The Art of Welcome
Guests look forward to visiting attractions to spend time with family and friends, make memories, and experience new activities and rides. A lot of planning usually goes into a day out at an attraction, from coordinating schedules and buying tickets online to packing sunscreen and mapping out an itinerary. Passing through an amusement park’s turnstile or a family entertainment center’s (FEC) door, guests come in with an expectation for an exciting visit. How can attractions create a positive guest experience from the beginning?
Funworld shares insights from attractions operators around the globe to enhance the art of welcome.
- Eliminate All Barriers
Long gone are the days of the traditional ticket booth and turnstile as attractions around the world opt for a more open concept when welcoming guests, eliminating both physical and perceived barriers. Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, United States, replaced its box offices for standing podiums.
“These podiums made us more efficient by allowing our staff to freely walk around between interactions, often escorting the next visitor to the station, and they provide a warm concierge experience for everyone,” explains David Rosenberg, vice president of guest experience at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “In fact, our staff are often seen getting down on one knee to welcome a child.”
- Create Memories from the Very Beginning
Onederland in Karachi, Pakistan, welcomes guests by having its mascots and team members greet them at the entrance of the FEC. “Our mascots tend to choose guests and give them a badge upon entry which entitles them to special attention from host members,” explains Umar Dar, CEO at Onederland. They also partner with local businesses over weekends and special occasions where they can offer fun treats to guests.
Zookeepers at the entrance of Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, Georgia, United States, welcome guests with encounters with some of the park’s exotic animals. “For many of our guests, this is the first time in their life they get to be so close to some our animals like snakes and sloths, and they get to meet them, take pictures with them, and ask our zookeepers any questions they have about the animal,” says Adam Floyd, marketing communications manager at Wild Adventures Theme Park.
- Open with a Show
In Hyderabad, India, Ramoji Film City, holding the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest studio complex, makes its guests feel like royalty with a grand opening ceremony showcasing India’s rich cultural history through dance and music. The show is performed in front of a huge medieval fort facade, which transports guests to a different era. Many parks around the world also put on a welcome show for their guests, sharing just a tease of what they can expect for the rest of their stay at the property. To keep guests entertained as they wait in line for rides, the park’s queuing areas are an attraction unto themselves. “At queuing areas, we have developed preshows to engage our guests,” says Rajeev Jalnapurkar, CEO of Ramoji Film City. “We have different photo opportunities and merchandising outlets where the guests can spend the lengthy downtime.”
- Feel Good Every Day
Before guests are free to explore Xejuyup in Retalhuleu, Guatemala, energetic hosts gather visitors together under a rocky archway. In groups of 20 to 25, guests are led through a quick team-building exercise or share in an encouraging and uplifting thought. With the energy of a halftime show announcer at a sporting event, a host on a microphone makes guests feel good about themselves. The nature-based theme park offers sensory experiences where guests can feed birds, catch fish, climb nets, stroll through gardens, and enjoy giant slides.
- Build Inclusive Workplaces and Spaces
There’s no better way to serve a diverse community than to work with and learn from it. That’s exactly what California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco does by leading Museums4Inclusion, a career pathway program for youth and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. By providing hands-on science learning experience and job training opportunities, Museums4Inclusion aims to develop and scale equitable, inclusive workplaces that reflect the diverse communities that museums serve. Museums4Inclusion offers a guide to other museums that would like to achieve more diversity.
- Bring Accessibility Forward
Ensuring attractions are accessible is part of creating a positive experience for all guests. In the Netherlands, Efteling theme park designed a virtual reality (VR) experience for one of its most popular rides, “Droomvlucht.” Through VR goggles and simulated effects, guests with disabilities who are unable to ride can see, feel, smell, and hear the attraction’s enchanting world of fairies, elves, trolls, unicorns, and forest animals. Visitors are connected with their party by headphones and microphones so they can experience the attraction together. The concept was invented by one of Efteling’s employees.
“Being able to communicate with each other during the ride and sharing the experience is most important,” explains Efteling CEO Fons Jurgens. “This really is what Efteling stands for. I am very proud of our colleague Freek Teunen who thought of this idea and shows how our employees are constantly in touch with our guests and know their needs and wishes.”
- Solutions for Guest Recovery
For many theme parks and attractions, inclement weather can be of high concern. Standing at 63 stories high, St. Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch stays open during lightning storms as the Arch has several lightning rods at the top that run all the way down to the bedrock. Guests typically don’t notice when the stainless-steel structure gets struck, and it’s not uncommon to be struck more than once in the same storm. However, days with more dense fog at the top or heavy rain can cause low visibility. At that point, staff members offer a voucher to guests to come back another day.
Similarly, when a ride or attraction is down, Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay in Louisville, Kentucky, United States, trains its employees to respond with empathy and find a way to “make amends.” In this regard, a little goes a long way.
“A coupon for a free ice cream cone or complimentary meal can turn a negative into a positive, leaving guests with a lasting memory of the kind response, not the closed ride,” says Gaylee Gillim, general counsel at Kentucky Kingdom.
- Keep It Safe and Fun
COVID-19 changed many aspects of operating a theme park, adding a long list of new safety protocols to create an enjoyable experience for guests. In Guatemala, IRTRA established what it calls “The Happy Squad,” a mix of park staff and mascots who remind guests to be safe but have fun.
“Our squad wears a special vest that informs guests of our safety protocols, such as wearing a mask and making sure they wash their hands often,” says Maria Andrea Cruz, marketing manager at IRTRA. “Our message is very simple: If you take care of yourself, you’re taking care of others.”
- Provide Additional Value to Loyal Guests
Many theme parks and attractions around the world offer guests annual membership or passes. SeaWorld Orlando is always focusing on ways to provide additional value and a unique experience for its Pass Members.
“Our Pass Member Lounge at SeaWorld Orlando is a place for our pass members to relax and recharge while enjoying our park,” says Erin Kendrick, marketing leader at SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando. “We want our pass members to feel special and part of the SeaWorld family. The lounge is just one way we can accomplish this goal and say thank you to our most loyal fans.”
The lounge offers complimentary soft drink samples and a concierge desk for any guests needs.
- Healthy Staff, Happy Staff
Keeping a healthy and happy staff is key to great customer service and overall experience. Therefore, PortAventura in Spain designed an entire wellness program for its staff that focuses on living a healthy lifestyle. Staff members can take advantage of different courses like a yoga class and seminars that discuss everything from work-life balance to skin protection. “PortAventura e-Saludable not only has achieved to promote healthy habits within our staff but also has improved our work environment and grown company pride,” says Choni Fernandez, director of corporate responsibility at PortAventura.
Paula Machado is an Orlando-based bilingual journalist and content creator covering tourism and attractions.