Archive for January, 2013

The world of theme parks and the wide world of Disney

January 11, 2013

There has been a lot of talk on theme park growth and offerings. Some of it has found The Walt Disney Company lacking.
It’s easy to get caught up in the comparative analysis of who’s doing what but doing so prohibits us from looking at the gestalt:
Disney was, is, and always will be cutting edge.
Just because the company isn’t moving fast enough at a particular time for a particular analyst’s tastes doesn’t mean it is mis-stepping. There have been stumbles, but in the past the company has shown a strong face at recovering and learning. Its leaders by and large understand the difference between leading and managing. Trust me, there is a difference, just as there is a difference between leaders and managers.

Some of this talk has involved attractions that might not be sophisticated enough. What separates guests who quickly visit a new attraction and add it to their belt of experiences from those guests who adopt attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion and make it a point to visit as frequently as possible, sometimes going several times in the course of a one day visit? Nothing.

It is true that attractions go away, evolve, or become something else entirely. This mindset of change was Walt’s persistent vision and remains a driving force in the company to this day.Walt was also about embracing new technology, about doing things that had never been done before. The concept of a Theme Park as we know it today, Themed resorts, and environments where the guests become part of the show, never existed before 1955, with the opening of Disneyland.The Dragon flying over Fantasyland, even if for only one night, is the sort of spectacular detail that people still buzz over and an excellent example of a company going beyond the norm.

Sure, it’s great to have “go-fast” rides and attractions that suit the adrenaline junkies. But do you render those offerings at the cost of excluding certain family members? Do you leave mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, and the young adventurers not yet meeting height requirements on the bench outside while you ride the spinning swings of doom?
I suppose you could. But then what was the point of the “family vacation” if the family is not spending time together? This very example speaks to the point of why Walt build Disneyland.

Roller coasters are excellent thrill-a-minute entertainment, but so are live shows, especially the high-energy, high octane stunt shows such as those that can be found at the Disney Hollywood Studios and Disney park in Paris.
Live shows and entertainment is one area where the competition has not been keeping up. It is possible they don’t understand the need for a broad sweeping stroke that does one thing: provides an activity for the entire family.
It’s true: Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is an impressive feat of technology.
The real winner for me, however, was the enveloping design of Hogsmeade. Everybody young and old could enjoy that.
This is the sort of uncompromising architectural slam-dunk that can be found at every single Disney park. This is the sort of attention to detail that is the rule and not the exception.

And let us step outside the realm of the Theme Park. Whatever your interest, Disney has it. It says volumes about the product that cast members take advantage of the perks of working for the company by experiencing some of what there is to offer, be it a round of golf at one of the award-winning courses at Walt Disney World, a stay at one of the resorts, dining in one of the world class restaurants, or a cruise on one of the Disney Cruise Line ships(a line of business with its own lengthy list of accolades).

Development and planning is a meticulous and careful endeavor.
The Walt Disney Company didn’t become the global leader in entertainment by looking up from the project table like a contestant on a reality show scrambling to assemble a puzzle and win immunity.

The parks may not always look their steller best. True – explaining what is behind the wall is a lot like trying to tell someone, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Unfortunately this is the price of creating magic.
When one looks at how Disney positions its offerings it becomes clear the net is cast as wide as possible from a perspective of total inclusivity. Consider their Common Goal. Also think about holiday offerings. Magic Kingdom’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is not Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream, or any of that genre for a reason. It is an offering designed to appeal to the entire family.
Popularity of attractions, resorts, and Theme Parks themselves can sometimes be the subject of caustic debate. It is interesting to note that the most popular tourist attraction in Paris is not Gustave Eiffel’s creation, but Disneyland Paris.
Families typically plan their holiday vacations based on what everyone will or can do together. Look at Adventures by Disney. Who would have guessed guided tours with a uniquely Disney presence would become so popular, yet they are.
There is a special subset that focuses on thrill rides and the like. For them there is Cedar Point and Kings Dominion, to name a couple.
You can never please everyone, no matter how hard you try. Anyone who states differently is trying to sell you something from the back of a wooden wagon.
It is important to think in terms of the following, even as a demographic evolves:
Today’s child is tomorrow’s teen and the next day’s parent. While there may be unrest because there are not enough “edgy attractions” to stimulate teen senses, you can be assured that when those teens become parents and grandparents they’ll certainly plan a family trip, most likely to one of the Disney parks.
One small part marketing, one big part Memories. Disney IS about creating and making memories.

I remember my first trip to the Magic Kingdom, who I was with, and what we did.
I also remember my first trip to Universal, but not because of the place. I had press credentials and was there for the grand opening. So, while every other person waited in hours long lines to experience Jaws or Earthquake (both attractions which, incidentally are no longer there or have been remade), we were escorted through back doors alongside other legitimate celebrities to experience the rides without the wait.

I remember my second trip to the Magic Kingdom.
I could not tell you details of my second trip to any other theme park if money, fame, and fortune were on the line.
Ephemeral experiences are not the Disney way.

When I go to the Disney parks the experience is an overall positive one because my guests and myself are made to feel special. That conveys to most everyone who visits the Walt Disney World Resort. There are going to be experiences that miss the perpetual high water mark with some, but the numbers bear the truth: Disney is successful at what it does because it is a “guest first” company.

The success is evident in the fact Disney’s story-telling is a critical component to the ongoing success of the company synergistically. Synergy is a great way of delivering to the wide variety of tastes of today’s sophisticated consumer. Pirates of the Caribbean is one example of many.
The Walt Disney Company does this in such a way that other companies clamor to study and learn “The Disney Way.”
Memories are as much a part of Disney as Mickey Mouse.

My favorite memories involve who I was with, not the rides I was on.
I lost my brother in July. One such memory involved a road trip he and I took to EPCOT (then Center).
That memory is better than any ten dozen thrill rides and attractions.

We all want to share the stories and experiences that make us smile, because a smile is contagious, and what better way to infect others than by sharing the thing that brings one joy. In this case, it’s not just the thrill ride, the new attraction, or the stunning architecture. It’s how all things combined create the indelible imprint of a lasting memory.
That’s what good storytelling does.
This is a skill Disney is penultimately suited to deliver over and over again.

Memories? That is what people are going to hang on to and remember years after their visit. Creating Happiness and Making Memories. That’s what Disney does. And Disney does so better than anyone else.