What Are Theme Parks Looking for in Their Fan Surveys?

May 10, 2020, 10:20 PM · Both the Universal Orlando and the Walt Disney World resorts have been surveying fans about the new operating procedures that the parks might implement when they reopen after local and state governments lift their stay-at-home orders. The surveys ask annual passholders and former visitors their opinions on a variety of things from social distancing, enhanced sanitation, and the mandatory use of facial coverings in the park. Some surveys also detail a variety of hypothetical ticket and admission offers that the parks might make available when they return.

But, as is the case with many marketing surveys, what the parks are really asking isn't as clear the questions on the survey might seem.

I do not believe for a moment that companies as forward-looking (and lawyered up) as Disney and Universal would for a moment consider leaving health and safety decisions to a customer survey. They're not looking for guidance on what to do when they reopen from these surveys. No, they're looking to see how many people will show up when they do what they feel they need to do (or are ordered to do) to reopen safely.

As someone who has studied survey methodology, I think that Universal Orlando's most recent survey is the most amazing customer survey I've ever seen from a theme park. I would love to see the crosstabs on this one! Universal is collecting data on not just on people's reactions to various health and safety procedures, but also how they would fit together in various operating scenarios. In addition, Universal is collecting information about the news sources that respondents are using to get information about the pandemic, which the company could use to correlate with respondents' opinions on various procedures. As a former journalism professor and media criticism journal editor, I think that comparison alone could make for an amazing paper.

So how does Universal use this data? First, top-line questions about attendance give the company a rough idea of how many people would consider returning to the resort over the next several months. But drilling into the crosstabs, the survey gives Universal pretty rich data from which to forecast attendance specific to various potential new rules and restrictions.

In other words, it's one thing to ask people how willing they would be to come back to Universal (or Disney - I haven't taken their most recent survey, which is why I am focusing on Universal) when the parks reopen. But it's a lot more useful to know how many people would come back if Universal had to require masks, close indoor shows and limit attendance to 50 percent, for one example. And it's even more useful to know what media sources the people who are cool with those restrictions use, so Universal knows exactly where to place ads in its "we open again!" marketing campaign.

As I've said many times over the past couple of months (it's been that long?), that reopening a park is futile if guests won't return. As parks begin to see how they'll have to change their operations, they also need to have an idea what their attendance would be under those conditions over the next many months or years until this pandemic is over. They need that information so that they can make informed decisions about not just when to reopen, but how much money they can afford to devote to park operations, marketing, and other investments while this pandemic continues.

Data drives business. And with no precedent for this type of pandemic since 1918, theme parks have no data from past experience to guide their decision-making here. That's why surveys are so important at this stage. Yes, Disney and the industry will learn much from the reopening of Shanghai Disneyland. But parks will want information specific to their individual markets and customer bases to help guide their reopenings, too. That's why I love to see what parks are asking their fans... and talking about how they might use the information they collect from us.

Replies (6)

May 11, 2020 at 12:40 AM

You nail it. This very site proves how folks are willing to show up no matter dangers to really, this is to tell how many folks are willing to brave risks to try it out.

May 11, 2020 at 3:48 AM

That is a great assessment, Robert.
It's not only about safety, just like bagage check it's also theater and how guests perceive it.

May 11, 2020 at 5:42 AM

It is one thing to survey your season pass holders and another to get the real data from everyone. If pass holders are willing to come back but the vast majority of non pass holdrrs are not, the survey means nothing. What needs to be done is to have an independent survey done of the entire population. Both Disney and Universal need non passholders to make a profit.

BTW, my wife trusts Disney but not Sux Flags so we dropped out Diamond Elite Memberships.

May 11, 2020 at 7:04 AM

The bottom line is people would return right now if they opened and had no restrictions with no changes and made them sign a waiver at the door. This is nuts, of course, but I wonder how many would do it? This obviously would never happen and is purely hypothetical. Places like theme parks are almost in a no-win situation no matter what they do (or don’t do). A classic area of the law is assumption of the risk. You go to a baseball game and get tagged with a ball, you typically cannot sue, but you better believe that these corporations are working on ways to get legislation in their jurisdictions to firm this up prior to opening or at least seeing how this applies.

May 11, 2020 at 2:51 PM

If Universal was to only open say one park with all rides open or both park with limited rides open I would cancel my reservation for July because I didn't pay for half the rides or half the park. If they open with all rides and parks open then I would absolutely go. However expecting people to wear masks in the Florida heat is ridiculous. People passing out could possibly be a concern if they have to wear a ridiculous mask.

May 11, 2020 at 3:21 PM

@chrivokucha - Why is it ridiculous? Have you ever looked at the typical summer weather for Shanghai, China? People were wearing masks as a part of daily life in most of Mainland Chine for the past decade because of poor air quality, and they seem to get along just fine in 90+ degree heat. This idea that wearing a face mask will cause people to pass out is ridiculous. People will pass out because they fail to stay hydrated or because they overexert themselves without compensating for the slightly reduced airflow from wearing a mask. It's better than the alternative of not being able to visit a theme park or risking contracting/spreading a deadly contagion.

Now, maybe if they're forcing guests to wear a face mask while on the Skyliner in 90+ degree/60% humidity conditions, you might be onto something.

Also, you have every right to cancel an upcoming reservation if you're not satisfied with the anticipated attraction availability. However, even if there wasn't a global pandemic, there's no guarantee that every single attraction will be open on any given day, and Universal is not about to discount your ticket simply because a few rides aren't up on the day you chose to visit. I can't even count the number of times I've visited a theme park and one or more of the attractions that I wanted to ride wasn't running, and at no point did I ever consider asking for a refund or reduced admission.

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