5 things event planners can learn from Disney theme parks

 

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland

 

I’ve become a bit of a follower of Disney. It all started a few years ago when my husband and I traveled to Disney World for a weeklong vacation. Like any other planner, I did my research. Now this wasn’t the first time we had traveled to Disney World (it would be our second trip as a couple, although 6 years had passed since our previous trip) and both my husband and I had visited a few times as children. But I wanted to make the most of our trip, but beyond making advanced dining reservations and having a plan of attack for which rides to prioritize, my research led me to find out more about Disney the company, Walt Disney the man, and perhaps you might call it the Disney philosophy – the “Disney Difference” or what I like to call Disney hospitality. While I love the rides (I’m a bit of a big kid in that respect), what I truly love about Disney parks is the atmosphere, the environment, the way being in the park feels like being at an event.

Since that trip in 2012, I was lucky enough to have a quick back stage site visit to see some meeting rooms in Epcot and visit the conference hotels in 2013, we had a short 1 day visit to attend the Christmas events this past December, and then in January we spent 2 days at Disneyland since I was able to attend a conference in Anaheim. I would say that we are Disney-d out for now; we probably won’t go back for a few years until our children are old enough to appreciate it. But I still like to keep up with what Disney is up to, since I find it so relevant to my role as an event planner.

Cinderella Castle

In front of Cinderella Castle from our 2012 trip to Walt Disney World

 

So here are five things that event planners (or really anyone) can learn from Disney:

Be Our Guest: At Disney parks, visitors are not customers or clients. They are guests. I think this is a critical distinction that I like to make at events as well. When working at a conference it’s easy to think of everyone as an attendee, a participant, a conference-goer. But calling someone a guest just changes the mental model ever so slightly, and makes it easier to treat people like people, and maintain a sense of hospitality, no matter the event.

Cars Land

Cars Land in Disney California Adventure

 

Details Matter: This is what some people call the Disney Difference (although it seems like Universal Studios is catching in up in some regards if you’ve been to the new Diagon Alley section of the Orlando Park); it’s about detail and immersive environments. The most striking difference between going to a Disney park and going to your local Six Flags park is theming (also probably cleanliness and cost). Walking through New Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom is awe-inspiring; it really feels like you are walking past Prince Eric’s castle or Belle’s father’s cottage. In Disney’s California Adventure, Cars Land is like stepping into the Pixar film, especially at night when all the neon is turned on. The level of detail is amazing, especially since many details may be things that most guests never notice. Any event planner knows how important details are, but Disney kicks it up a notch and walking through a Disney park is bound to inspire any planner or designer.

Prince Eric's Castle

Prince Eric’s Castle in New Fantasyland (Magic Kingdom)

 

Empower Your Team to Solve Problems: At Disney parks, the staff are called Cast Members and the company culture instills a sense of pride in the parks, no matter what someone’s job is. Everyone – no matter what level you are in the company – starts their employment with a class called Traditions, which teaches the history of the company and parks and introduces their guiding principles. One of those ideas is that everyone should be empowered to do what they can to solve a problem. See a piece of trash on the ground? Pick it up, even if you aren’t in maintenance. See that something is broken? Report it or fix the problem yourself. Every cast member is empowered to solve problems for guests as well, from small things to a fastpass reservation to large things like refunds. Cast members make things happen so guests are more likely to be happy. Anyone working at an event – not just the event director but everyone on her team – should embody this problem solving mentality.

Embrace Technology: Disney made headlines in the event world a few months ago after unveiling a new feature in their Disney Weddings packages: projection mapped wedding cakes. See the demo below:

While using this technology on wedding cakes is certainly new and exciting, Disney has been using projection mapping for quite a while, having introduced castle projection shows years ago. Disney is constantly making tweaks to attractions and experiences by adding new technology. At Walt Disney World they even introduced a new ride reservation system called My Magic + which uses RFID technology – they are still working out the kinks in that system and not everyone is a fan of it, but you can’t deny it shows a commitment to investing in technology.

Castle Projection

Part of the castle projection show from the annual Christmas event a Walt Disney World

 

Learning From Experience: If you have ever been to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World it’s easy to see how Walt Disney wanted to learn from his experience in the first park to improve the second. The biggest issue with the original park was space; Disney World is built on a huge property that spans two counties in Florida so it would almost always have room to grow. The company is constantly experimenting and trying new things. And sometimes they fail, but most of the time they course correct and improve.

Minnie Ears

Yes – I own Minnie ears! From our trip to Disneyland in January 2015.

 

See why I think event planners can learn from event planners? What do you think of Disney theme parks?

 

12 comments

  1. Becca says:

    These are some excellent points! It is true about the guest thing as well – I worked at the Disney Store for a short time and that was one of the huge things they talked about with us.

  2. Joanne Jamis Cain says:

    Believe it or not, I’ve never been to Disney. I know I will go someday. I love how they treat everyone as a “guest.” Empowering employees to solve problems is also a fantastic way to have superior customer service.

  3. Sagan says:

    Always so interesting to pinpoint what works (and how to transfer it to your own life) with these things! Empowering the team is one that really stands out to me – you can do so much more with a group of people who feel confident, know what they’re doing and what their role is, and want to contribute.

  4. Nikki @ MBAsahm says:

    These points are all soooo true. I’ve always been blown away by hold distinct Disney World is when it comes to its service. You really hit the nail on the head – they treat you like guests. One thing we’ve always noticed is that when you’re waiting in line for a lot of these rides, you somehow feel like you’re not in a cattle call like other parks…which is a big part of the details you were talking about. They just think of everything!

  5. Courtney LeFan says:

    I really love this post! I am a huge fan of Disney and I’ve always been interested in event planning. I am a theatre design/ tech/ management major and I can definitely apply these tips to my work.

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