Behind the Scenes Tours and Premium Experiences: Do They Add to the Magic or Just Frustrate Guests?

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Friday, February 7th, 2014

Disney's Epcot Dive

One way that theme parks, zoos, and other attractions offer guests a different perspective is by selling behind the scenes tours and paid premium experiences. These range from Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour that gives an inside look at how the Magic Kingdom operates to SeaWorld’s Marine Mammal Keeper Experience that allows guests an up close look at the park’s animals. Guests love them, and for a price, can get guided insider perspectives into the world of themed entertainment.

Premium experiences are important for a variety of reasons, from how parks are developing new revenue streams to how they’re constructing customized visitor experiences for segments of their audience. One look at the range of tours offered by a single property quickly gives you insight into how designers are leveraging existing assets and creating premium experiences to appeal to different visitors.

Universal Studios Singapore VIP Experience

At Florida’s Busch Gardens, for example, the team has developed a series of what they call “exclusive park experiences.” Each of them capitalizes on a different strength of the park. A number of tours are animal focused, including the Serengeti Night Safari (exactly what it sounds like) and daily Heart of Africa Tours that showcase the park’s big cats and other African animals. As the home of some top roller coasters, Busch Gardens was in a unique position to offer a closer look at the engineering and design behind each of them. Guests then ride the attractions that they learn about.

Serengeti Night Safari

One area to consider is what role behind the scenes tours and premium experiences offer in the park ecosystem. It’s important to differentiate between the two. Behind the scenes tours are perfect for uber fans that want a deeper brand experience, or people curious about how the industry operates. Whether guests want to understand what drives the magic behind a big brand like Universal or to get up and personal with a specific theme park’s furry residents, these tours offer that experience. Parks have to walk an important line between offering key insights and not sharing too much. Some parks, like Disney, actually impose age limits on certain tours so that a backstage look doesn’t shatter the magic.

Premium experiences play a slightly different role. These tours, such as the ones at Busch Gardens, focus more on highlighting an individual park’s strengths. They are a great way to take what a park is known for – such as specific animals or thrilling roller coasters – and really put the spotlight on it. If fans need an extra push to visit your park, a one-of-a-kind experience in the area that they love might be enough to get them through the gate.

Keys to the Kingdom

For the guests that get to participate, a park’s assets and key attractions can be enjoyed in a very different way through these tours. In most instances, it’s really about enhancing the existing experience rather than offering something completely different. But there is an underlying question. Most theme parks are already an investment for many families, where just the admission to the park can cost a couple hundred dollars for a family of four. If you add on food and other basics, a day at the park gets expensive pretty quickly. In most cases, premium activities don’t detract from the regular experience, but visitors will arguably miss out by not participating. In other cases, an add-on attraction such as a zipline that carries an extra fee might add a level of disappointment to the visitor experience.

For designers, creating premium tours requires looking at a specific park through the lens of “what kind of unique experience could be created here.” Often, we think of themed entertainment in terms of the quality of a particular attraction or the cohesiveness of the overall park. Tours and premium experiences raise an interesting question: can we envision a different or better way for visitors to experience a subset of attractions in a meaningful or exciting way? Many parks are finding these tours to be an engaging and profitable approach to doing just that.

Image source: Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens

 

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