Cleanliness: No Longer Innocent until Proven Guilty
When guests visit an attraction, whether it is a theme park, zoo, museum, aquarium, or family entertainment center, they have a certain list of expectations. These expectations range from being a safe environment, being open during posted hours of operation, friendly staff members, along with being a fun, enjoyable experience that provides escapism from the stresses of daily life.
Among these expectations includes cleanliness – that the facility they visit will be kept to a high standard of sanitation, free of overflowing trash cans, debris on the ground, and restrooms that are well stocked and pleasant smelling. Until recently, these were passive expectations; if you were to ask a guest why they planned on visiting a particular attraction, cleanliness was certainly a component of their decision, but it may not have been the first thing they determined when they were planning their visit.
However, perception of cleanliness has no doubt always been part of the debriefing that they had when reflecting on their visit upon completion. Take a look at any online review site, and look at any attraction’s review page. Cleanliness is a category that tends to generate many comments. For the most part though, comments regarding cleanliness are usually presented as one of the many reasons why they enjoyed a particular attraction: it was fun, the staff members were friendly, crowds were manageable… and the facility was clean.
In a pre-COVID world, the attractions industry was innocent until proven guilty when it came to expectations of cleanliness. In most cases, you started with a score of 100% when the guest walked in, and with any concern or obvious flaw, points were deducted. Guests oftentimes had a subconscious expectation that visiting an attraction was typically a clean experience. If they thought otherwise, they wouldn’t have visited, and the reputation of that business would have suffered quickly, due to the high standard that our industry holds.
But even with being held to a high standard, these expectations are shifting. Large gatherings are now a concern for safety, and the attractions industry is at risk of guests altering their perceptions, with the sense of cleanliness now being a large concern rather than a passive assumption. In other words, you are no longer innocent until proven guilty when it comes to standards of sanitation. You are now tasked with regaining guests’ confidence that your facility is held to a high standard of cleanliness, and that you have measures in place to regularly enforce that standard.
Many companies are taking the first approach in restoring confidence by communicating new procedures via email and posted on the company’s website. This is absolutely necessary, and certainly the first step in regaining consumer confidence. However, every company is discussing new procedures, and if this is the full extent that you are communicating your standards to your guests, it will become lost in the noise and seen as redundant information that all businesses are communicating. In order to fully regain trust, you must also do the following:
- Prove to your guests that your sanitation is nothing new
- Demonstrate the standard via pre-visit communication
- Consistently prove the standard to each and every guest
- Engage your guests in the process as you constantly fine tune and improve
First, you must make the case to your guests that cleanliness standards are not a new topic being discussed at your facility. Stars and Strikes Entertainment Centers accomplished this, by bringing in data that showed that in 2019, cleanliness was actually one of the highest rated areas of their facilities. By combining that with new procedures in place, they are helping guests come to the conclusion that their new procedures will only help their high scores, if not improving them even further.
When considering guest experience, you must acknowledge that guest perceptions begin long before they step foot on property, but rather when they are solidifying their intent to visit. Any new procedures in place cannot simply be put into a written document or even posted on your website, you must leverage your social media channels and email lists to share these with your guests – and do so in the same tone that your traditional social media communications would project. This is a great opportunity to take the “airline safety video” approach – look at airlines who communicate safety procedures in a sterile, monotone manner, and look at those who create humorous, entertaining videos. Which ones get more engagement?
Once the guest is onsite, you have won their confidence, but now you must earn the right to keep it. What are you doing to demonstrate your new procedures to every single guest? At a grocery store near me, they have positioned a staff member at the entrance who is visibly wiping down every cart, and delivering a freshly sanitized cart to every customer walking in. Alternatively, another grocery store near me has a container of sanitary wipes for self-service upon entry, and it’s usually empty, with no employee in sight to ask to replenish. Which store will I trust more? The optics of how you are you reinforcing your procedures are just as important of the procedures themselves. Perception is reality, and if guests do not realize the steps you are taking, then the negative reviews and direct word of mouth will cancel out any measures that you are putting in place.
Lastly, keep the conversation going once the visit is complete. Let your guests be part of your success story by providing them with a platform to share what they appreciated and what they thought could have been improved. This allows you to see the guest experience from the eyes of the guest themselves. This is a perfect opportunity to leverage resources like mystery shopping and BackLooper, both of which amplify your guest experience intelligence, and allow you to rectify any issues before they become negative online reviews.
The perception of cleanliness will never be the same for attractions, simply because we are the creators of experiences that bring people together. Don’t fall victim to being perceived as unclean by proactively proving your dual commitment to delivering a superior experience and keeping your guests and team members safe.
Josh Liebman specializes in guest experience within attractions, tourism, and hospitality, including service standards, complaint resolution, and driving guest loyalty. Josh is a serial entrepreneur, podcaster, consultant, and speaker. Josh has worked for some of the top attraction operators in the world, including, but not limited to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Merlin Entertainments, and Cedar Fair. Josh has been integral to the openings of multiple attractions in various leadership capacities. Additionally, Josh has consulted for many of the world’s leading hospitality brands, including Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria, and many more. Josh is Co-Host of the AttractionPros Podcast, which brings the audience into the room with the top leaders, executives, and influencers in the attractions industry.