Why marketers need to own the entire guest experience

As guest expectations continue to rise, attraction marketing teams have a more prominent role to play than simply driving admissions.
Ellen Wilkinson
November 2023

Attraction marketers wear many hats. Managing owned, earned and paid acquisition channels, connecting them together to drive revenue, using a myriad of martech tools to enable ROI reporting, marketers are the masters of spinning plates. But when it comes to KPIs, most attraction marketers are locked on driving admissions and visitation. On-site revenue generation generally forms a secondary part of their role.

Yet, as the brand owners, marketing teams are arguably best placed to support the attraction’s entire guest experience. At the most basic level, the function of your marketing team is to be brand and guest experts. As a marketer, you’re expected to know what guests need, what they want and how to meet (and even influence) their ever-changing expectations.

A quick Google search for marketing’s role within an organisation throws up phrases like “promoters, communicators and customer relationship drivers,” further reinforcing this point.

tips on how to boost attendance at theme park

Our researchers have interviewed senior marketers from the world’s leading theme parks. We’ve learned about their worlds and the challenges they face, as well as discussing potential solutions. In many of our conversations, the same thing came up. As it stands, many marketers aren’t empowered to influence the entire guest experience, despite being best placed to do so.

For the remainder of this article, we’ll drive into why that is, the findings from our Marketing survey and how switching to an overall revenue target could be the key to unlocking future revenue growth.

Trends in attractions marketing

At a consumer level, guests are increasingly tech-savvy. They expect to use digital solutions that enhance their everyday experiences. These range from the simple, such as the widespread introduction of mobile payments, to the futuristic. Only recently, Facebook introduced its new Rayban Meta smart glasses, which enable wearers to instantly capture photos and videos, perfect for the TikTok generation. 

Off the back of increased digitalisation, another trend has emerged; increasingly high customer expectations.

In the online world, there’s very little friction. Questions get answered in an instant. An AI-assisted chatbot can make a personalised recommendation for a product, send you the link and add it to your cart in less than a minute. Not surprising that 67% of consumers now prefer to self-serve using digital tools than speak to an agent or advisor. Consumers crave instant rewards and personalised experiences – and this transcends into the attractions industry too.

Theme park marketers said CX was their #1 trend to watch this year

To understand how these broader trends affect marketers within the attractions industry, we spoke to senior marketing leaders from some of the world’s leading theme parks. When asked about the most pressing trends on their radar for 2024, the result was near-unanimous: customer experience is king.

Today’s guests expect more from their experiences. They need to be slick, immersive and personalised to their individual preferences. 86% of buyers are even willing to pay more for a great customer experience. Meanwhile, we know that personalisation can increase marketing spend efficiency by up to 30%. Consumers also want to see more hybrid experiences emerging, whereby tech enhances the customer experience.

This posed an interesting juxtaposition with many of our marketers’ priority lists.

Get guests through the gates of your attractions

The majority focus on admissions and guest numbers. Their primary objective is to drive revenue through key acquisition channels such as their website, TV ads, social media and brand partnerships. But with admissions revenue typically only accounting for between 50-60% of a park’s revenue and not addressing the customer experience objective, we believe there’s a better way.

By focusing on the entire customer experience, attraction marketers can grow revenue by doing what they do best

Empowering marketers to own the entire customer experience enables them to drive guest satisfaction and engagement. It also allows marketing to actively influence the remaining 40-61% of their park’s revenue that arises from secondary spending on-site. 

Secondary spending includes additional purchases after ticket sales, such as F&B, retail, fast passes or VIP experiences. We can also consider these spending opportunities to be ‘experience enhancers’. In other words, they’re the added extras that help guests have a truly memorable day.

But only if they are thought of within the context of the experience itself. As your brand guardians, marketing champion your brand’s look and feel. By giving them the ability to oversee both admissions and secondary spend, they can create a holistic experience. One that’s consistent across every touchpoint in your guest journey, minimises friction and increases spending.

Disney sweet treats to grow brand loyalty

We’ve seen Disney Imagineering take this approach. Imagineers consider the entire park, from rides to restaurants, shows to shops. This is to make sure every element has that sprinkling of Disney fairy dust. And guests remember the seemingly insignificant parts of an experience more than we think. The serial position effect suggests guests remember the first and last parts of an experience more than the intermediary phases, which are often considered the primary reason for visiting.

What does this mean for attraction marketing?

What does this mean in practice? If your park map is faulty, guests will remember it and are more likely to rate their experience negatively. Equally, if they receive a personalised thank you message on their way out, they’ll be more likely to remember the experience positively when they get home. To find out more on this subject, you can also read this great article that Katapult put together.

Physical experiences need to view every touchpoint as part of the core experience. And without a champion, that’s difficult to achieve. If you don’t have hundreds of Imagineers to hand, marketers, given their deep guest and brand understanding, can champion that role and ensure every opportunity adds value. In turn, you’ll reap rewards, both in terms of satisfaction and revenue, as guests invest more regularly in secondary spending opportunities. 

Driving admissions & revisitation through personalised experiences

A renewed focus on overall revenue and the customer experience isn’t a rejection of admissions targets. Once marketing takes control of the guest journey and optimises for experience, admissions tend to rise.

Guest satisfaction flywheel tips

Think of the guest journey as a flywheel that gains momentum as guests encounter more touchpoints. If marketing optimises every element of the guest journey to meet the needs of their ICP and be consistent with the brand, guests will be increasingly satisfied with their visit. And happy guests means higher spending, more referrals and more opportunities to re-visit again using owned channels as the purchase method.

The key to unlocking the flywheel is communication. Marketing needs an effective way of communicating the ‘experience enhancers’ discussed earlier with attractions’ guests. This could be achieved using on-site signage, guest experience staff or emails to notify guests of offers before their visit. But they wouldn’t press the right buttons for today’s aforementioned digitally savvy guests.

How can attractions marketers influence on-site activity?

Today’s guests look to digital solutions to enhance their physical experiences. According to Visit Britain, 54% of guests would love to plan their theme park itineraries and take them with them to “beat the queues.”

Meanwhile, according to the Merlin Entertainments’ Theme Park Trends survey, 52% of guests would buy more refreshments if pre-ordering pick-up was available. This rises to 60% for millennials.

Merlin Entertainments app or

If marketing are to succeed at driving revenue across the end-to-end guest experience for attractions, they need tech solutions that make these preferences a reality for guests on-site without drastically increasing their already busy workload.

Such possibilities include:

  • Mobile Food Ordering solutions to drive F&B revenue
  • Personalised messaging to share targeted offers and promotions
  • Location-based offers promoting VIP experiences and fast pass upgrades
  • Digital ride photography packages

Through a guest-facing mobile app, marketers gain a new communications tool. One that can drive secondary spending across these areas and increase admissions revenue.

At the same time, they gain access to unprecedented insights on guests behaviour, movement and activity planning. This allows them to further optimise their customer experience according to their guests’ preferences. Few other tools connect the guest journey so completely, utilising technology that guests already carry every day – their smartphones.

Attractions.io mobile app experience to help guest spend and loyalty

The future of revenue growth for theme park marketers

If marketing owns the end-to-end guest experience, they can take a holistic approach to revenue growth that incorporates both admissions and on-site spending.

We’ve developed a free on-demand webinar, “A Theme Park Marketers Guide to Revenue Growth”, using insights from industry-leading marketers. In the webinar, our founder & CEO Mark Locker expands on the practical steps that marketers can take to shift the focus from admissions targets and towards ownership of the entire guest experience.

The webinar explores:

  • How to audit the end-to-end guest journey and identify opportunities to drive revenue
  • Using personalised messaging to engage guests at the right time and place
  • Generating guest insights to optimise your campaigns for maximum conversion
  • The essential tools and techniques theme park marketers need to adopt to keep pace with digital transformation

The webinar includes a free 5-step strategy guide to work through with your team and is available to view on-demand here.

This blog was originally featured on Blooloop

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Ellen Wilkinson

Marketing Manager and Zoo Enthusiast
November 2023

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