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.Tweet
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