Creating The Guest Experience

This article appeared in Facility Manager magazine, the official publication of IAVM, International Association of Venue Managers.

“Let’s Go Again!”

Creating Memorable Guest Experiences Is the Key to Increasing Frequency of Visits and Merchandise Sales. Here’s How to Implement The Experience Economy Concepts.

By Wayne Coleman

The average family saves two-and-one-half to three years for its trip to Walt Disney World, and seventy percent of visitors to their theme park are repeat visitors.[i] What causes people to save for years to attend again and again? These guests enjoy not just the fun of a vacation but a shared experience that becomes part of family conversations for months and years afterward.[ii]

As ticket prices at trade shows, theatre, concert and sporting events continue to climb, how will we entice guests to come back more frequently? The authors of The Experience Economy maintain that the answer is by creating memorable experiences. The experience creates value and people will pay for that value.

Consider three cups of coffee. A cup of coffee at home costs between 5 and 25 cents, depending upon the brand. A similar cup of coffee in a restaurant may cost a dollar. But showcase coffee at an espresso bar or boutique coffee shop where ordering, preparation and ambience create an experience, and people willingly pay from $2 to $5 for a cup! The experience creates value.

Memorable experiences go beyond guest service by offering the proper mix and levels of esthetic, escapist, educational and entertainment experiences. The closer we come to the ideal mix, the more people willingly spend for admission and memorabilia (merchandise).[iii]


Understanding a few concepts and terms will aid the process of creating experiences. First, staging experiences goes beyond merely presenting entertainment to guests, and does so by engaging them through varying degrees of participation and absorption in an event.[iv] Guests’ participation may range from passive participation, such as sitting at a symphony concert, to active participation, or taking part in the event. Guests’ absorption ranges from occupying their attention or bringing the event into their mind, to immersion, and ultimately “…becoming physically part of the experience itself.”[v]

Gilmore’s and Pine’s totality of experience develops in the interplay of four components: esthetic, educational, escapist and entertainment experiences. While entertainment is a fundamental part of staged productions, concerts and athletic contests, we create a much larger and more valued experience by orchestrating the proper mix of esthetic, educational and escapist experiences beyond what’s on the stage, field or court.

Esthetic experiences immerge guests in an environment, in its sights, sounds, smells, touch and taste—in the sensory thrill of being there. Esthetics includes the lights, color, sounds, textures, aromas—everything that affects the five senses and forms guest impressions.

The educational realm engages the mind and may physically involve the guest. Educational experiences can be fun as guests learn about the music, the sport, the entertainers, the trade show products, and all background facts of interest. Education may involve trivia questions on the scoreboard, exhibits, interactive kiosks, contests and more. Kiosks and display graphics, for example, can inform guests about the history, players, the sport, performers, the music and the facility.

The escapist realm involves more immersion than the esthetic or educational realms. While larger screens, bigger sound, cushier chairs, VIP rooms[vi] and so on contribute to the escapist experience, bringing the guest into the action accentuates the experience. Virtual reality exhibits, video batting cages, themed rides, booths where guests can record their own music videos or tape their own broadcast of the game, and Internet connections at the seats are examples of escapist participation.


In The Experience Economy the authors identify imperatives or guidelines for successful creation of experiences.

Hit the Sweet Spot. The richest guest experiences incorporate the proper mix and proper levels of the esthetic, escapist, educational and entertainment realms.[vii] Experiences are intensely personal, and the proper mix allows guests with varying escapist, educational and entertainment goals to seek and revel in their own experience.

Theme the Experience. The names of many themed restaurants—Hard Rock Café, House of Blues, Medieval Times—suggest experiences before guests enter. Disney successfully orchestrates themed rides in differently themed areas all within an overall theme park.[viii] Different areas within a venue can have different themes. Develop themes consistent with who you are and themes that honor your legacy—your history, name, and what you have. Theme a seating section, room, concourse or corridor, food area or individual stands or restaurants including booths within a restaurant. Create a theme honoring a player, coach, performer, local history and so forth. Create the theme experience with photos, memorabilia or artifacts and games. At Turner Field the Atlanta Braves designated a covered concourse as “Scouts’ Alley” featuring large wall graphics of players, scouts and scouting reports, replica bats that fans can handle, many games including safe computerized batting cages (no pitches thrown) and graphically superior speed pitch games, computerized kiosks with player records and more. The themed alley is a popular draw before, during and after each game. A theme can even extend to parking lots as at O’Hare Airport, where a parking garage themes different levels after Chicago sports teams with decorations and music, making it easier for guests to remember their car’s location. Name desired spots for players, performers or local celebrities.

Create a club to heighten the sense of belonging, exclusivity, and to possibly charge people for the experience of getting their goods.[ix] Convey a sense of belonging with a “friends of the arts” monthly mailing or venue newsletter. Make it newsworthy and you can charge a subscription fee. Convey a sense of exclusivity through special club seating, special upscale or exclusive concession areas or separate restaurant/bar membership.

Harmonize Impressions with Positive Cues and Eliminate Negative Cues. Three of Disney’s desired impressions include clean, friendly and fun.[x] Cues that convey the clean impression include attractive trash receptacles always within sight and employees—regardless of their title—who pick up and dispose of trash. Disney’s cast members are always “on stage” in public areas and never leave their roles, thereby transmitting positive cues. So what are the impressions that you want guests to take away? What cues will give these impressions and what cues detract from these impressions? Is event staff sending negative cues by their posture, by inattention to guests, or by yelling across rows of patrons regarding break times or after-work plans?

Mix in Memorabilia. Guests purchase souvenirs or memorabilia as tangible reminders of pleasurable experiences.[xi] Ticket stubs, programs, clothing, CDs, etc., trigger pleasurable memories, help guests share the experience with others, and may generate conversation and even envy. The more memorable the experience, the greater the value that guests place upon memorabilia thus raising price points.

Engage All Five Senses. The more senses he or she uses, the more a person is engaged or feels part of the experience. Popcorn, for example, engages all five senses. People smell it as they approach, they see and hear it popping, they touch it—it provides tactile sensation, they taste it, and there’s even the sound of crunch while enjoying it! Everything in and around your facility—from parking lot through ticket windows, the doors/gates, concourses, concessions and merchandise stands, aisles, seats, court/field/stage, PA system, signage, video board, employees’ actions and appearances, etc.—create impressions. You control guests’ impressions by designing and controlling what guests see, hear, touch/feel, smell and taste at every point from parking lot to seat. The more sensory an experience the more memorable it will be.[xii]

Work Is Theatre. Nowhere is this truer than in staging events. All front of house employees are actors. Successful creators of experience engage guests with patter and actions providing educational, escapist and entertainment experiences. Secondly, they are in costume—not uniform—and have the proper look (esthetics). A costume actually helps employees perform by identifying their character and setting the tone for their presentation. How employees act, what they say and do and how they look creates an impression upon guests.

Implementation: Creating Memorable Experiences

Analyze What You Have

To create a successful guest experience with lasting impressions, your management team must first identify and evaluate everything currently creating guest impressions.

Have teams of employees and shoppers walk your facility and stop at each point—from parking lot through ticket windows, the doors/gates, concourses, stands, aisles, seats, rest rooms, and so forth—and record their impressions: what are they seeing, hearing, touching/feeling, smelling and tasting at every point? Team members should record one or more “impression words” for each of the five senses at every one of the aforementioned points.

Negative cues may not be readily apparent to employees who, through total familiarity with the surroundings, may overlook and not “see” negative cues. Shoppers or colleagues from another local facility can lend their senses in walking your facility and recording impressions.

Try it yourself. Walk your facility and try to experience it through the senses of a guest. What are you seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching? What impressions form in your mind?

What impressions do you want guests to have? Which positive cues support and which negative cues detract from desired impressions?

Identify Themes and Determine What You Need

Theme the experience, and identify potential themes by brainstorming with your staff. What players, coaches, teams, prior shows, entertainers, local history, etc., can harmoniously contribute to sub-themes and an overall theme?

What experiences can you create in each themed area? What will it take to hit the sweet spot within each themed area?

  • Esthetic: What can be done to improve the esthetics?
  • Escapist: What can guests do while here?
  • Educational: What can guests learn, and what information or activities will engage them?
  • Entertainment: Is there anything the venue can do to make the game or entertainer more enjoyable?

What new positive cues will create desired impressions? Will you choreograph a combination of colors, fabrics, carpeting, acoustical materials, lighting, recorded sounds, smells, wall graphics, memorabilia displays, hands-on memorabilia, interactive games and kiosks, tour guide/informational personnel, a museum, specialty foods, specialty drinks, memorabilia cups and utensils and so forth? Don’t neglect to consult your professional design specialists to avoid a hodge-podge of discordant ticky-tacky.

Train Employees to Support the Impressions and Contribute to Experiences

Provide employees with scripts that engage the guest and form desirable impressions contributing to the experience. Employees will continually create their own on-the-job improv or ad-libs as they weave their personalities into their acts. Develop suggested scripts and actions by analyzing the practices of successful employees to create a base script for employees within each position. Consider these examples.

Most venues have a hawker or vendor who consistently outsells all others. Why will some patrons faithfully purchase from one vendor and not another? Chances are the vendor creates an experience that induces people to buy. Analyze what the successful vendor is doing. What kind of showmanship or flair are they exhibiting with their vending? What banter, jokes or entertainment are they providing that engage guests and entice them to bypass shorter lines and be served by them?

When a popular usher leads a guest to a seat, what is the usher doing to make the guest feel welcome and secure? Is it their special words of welcome? Some brief comments individually customized (improv) for each guest? The care with which they handle the tickets? Their excitement about the event? Their energetic pace? Their flair for presenting or wiping the seat? Their ability to answer questions?

Why does one merchandise seller consistently out-gross all others? The answer isn’t always location. What does the seller say about merchandise that gives the impression it is fine memorabilia? For example, does the seller artistically present a souvenir program with care as one might handle a fine Tiffany diamond while less successful sellers merely slap a magazine full of advertising on the counter?

What impressions should your concessions people convey in food preparation and presentation? Do the grill people flip burgers with alacrity and flair to give the impression of speed to those in concession lines? Do counter people’s words and actions support an impression not of mere cleanliness but sanitary conditions? Is the food quickly, carefully and conveniently arranged in a tray with a presentation style that suggests care and quality, or do wrapped hot dogs thud on the counter amongst the remnant drips of prior orders? Can the counter person tidy a counter with flair or perhaps with subtle yet evident skill and thoroughness while accepting a guest’s order?

Carry out similar analyses with an employee task force to redesign the role and basic script for every position.

Examine employees’ costumes. Are they congruent with the theme? Do they identify the employees’ positions?


Engaging guests in memorable experiences is a must as competition grows for a share of guests’ entertainment dollars and business’ convention, entertainment and donation budgets. Whether designing a new facility or enhancing experiences at an existing venue, memorable guest experiences are the key to positioning your house as “the place to be.” Promoters favor venues that can deliver incremental business. Engage guests in memorable experiences and you can look forward to hearing them say those magic words, “Let’s go again!”

 Wayne Coleman, MBA, is a principal of TAME, Training Assembly Managers and Employees, specializing in training programs for facility senior management, supervisors and event staff. He has authored many programs and videos, has presented a wide range of topics at numerous IAAM functions, and his Web site is

[i] Scott Madison Paton, “Service Quality, Disney Style,” Quality Digest, January 1997.
[ii] B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999) 13.
[iii] Ibid. 14.
[iv] Ibid. 30-43.
[v] Ibid. 31.
[vi] Ibid. 33.
[vii] Ibid. 39.
[viii] Ibid. 47.
[ix] Ibid. 19.
[x] Scott Madison Paton, “Service Quality, Disney Style,” Quality Digest, January 1997.
[xi] B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy, (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999) 57.
[xii] Ibid. 59.