The travel industry is on a high growth curve with more consumers investing time and money in experiences and destinations. As a result the demand for zoos, theme parks, gardens, museums, and other local attractions to attract tourism dollars is as competitive as ever. Guest experience is often the key driver that helps attractions stay popular, get returning visitors and gain word of mouth which is another major factor in the consumer purchase cycle.
As the global tourism industry continues to mature, guest experiences will play an important role as there is a global and local competition to comprehend. According to a study by Salesforce, 72% of customers are more likely to recommend a business to six or more people if their experience was positive.
On the flip side, 13% of unhappy customers will share their negative experiences with 15 or more people.
Attractions that can provide personalized customer experience and understand the pulse of the visitor experience stand to gain the most.
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I spoke with Nadine Kocanjer, Guest Animal Experience Director with Animals, Science, and Environment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, as she explained how the Disney brand continues to be a great source of inspiration when it comes to the holistic management of the guest experience.
Kocanjer said, “From a Disney perspective, we are known for creating great experiences for our guests and the level of guest service that we offer. When we layer in the mission of our Animal Science and Environment team, we also have this value of connecting our guests to nature with the goal of inspiring them to take some sort of action, a positive action, to help protect animals, the environment, and the planet in general. So, the opportunity to connect those two things create awesome and amazing experiences that are fun and exciting for our guests, but also lead to an increase or an enhanced respect for nature and animals.”
Great work in attractions isn’t simply about moving ride vehicles, ringing up sales, or keeping the streets clean. All those tasks are important, but a great attraction requires providing exceptional guest service. So how does one acquire knowledge in that sense? Simply put, guest feedback.
Kocanjer had this to say.
“Guest feedback is really important. We want to know how our guests feel about our experiences from an overall service perspective. So we oftentimes get feedback about experiences like our tour products and about the length of the tour. Luckily for us, they want the tour to be longer. We love guest stories, but I think what is very strong in the feedback that we hear is our cast members; it’s our staff that really make the experience. The opportunity to connect personally with our guests through one-on-one or small group interactions seems to resonate most with them. It’s really that connection with our cast members and our guests that really sets us apart.”
On the flip side, while most marketing teams tend to focus on the guest itself, they shouldn’t forget a crucial group of people who influence the way customer experience is managed and executed. That group of people are the staff members themselves.
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So what does the role of employees have on the overall customer experience?
“The role of the cast member is our strength. During COVID it was quite challenging when we had distance between the guest and cast member and so that meant the connection wasn’t quite as strong. Now that we’re in post-COVID times, we have now returned to a space where we’re making personal connections. We’re focusing on what I think are positive aspects that all of us rely on and enjoy, like nature, spending time in nature. Over the course of COVID, people had a renewed connection with nature, and we’re just taking the opportunity to extend that on and to support our mission in an even stronger way,” said Kocanjer.
Let’s not forget about the fact that demographics are now shifting and molding the way attractions are operating. Gen Z is becoming a big influencer on how the guest experience is done. I asked Kocanjer if there were any changes Disney was making as a result of the Gen Z influence. Are there some changes in Disney’s approach to customer experience that fits into that cohort?
“This is where our storytelling starts. Telling some of those meaningful stories and putting them out there on social media is helping to connect with that audience that we know is more digitally connected. Now more than ever Gen Z wants to know what’s happening with the company. I think there’s a lot of power and strength in being able to connect with our audience, even before their visit here, so that they kind of understand part of our mission before they visit,” answered Kocanjer.
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Another area of consideration for Gen Z guests – a brand’s purpose or mission. A recent study, The State of Customer Experience, found 76% of Americans were more likely to be loyal to a brand, service or company who aligns with their values. This is especially important when it comes to zoos and aquariums as Gen Z is the most socially conscious of all generations.
“At The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, we strive not only to give our guests a best-day-ever experience, but to build meaningful connections to the natural world. A visit to our education and conservation Park gives our guests a chance to unplug from the daily online noise and immerse themselves in the experiential pleasure of meeting amazing desert animals. Desert species are often misunderstood, and their habitat is vulnerable, so we empower our staff and volunteers to share with guests the conservation efforts our organization is leading in deserts around the world. We share a message that everyone has a chance to leave a positive impact on our planet by making informed decisions on the use of natural resources, and this authenticity resonates with them,” shared Allen Monroe, President & CEO of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
Lastly, I asked a pivotal question: what advice do you have for people who are thinking about the guest experience?
Kocanjer said, “We’re happy to create experiences that are social media worthy, but that are also true memories and true experiences for our guests. I think the advice that I can give somebody that is focused on the guest experience, and, especially in a mission-based space like we are, is the following: it’s important to always remember that the actual experience and the guest service and the genuine and authentic approach that you take to a personalized experience is only going to lift your mission. My advice is to balance the mission and the content by creating amazing experiences because they will supercharge each other.”