Theme Park Takes Online Suggestions to Heart

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Online surveys are an important listening post for Paramount Parks.


The Viacom-owned Nickelodeon Enterprises company relies on customer feedback to address issues of product and service scalability, frequency and consistency. Changes are often the direct result of suggestions from theme park guests.


"Our guests offer an extremely important perspective that managers can use to inform their own thinking," said Mark Kupferman, Charlotte, NC-based vice president of research and interactive marketing at Paramount Parks. "It allows us to test assumptions before acting on them and it gives us the opportunity to be able to better understand the implications of the decisions that we make."


Paramount's survey efforts tap an ongoing customer panel of 14,000 online participants as well as a database of 500,000 e-mail addresses of past park visitors and potential customers. The e-mail list was generated through signups via Paramount's online newsletter, through company Web sites and cards handed out in parks.


New concept surveys ask guests to participate in the company's ride development process. Guest satisfaction surveys help reveal details of recent customer experiences at the park. And multiple ad hoc seasonal surveys keep the theme park owner plugged in to trends.


Consider some of the previous campaigns. Feedback was sought on park and theme rides as well as upgrades or new amenities; the use of coupons, their appeal and what is likely to result in a park visit; the effectiveness of television commercials and other seasonal advertising; and why some people visit a park and others do not.


Paramount also ran a survey to gauge what park visitors are looking for and why they would or would not return. In another survey, Paramount tried to make visitors a part of improving the park and the experience for their families.


The Paramount guest satisfaction survey is up on www.parkfeedback.com.


Each Paramount feedback initiative is customized to better gauge an individual park's clientele and how well that facility is serving its customers.


Paramount collects 1,000 to 3,500 responses per survey -- depending on whether it is conducted across all of its parks or just at one. Segmentation can include gender, parental status, visitation frequency, income, preference for thrill rides and other factors. Data collection can take from minutes to days, depending on survey campaign duration and volume.


The theme park owner is using Austin, TX-based Inquisite Inc.'s software for enabling its online surveys. Using the desktop-based software, a template is set up to design the look and feel of the survey.


Once the survey is set up -- akin to preparing a PowerPoint presentation -- the preparer hits the publish button. After answering a few basic questions, the survey is automatically uploaded to the site and a link given. Inquisite will also send out invitations to the survey list, though Paramount uses Lyris Listmanager to manage and send out all guest-directed e-mail messages.


Once the surveys are collected, the Inquisite software generates a variety of reports complete with tables and graphs. The software can also export the data into Microsoft Access, Microsoft Excel, SPSS or Adobe Acrobat files. The more technically minded can extract the data directly from the SQL tables it is stored in. Paramount uses this method to collect data for some of its ongoing surveys to feed it into its data warehouse.


Paramount is mindful that consumers, while willing to voice their opinions, also need incentives. Park guests who participate in the research are entered in sweepstakes such as drawings for tickets, season passes and gift certificates.


Feedback generated through an Inquisite survey campaign contributed to a major water park redesign for the Crocodile Dundee's Boomerang Bay Water Park Resort in Kings Island, OH. Modeled on Australia's Gold Coast, this is currently the world's only Australia- and Hollywood-themed water park.


In 2002, visitors to that park offered feedback on everything from food and rides to park theme and overall ambience. More than 1,200 park customers responded to the interactive, graphical survey. Pictures of prospective rides were used to boost response accuracy.


Based on a better-than-50 percent response rate, customers sought improvements in overall park ambience.


"The research that was conducted on Boomerang Bay was turned into a check-list," said Jeffrey Siebert, manager of marketing communications and guest experience at Paramount's Kings Island theme park in Ohio. "Our guests asked for more shade, more landscaping, better food, more family experiences and rides ... and that's exactly what we did."


The revamped water park reopened over the Memorial Day weekend. The park, according to Paramount, is one of the top two seasonal theme parks worldwide, with more than 3 million guests annually.


"Competition in any industry is fierce and the ability to leverage satisfied customers is more important than ever," said Inquisite president Meg Murphy. "At a minimum, technology should help us know our customers better and help us make our relationships with them more profitable."


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