Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I Learned on my Winter Vacation

There are several indicators that I am a business and finance junkie. For example, one of the highlights of our honeymoon was touring a sugar and plantation. Another example: we own a classic VHS tape titled “From Tree to Cup” (which not surprisingly is all about coffee production) acquired as a vacation souvenir.
Consequently, as we wrap up a Disney World vacation, I can’t help but draw some impressions about our trip from the professional side of things.
Following are some lessons we can learn from Disney.

Think Big – And Long-Term
The Disney complex in Florida is 47 square miles. If we think about this for a moment, we realize that if all we planned on doing was to build a theme park and a couple of hotels there is no reason we would buy up so much land.
However, by this very large purchase, Disney obtained an option to develop a much larger resort destination, which over the course of the last 40 years or so it has done. If it had just bought for the current term, it could not have grown into what it has. In other words, Disney bought for the future.
The Disney property is virtually surrounded with the trappings of gaudy tourism - hotels, restaurants, t-shirt shops, miniature golf courses, etc. Without the land buffer from its initial purchase, developing a new theme park later would require guests to pass through this neon maze when going from one to the other. Not great when you are trying to get the guests into a magical bubble where “dreams come true”.

March Slowly (Collins would be Proud)
Much as we discussed in our last post, “Why You Can Always Be Great”, Disney is a “slow marcher”. The Magic Kingdom was developed in the early 1970’s, EPCOT in 1982, Hollywood Studios in 1989, Animal Kingdom in 1998.
While the greedy might have developed faster (and perhaps gaudier), Disney seems content to manage the pace of growth rather than immediately maximizing the property’s capacity.

Maximize Your Content’s Potential
There are a great many Disney brands. The thing I noticed during this trip was how they maximize the “content within their library”.
For example, upon entering the ticket area we heard the “Yo-Ho” pirate anthem. In the Magic Kingdom’s Adventure Land, we witnessed a street performance with characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean. As part of this performance, several children were pirate apprentices and learned some lessons related to this profession. Later, we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Toy Story’s Woody character was seen in a parade in the Magic Kingdom, at a character greeting and on a poster hanging high in Hollywood Studios, in a parade in Hollywood Studios, in the Midway games ride, on signs marking a parking section in the Magic Kingdom, and in Andy’s room which is in the courtyard of the All-Star Movies resort.
Some might say that all this activity is about marketing and branding, and that is legitimate from one aspect, but it also has a content angle. Once the initial character and story was created, someone asked questions such as: How can this character or story line appear in other settings? Wouldn’t kids love to play at being pirates? Why not train them during a street show?

Details Matter
Part of what makes the theme park experience appealing is immersion in the ambiance that is created, and this cannot be accomplished without a lot of attention to detail.
In terms of design, if you are waiting in Space Mountain, there are space games people can play while they wait. There are videos to keep folks entertained in line. There are 8-Track tapes that cover the exits of the Pop Century resort’s 70’s buildings. The staff in Frontier Land dress differently than those on Main Street.
In terms of operations, details impact the guest experience to a great degree. For example, traffic and crowd control – someone can get out of a Disney park within minutes, contrasted with leaving a basketball or baseball game in Chicago, which can be an hour long ordeal. Cleanliness is another example - I had to look for three days to find any gum on the sidewalk.

Rejuvenate Often
Disney seems to consistently rejuvenate their parks and properties.
In the Magic Kingdom, one of the six major park areas and part of another are under redevelopment. Prior to this, a new roller coaster was added to Animal Kingdom, which previously lacked a signature thrill ride. Pirates of the Caribbean, Tiki-room, It’s a Small World, the Haunted House, all have been worked on over the past ten years.
New items are added to the mix in what might be characterized as “in-between” spaces. With area surrounding each park, they can expand incrementally, which Hollywood Studios has done. If there is a resort complex on one side of a lake, a second one can be created on the other.

Key Takeaways
Disney World, in addition to entertainment value, can provide us with examples of important management practices, such as bold long-term thinking, managed growth, maximizing content, attention to design and operational details, and rejuvenation.
·         Do you have a management insight or two that is exemplified by Disney?

Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!


  1. Great post, David! And all of us at QLP are jealous of your fun winter vacation!

    We just recently covered branding a la Disney in our blog, so I'll skip past that. Perhaps appreciating your employees and associates?

    From what I understand, Disney lets their employees hang out in the parks after hours. They can't be scheduled, of course, but while everyone else is picking up trash or practicing for parades, the off-duty employees can ride the rides. That's an excellent perk considering that they have to keep the park open anyway.

  2. Mandy,

    That is a great perk! No wonder those folks are always so friendly and helpful while looking so tired!

    And I remember your blog posts about Disney - they were in two parts, and you can find the first one here:

    Given that I was with my quite impressionable children, along with a boatload (literally, at Disney) of nieces and nephews, I decided against eating a Tomorrowland plant!

    Thanks for adding to the discussion!

    1. Of course! Blog posts about Disney also call to me for comments.

      Maybe next time you to you'll have the opportunity to try that Tomorrowland plant! :)

  3. Hi David,

    It's been a long time since I've been to a Disney location, but one thing I never forgot was how as soon as I entered through the gates, I felt like a child again. I'm sure it's one of those "details" they spent a lot of time and effort on.

    I like how Disney methodically plans for it's growth. It's like they expand and then have an adjustment period (and maybe a rest period) and then they expand again. Like you said, other companies might grow faster, but it's like Disney tests the waters with each growth spurt which would tell them if something's working or not whereas those who aim for faster growth might be caught "with their pants down".

    And yes. Their properties are clean, which I think is another draw for people. It's like they've thought of everything.

  4. Barbara,

    I have that feeling too! It's like "here I am, whisk me away!"

    I think you are right about the growth, too, they are experimenting and tweaking as they go, and there is a rhythm to it, so I guess in a way it mimics life to some extent, with its rhythm's like day-night, wake-sleep, hightide-lowtide, etc.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment!