Musings from Orlando

Child at Disney World

I just returned from a trip to Orlando where I had the opportunity to visit Disney World, Universal Studios, and several other parks with my extended family. I really enjoy going to Orlando each year with my family because despite spanning three generations, no one is ever at a loss for things to do. In addition to spending quality time with each other, it is also a great opportunity to see what the top players in the amusement park/entertainment market are doing.

For those that have met me, you know I am a work-a-holic. You will also know that I like to share those things I find most relevant from my experience. This year’s experience had my mind spinning.

Here are a few of my musings.

Personalize the experience

My soon-to-be-three-year-old son was so excited to meet Mickey Mouse that he wore his mouse ears around for most of the week. When we got to the park, I was surprised to find that the characters were not as accessible as they had once been. As a child, Mickey seemed to be everywhere including at the airport. We didn’t meet Mickey, but at Universal we met Cat in the Hat and other Seussian characters. When my son approached and reached out his favorite toy car (ironically, Lightning McQueen from Disney PIXAR’s “Cars”), the Cat character got down on his hands and knees and pushed the car back and forth with my son. I am certain my son will talk about the experience for years to come. Thanks to Cat for reading my son and spending a few extra moments playing cars with him. It made his trip and built a life-long fan.

How could you personalize your tour experience so that it would be more memorable for each individual?

Know when too much business is bad business and have a plan to handle it.

The much acclaimed Harry Potter experience at Universal Studios combined brilliant set construction with amusing rides and special effects, but Universal’s inability to manage the long lines was disastrous. For me, the best part of the Potter experience was leaving and heading for another section of the park. The real disappointment was that the experience should have been one of the highlights of our trip. I will avoid describing the chaos that ensued following the 2.5-hour wait in a line queue that had little shade cover, but I will apologize to all of the people who my family of ten was eventually ushered in front of by a park employee who acknowledged that most of the people in the line needed to not be waiting. Disney’s FastPass system (which is essentially a first-come-first-serve reservation, or a pay-to-play) proved a very reasonable solution. In fairness, Universal has a different pay to bypass system, but it did not handle the overextended lines which turned the Village of Hogsmeade into a chaotic mess.

Are there situations where too much business has damaged your brand? What guidelines and systems do you have in place to handle situations where too much is just too much?

Turn your weakness in to a strength

I have always been impressed with Disney’s ability to make waiting in line interesting. In fact, my enjoyment reviewing interesting (often quirky) displays, set themes, and special effects while waiting in line often surpass my enjoyment of the actual attraction.

Analyze your operation. Are there changes you could make that would turn your weakness in to an asset?

Experiences are worth more than events

What I appreciate about both Disney and Universal is that they have done a world-class job of building brands and experiences that transcend the event. While we were only in Orlando for five days, my son has been talking about the trip for weeks and I am certain he will keep sharing stories with us and his friends for weeks to come. In fact, I think he delights more in the opportunity to share his story and talk about the experience than he did in riding the rides and meeting the characters.

Are you developing your business around an event or experience? What can you do to extend your experience and grow your brand?

Know your core business.

When I ask most zip line operators to define their core business, they often tell me simply “it’s zip lines”. While Disney and Universal both offered thrilling rides, the rides were a means of reinforcing their brand and not the core business. Their core business was immersing their guests in experiences that built on their movies and product lines. When I developed ArborTrek Canopy Adventures, we did not set out to develop the furthest, fastest, or most ambitious zip line because our business wasn’t zip lining. Our core business was “creating memories.”  Our objective was to:

  • Create novel memories that are enduring.
  • Provide our patrons with their own awesome, adventure story to share with their family and friends–a story in which they are the hero or heroine.
  • Advocate for the benefit and preservation of wild places.

To do this, we created systems to take and share photos with our guests, we spent additional time training our guides on local ecology, we encouraged our staff to take time to share other experiences in the local region (great hikes, favorite local meal, other tour experiences, partner programs, etc.), and we promoted local products unique to our course area.

What is your core business?