caters to their biggest fans.





Since 2014 Universal Orlando has held A Celebration of Harry Potter™, with exclusive celebrity meet and greets, panel discussions and special merchandise.
©Universal Orlando




What are you doing to retain your most passionate customers?

Are they given priority over others? Are they given discounts or perks? What can you do to expedite their experience? Do you interact with them on social media or other platforms

Happy customers tell others about their experience and can become a significant marketing vehicle for your company.

5. Empower your employees to help customers

At the major theme parks, front line employees are empowered to resolve issues on the spot.

Did little Billy just drop an Ice Cream cone? A nearby employee can help and get that replaced, most likely with no questions asked. Is a customer having a bad day… train your employees to ask them what they need to right the situation. Most of the time, people simply want to be heard. 





Nothing will ruin your vacation faster than a dropped Dole Whip splattered throughout Adventureland. At the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida there is no need to fret as a nearby Cast Member will help resolve the issue on the spot.

Photo Courtesy: Kristen Walbieser





Businesses are complicated, and empowering your employees to resolve issues can be good for them, and let you spend less time handling routine issues and more time on the bigger picture.

6. Design your business in terms of the customer or guest experience

Theme parks have meticulously laid out what the guest experience is like in every square inch of their parks. From the parking lot to the amount of water fountains and benches, it is all deliberately orchestrated. 

How does a customer engage with your business?




In 2013 the Walt Disney World Resort rolled out the Magic Band changing how guests interact with everything from Theme Park entry points, to hotel room doors to on-ride photography.
©Disney






Conduct an analysis of each touch point between the business and customer. Identify how you can make it better for them. Is there a way to expedite the customer experience by having them give you information ahead of time? Could they be greeted personally? Could they speak to the same representative each time?

Think about how to make it more personable. If done properly, you will see the difference!

7. Measure and analyze everything

Theme parks measure wait times, hourly capacity, and of course, per cap spending.

It's a no-brainer to count the basics at any business such as revenue, expenses and profit, but think about expanding to more out-of-the-box measurements. How long does it take for a customer to talk to a person while waiting on the phone? How long does it take for someone to greet a customer when they are in your store? How could a customer pay quicker?

If you are consistently measuring, you can analyze how to make your business, and the customer experience, more efficient and hold employees accountable.

8. Keep it up! 

“Keep it up - Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance, people expect to get a good show every time, people will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.” - Marty Sklar, Imagineer and Disney Legend

If you're business has been open for a year or longer, things may already be deteriorating. As Marty Sklar said, ‘Keep it up!’ If you are a store or restaurant, ensure you set aside capital to keep your business updated, current and working. Nobody wants to walk into a dilapidated business with chipped paint, and broken furniture (unless you’re an antique shop).

Things break, but it is possible to keep ahead of it.






For over 60 years the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland in Anaheim, California has been maintained, updated and kept relevant for today’s audiences.
Photo Courtesy: Kristen Walbieser





Every few years, attractions at Disney and Universal will be closed temporarily for days or weeks, to fully “refurbish” the ride. This is in addition to the regular nightly maintenance each attraction goes through.

Keep your business looking fresh, and you’ll have plenty of customers coming back!

The theme park industry is very unique as it blends countless trades, technologies and is a living and breathing entity. Next time you frequent one, take notice of the surroundings and how meticulous it is laid out.

We have merely scratched the surface in terms of lessons learned from theme parks. There is also a lot to learn from one another - what industry are you in? Let us know what lessons theme parks might be able to learn from your business in the comment box below!


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