Disneyland is a theme park. Essentially a collection of rides and experiences to thrill and excite you for the day. There are many theme parks around the world but only one Disneyland.
What is so different about Disneyland, which captures the imagination of generations who share the enthusiasm to go? Why do people flock from all over the world to California to visit the original Disneyland? Why don’t they save time and money and see a closer theme park?
It is because people are not going there for the rides. They are visiting to experience The Most Magical Place on Earth (a Disney Trademark).
Disney has meticulously designed every touchpoint its customer encounters.
The short ride from the car park to the gate is fun. From the moment you walk in, your senses are overloaded. It is beautiful, big, and wonderous. You ask, ‘What’s that smell?’ as hidden vents pump scents triggering your senses. Impeccably clean because the most magical place on earth would be, right?
Your favourite characters are wandering around, hoping for an opportunity to hug you (the hero of the story) and take a photo. Music constantly plays throughout the park lifting your spirit at a subconscious level. All your senses are triggered and challenged.
None of these moments exists by chance. Disney designed each to make you fall in love with the feeling of Disneyland. To leave you believing it may just be The Most Magical Place on Earth.
How has it seemingly been achieved, and how is it that the trademark ‘The Most Magical Place on Earth’ is even familiar to you?
Author, agency owner, and branding expert Marty Neumeier asserts, ‘You can’t decide a great customer experience. You have to design it.’
Disney intuitively understood this and baked such commitment into the business at all levels. So much so that the same commitment to the Brand promise is unwavering today.
They have incredible clarity about the Brand they are building, and they are committed to delivering a remarkable customer experience aligned with that Vision.
It is the same thing that sets apart any successful tourism business. A shift to this Brand and Customer Experience thinking will empower you to build a remarkable tourism Brand and get off the marketing hamster wheel.
I’ve been travelling around Australia with my family for a bit over eighteen months now. We left our home state on a journey to find somewhere else to live and, through the process, experience and explore the country simultaneously.
I went from primarily working with businesses in my local region to becoming a visitor in many. It has given me an incredibly unique opportunity to reflect on what I thought I knew about tourism businesses and test the assumptions I had developed.
More than anything, experiencing lots of tourism businesses from a visitor’s perspective has led me to consider what makes great ones stand out and answer the question, what makes a tourism business successful?
In some ways, from an informed perspective, reverse engineer what they do, so I can then teach more tourism operators (like my dad) how to build their businesses using similar principles.
There’s one obvious accelerator – word-of-mouth. Whether it’s a high-quality Google or Tripadvisor review or an enthusiastic conversation around a campfire among new friends, word-of -mouth is a powerful marketing tool for any tourism business.
But is it a by-product of a great product or experience, or should it be the focus itself? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? And what makes a tourism business remarkable?
When was the last time you booked a tour or accommodation without reading reviews? Think about that for a moment. Consider just how much you rely on what strangers have said about a product or experience to guide essential purchasing decisions.
Nothing is stopping a business from making any number of claims about themselves. And they once did. Some still do, but fewer get away with it. ‘Premium’, ‘Best’, ‘Most Experienced’. All are generic claims, shared by many, that have no impact on the quality of your experience with The Brand.
What other people say about your Brand is more important than what you say about your Brand. It’s what makes word-of-mouth so powerful.
Unsubstantiated claims are so exhausted and overused that, as a result, we consumers no longer believe a lot of what Brands tell us. So, we look to the presumably unbiased opinions of strangers who have experienced the Brand, and in doing so, have tested the Brand’s promises.
They’ve trialled the claims and the value proposition and essentially compared the experience delivered against those things. It is the foremost reason a tourism business may be worthy of raving about in its simplest form. Or, quite literally, be remarkable. When the delivered experience exceeds the expectation set in the customer’s mind, you’ve got a chance at creating positive word-of-mouth.
We create an expectation in the customer’s mind through several tangible and intangible factors. Price, messaging, reviews, and personal biases all come into play.
Yes, this matters greatly. But more than anything, what makes a tourism business remarkable requires you to not only exceed your customers’ expectations consistently but also to inject the unexpected and something different.
Let me illustrate this using two examples of exceptionally well-run tourism businesses we have discovered along our journey.
The Whitsunday Islands are a stunningly beautiful collection of islands in the heart of the iconic Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s northeast coastline. A tropical paradise with turquoise blue and green water, teeming with life. Sounds magical, right?
As we had limited time and budget, we chose a one-day island hopping ferry tour to experience the region for ourselves.
Whatever expectation you have of the region (and trust me, as Australians, you have great expectations), your experience will almost surely exceed it. Ours did too.
The resort island, Hamilton Island, was gorgeous. We got to swim at Whitehaven Beach, boasting some of the whitest sand in the world, and the views alone on the ferry ride would have been enough to go home with incredibly fond memories and a feeling that we got value for money. However, the service provided by the ferry staff was incredible.
When one of the girls felt seasick, the staff calmed her down, offered lemonade and regularly checked on her. Although they would deal with seasickness in some form every day, it felt like they treated her with extra special care.
The ticket price included lunch and afternoon tea but what we received was well beyond our expectations. They even squeezed a cheeky extra free beer into the drinks included on the trip back after the bar had been unofficially closed.
In every way, they made us feel valued and unique. They did everything right.
However, as I sat here writing, I couldn’t tell you the name of the ferry company. Nor did I leave a review.
But if you and I were in conversation and I knew you were heading that way, I’d insist on reacquainting myself with the company’s name so that you could share this great experience too. If you were going to choose any ferry company for a one-day tour of the islands, I’d stake my reputation on sending you to this one. For the value and the experience, I know you’ll indeed have.
Now contrast that with an experience we had in the middle of nowhere.
With the proper budget behind us, any one of us would think we could create a better pub than most. It may have nicer chairs, a more modern design, a marble bar and all the trappings you’d expect at The Ritz.
Put said better pub on a transit route in the middle of the Australian Outback, and you still wouldn’t go close to how famous The Daly Waters Pub is.
It seems travellers’ things cover every external surface of the pub. International monies. Bras. Shoes. Writing. Business cards. Many people have left their stories on the walls – many people ‘own’ a piece of the pub.
The design is at best, rustic and mismatched. Yet, bizarrely, it all goes together. It feels like nowhere you have been before. It is dysfunctional in many ways. But it is so different from every other pub you might experience, which is why people flock to it.
Hundreds of travellers choose The Daly Waters Pub to enjoy a meal and live music every night. Of which, neither is really any more remarkable than any other pub you may come across in the country.
There is almost nothing else to do there. Nothing. The town has a population of fewer than 30 permanents.
There are many tiny towns along the Outback route running through Central Australia. Yet, in droves, travellers choose to stop at The Daly Waters Pub for the night. Consider that. This town has a permanent population of ten times less than the nightly patronage of its very ‘different’ pub.
You could stick a polished, poised pub in Daly Waters, and it would be nothing more than a placeholder with minimal visitation like the many other pubs on this route.
As you might expect, I wrote a five-star Google review when we left. I have also regaled the story of The Daly Waters Pub to several people since, as has my wife. Heck, I’m writing about it here!
At the time of writing, Daly Waters pub has an excellent 1,598 reviews on Google, at 4.5 stars, and 4 stars on Tripadvisor from over 500 reviews.
What is the difference between the ferry and the pub? Why do I remember the name of one business, take time out of my day to write a review, and share the story with people I meet regardless of if I know they are likely to visit the town or not?
One might argue that the ferry facilitates an experience rather than being the experience itself, and I would say that line of thinking is incorrect. The entire day forms the memory, inclusive of the transport.
I would argue it is because better is not better. Different is better than better, and more to the point, different in a compelling way to your ideal customer, is better.
When we discover something different, we want to share the story because it elevates our self-worth. What, wait? Elevates our self-worth???
Yep. As a tourism business operator, it is essential to understand this crucial marketing concept. Your customers are not buying your product or experience.
If you’re a winery, they’re not buying wine. If you’re five-star accommodation, they’re not buying a room. If you’re a provedore, they’re not buying boutique meats. If you’re a tour operator, they’re not buying a seat on the bus.
What are they buying? And why is it critical that you have clarity about this?
If you are a winery, and they buy a bottle of wine, they’re buying an identity. They’re taking home the memory of the experience and a bragworthy moment for friends. A souvenir of sorts.
If you’re a tour operator, they’re buying an identity. The idea they are an adventurer, an explorer or perhaps even a risk-taker. Someone who leads an exciting or rich life.
If you’re a provedore, they’re buying an identity that connects with the idea of supporting makers and creators – connection to provenance and personal stories.
The only way to rise above a commodity price in your industry segment is to build a Brand other people care about, want to talk about and share in, long-term. To have incredible clarity about what your Brand says about your ideal customer.
OK, I can guess what you’re thinking, and I agree that it is a stretch to apply it to buying a carton of milk or chewing gum. But we’re talking about tourism products and experiences, not everyday items. Sharing an experience (in this case, at an entirely different pub in the middle of nowhere) therefore becomes a story about us. There is brag-worthiness about it.
The outback pub connects us to our aspirational identity, and through the process, builds their Brand too. We remember the Brand because we remember how it made us feel.
Although the ferry is running a great business, they fail to position their Brand to connect you with your aspirational identity. They are building a business, not a Brand.
Great Brands make for not only great businesses; they also stand the test of time, and the good news is, it is also how you can charge a premium for your product or service.
Product + Brand > Product Alone
It is why people pay a premium to pull a pair of Nike runners (more on this later).
You want to be building a great Brand, not just a great business.
Oh, by the way, it was Cruise Whitsundays. As I read this chapter back to my ever-supportive wife, she suggested I share this with you! At the time of writing, Cruise Whitsundays have over 3,500 reviews on Tripadvisor for a rating of 4.5.
“Bar decoration Daly Waters” by Stephen Michael Barnett is licensed under CC BY 2.0 .