Engagement lessons from Orlando, the world’s entertainment capital



Gustavo Imhof
02/11/2019

tourism

Back in 2016, I wrote an article sharing that the biggest misconception around customer experience back then was that marketing would fully own the customer journey design.

This is quite simply couldn’t be further from the truth for most businesses. Remember how that crying baby spoilt your last flight? Remember these insane people on boxing day sales?

Your experience likely suffered tremendously because of factors externals to whomever orchestrated your experience – it’s unavoidable. Businesses need to take the environment into account when designing experiences.

Most recently, I witnessed a masterclass in engaging those who aren’t on the payroll and having them buy into being a part of delivering great experiences.

Let’s take a trip in Orlando, Florida.

Enter the Tourism industry

Tourism falls victim like no other to this inability of owning one’s customer experience: the local population is part and parcel to a tourist’s experience.

As a city, region or country, you rely on the locals (thousands or even millions of them!) to make a good impression and you rely on the local businesses to deliver amazing experiences, so travellers return and tell their friends.

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Tourism associations such as Visit Orlando have to ask themselves a question: how do they ensure local residents recognise the part they had to play in this tourism experience and committed, as a community, to deliver the best experience they could?

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After all, places gain reputations because of their people and these are incredibly hard to lose.

Take Paris, as an example.

The capital of love for many is also the rudest place on earth for tourists and fellow French citizens rank Parisians as the biggest moaners in the country.

Such a reputation does not play in their favour when people decide where to spend their honeymoon or their next family holiday, all that because of the locals: that’s how important a role they play in the success and prosperity of cities as touristic destinations.

Back to Orlando.

Numerous families travel to Orlando because of the theme parks in the surroundings: Disney and Universal being the big two to come to mind.

And I do empathise with the residents. Imagine how trying it must be for the locals to see hordes of small children in princess dresses or superhero outfits taking over their city over the peak months, when the weather is at it’s best. If anything, it’s particularly challenging in Orlando because the theme parks never really stop, so the crowd may shrink but it remains a big crowd in absolute numbers.

It is therefore critical to ensure the locals support tourism and play their critical part, in keeping the magic alive throughout the year, and save their town from becoming ‘The Paris of the Americas’.

Now, I’ll confess, I wasn’t able to locate any clip online, so I am trying to recall what I saw when I went there myself earlier in 2018. Other useful disclaimer: I’m sharing first hand experience without any evidence of a broader strategy even being in existing – this may be nothing more than my own musing.

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Getting the local on your side: What’s in it for them?

Imagine a popular hangout for locals who swear by the Orlando Magic and the Orlando Solar Bears (basketball and ice hockey respectively). This is their home turf, this is where they go every weekend or so.  What a better place to have an intimate heart-to-heart communication with the area’s residents, right? Very few tourists and many people priding themselves on their great city – the perfect brand ambassadors.

As we waited for the hockey game to start at such a hangout (which the Polar Bear won in the extra time, GO BEARS!), a Visit Orlando video was played. In this video, they were talking tourism: how Orlando is the most visited city in the United States, how colossal the number of visitors is and how magical the theme park experience is for these tourists.

Up to that point, one could think it was an ad geared at tourists, which could warrant others taking the mickey (see what I did there?) out of them for promoting Orlando as a tourist destination to both locals and tourists who already ‘bought’. Not great targeting…

However, what came next was the real stroke of genius: it transitioned to a What’s In It For Us narrative, showing how much tourism actually brought (and still brings) to the city, from financing their state-of-the-art sports venue, to the jobs it creates locally as well as the infrastructure it helped financing such as highways (or motorways, depending on which side of the pond you’re on).

It became a showreel of how beneficial tourism was for the local population (all thanks to tourism taxes) and why great tourist experiences represent a win-win situation for everyone.

This is truly excellence in facing the truth that a tourism board or a city cannot control the residents who have a starring role in the experience tourists have in Orlando. It not only shows how important tourists are for the local economy, it also demonstrates in very practical terms what the residents get in exchange for sharing their home county with tourists.

Offering resident-only perks

And if this wasn’t enough, a few days later, with my attention turned to finding out other clues of this Resident Experience Strategy I came across another facet of the Visit Orlando strategy.

While listening to the radio, I picked up that many advertisements were geared towards locals specifically with very attractive offers. When I say geared to them, I’m talking discounted yearly pass for theme parks or cheaper services or discounts for those who could produce proof of residency in Florida. This preferential treatment is just another way of getting the local population on their side and engage them in this mission of providing a magical experience to tourists.

This gesture could be compared (albeit loosely) to employee benefits: ‘because you live here, you are part and parcel of delivering an experience to our tourists, and we want to thank you for it, with these discounted venues’.

Orlando demonstrates it understands one of the key tenets in customer experience: you can’t fully own your end-to-end customer journey design, so you might as well create partnerships that will enhance this experience so that everyone, from the city, to the locals to the customer (i.e. tourist) benefit.

This strategy is so powerful, I can comfortably claim that Orlando is very unlikely to become The Paris of the Americas – mission accomplished!

Time for reflection: how will you deal with those people who influence your experience but aren’t on your payroll? Expanding your employee engagement to those not working for you may well be the differentiator you’re needing.