At the end of the season, it’s important to take note of all the things that went right, went wrong, or could simply be improved, so that next year can be even more successful than the last. But how do we measure how successful a season was, and how do we stay competitive in a fast-paced, ever-growing market? And above all, how can we take advantage of what we learned this season?
Did your activities surge or decline in visitation? You will never know if you don’t track them on a daily basis. Make sure you watch both your daily revenue and the number of activities sold. Keep a close eye on which activities are driving your park, and which are fading in popularity.
For example, at our multi-activity adventure park, the POS system provides a daily sales report of adult and children tickets sold for the aerial trekking course as well as our adventure tower and two kids’ courses—one netted and one with a continuous belay system. I track all sales daily, and compare them to previous years.
The yearly sales trends help determine future spending. If I see an increase in aerial trekking and a big drop in climbing walls, for example, I will invest in new elements for aerial trekking instead of upgrading the climbing walls. If I see more and more children visiting the park every year, I continue to target families in our marketing versus singles in their 20s and 30s, and also update the park’s elements accordingly (nothing extreme).
MAKE LOCAL COMPARISONS
It’s not enough to analyze your own sales. How do your park’s sales compare to other activities and businesses in the region? Check with the local visitor center or local tourism association for the overall visitation and accommodation numbers. Are you up 5 percent while most hotels and the local visitor center are up 17 percent?
Also, consider how your local market has changed in the past year. Is there new competition in the area, and if so, how were you affected? Competition makes you try harder and innovate, of course. First, determine your strengths, and build on them. Is the new competition built on a steel structure while your park is built in the trees? Can the new competitor accommodate the entire family and all ages? Advertise your strengths! Spend money on SEO and Google Campaign to always pop up first.
ASK CAPACITY QUESTIONS
If you’re turning away business because you can’t accommodate more guests at certain times, what is restricting your capacity?
Perhaps you can book more guests in the morning, or stay open later in the evening, without an increase in staffing. Or perhaps you can alter your reservation system to offer more spots (and incentives) in the morning, and fewer during peak times, especially if you are accommodating walk-ins as well.
Can you eliminate bottlenecks and shrink wait times?
Consider dedicating one staff person to help with large group gear-ups or a surge of guests who arrive at the same time. Assign someone with enough experience to help predict and prevent lineups. Or, you might designate a guide to jump up on the course when one intersection becomes a bottleneck.
What are your offerings in terms of duration and skill level?
Many guests don’t have two to three hours for each visit, for a number of reasons: age, small children, fitness level, or simple time constraints. Cover as many activity options as you can to increase your capacity, and thus your sales. This might mean adding shorter-duration activities, such as a single zip line ride, giant swing, solo free fall, or a simple climbing element.
REVIEW WEATHER INFLUENCES
Check your daily meeting sheets—which should always include the day’s weather—and compare with your sales. Are there any anomalies? If sales increase on rainy days, is this because some competitors are unable to operate when it rains? Conversely, if numbers are down during a streak of beautiful blue skies and pleasant temperatures, are potential guests deciding to instead head out to the cabin or lake to take advantage of the weather?
Study these and record the effects on your business. Then, next year, you can look at weather forecasts and take these factors into account in your daily and weekly planning—knowing that weather forecasts are always 100 percent reliable, of course.
FOCUS ON SAFETY
Your operation is never safe enough and there is always room for improvement.
So: What did you learn this season? Is your staff documenting all the near misses or potential incidents? Do you have scheduled debriefing sessions with your staff to talk about what happened, what could have happened, and how to ensure it won’t happen?
Your staff is out there observing it all, good or bad, catching near misses. Create a platform and take advantage of this knowledge. We use a staff feedback form so that staffers can provide their ideas and suggestions. Their input may offer a fresh perspective. Plus, this process instills an ownership mentality after staff ideas are implemented.
Documentation can be revealing. Some examples of questions to keep in mind during documentation review include:
• Does the same small injury keep occurring on the same element? Maybe it’s time to change it.
• Do you have enough early exits from your course for guests who get tired or scared? Early exits can prevent bottlenecks that pop up while you lower a guest from the course.
• Do you have enough staff access points on the course to get to your guests as fast as you can?
• Do you provide enough information to your guests about what to expect?
When parents go on vacation with their children, they’re leaving behind a stressful job and are ready to finally enjoy some family time. They depart after working until the last minute and drive a long distance to make it to the park. When they finally arrive it is not at all what they expected. That leads to disappointment, and worse. Think Clark Griswold at Walley World.
How did this happen?
Marketing materials. Does all your promotional material, your website, and your advertising prepare your guests for exactly what they will experience? It’s probably time to review and update your communications.
As the aerial adventure industry grows, more people become familiar with our activities. But that doesn’t always mean guests know what to expect at your park. It is your job to paint a clear picture in advance so guests are fully prepared. (How to do that? See The Power of Video, page 51, for some ideas.)
Guest service. How well does guest service staff handle questions and requests on the website, social media, and on the phone? What can you do to improve response time, or handle calls more effectively? It’s a challenge during peak season when everyone is busy. For our park, I’m looking into more efficient and more reliable communication with guests, such as website chats with automated answers about hours and prices.
TRAINING AND SAFETY PROTOCOLS
The staff training manual and operations manual are never fully complete. These living documents remain open for comment and discussion at all times, so learn and update at every chance you get. Do you ask staff to suggest changes and additions to their training? If there’s something missing or off key, they are the ones who will know.
The end-of-season review is an opportunity to take a long-term view on training and incidents. Daily monitoring of performance and incidents does not give you enough perspective and time to overhaul procedures. So it’s important to make to-do notes during the season, and take time to review your records and make any major changes in the fall, so you’re ready come next spring. I review all incidents, no matter how small, along with their locations, guests’ reviews and comments, and staff feedback, to spot patterns and trends.
EMERGENCY ACTION PLAN AND DOCUMENTS REVIEW
From the first radio call to your incident investigation protocol and evacuation procedure, each step is precisely laid out. But you may realize that things didn’t always go according to plan. What went wrong? What unexpected factors cropped up? Why? Now’s the time to ponder these questions.
Review procedures. When an incident occurs, many guests try to help, and many people try to provide a witness report. How well did you manage these efforts? Did you get the witnesses to slow down and carefully recall what they saw? Did you identify the immediate family members and separate them from the rest of the guests? How well did you communicate with the family?
In the case of a serious incident, did you close the immediate area and route guests to a reception area for more info and assistance? Did you assure all witnesses that first aid was being provided? Did you instill confidence that you were investigating what happened, collect their information, take their statements, and help them carry on with experiencing your park or other activities?
How well did you handle staff that either witnessed the incident or may have been part of the incident? If they were shaken by it, did you move them to a quiet staff area where they could provide a statement? Did you follow up over the next several days and arrange help from WCB (OSHA in the U.S.) if you suspected PTSD or other emotional trauma?
Review documents. Did you ask all the relevant questions in your investigation, such as the guest’s occupation? A finger cut may be a minor injury for most folks, but it’s not so minor for a surgeon. What is the guest’s nationality? If he or she is from another country and seeks medical attention, you may hear from his or her travel insurance provider.
Look for surprises. You may also find that your plan failed to address some key aspects of your response. Perhaps your debrief reveals that you can better control the scene immediately after an incident occurs, or that you must train your staff to coordinate their actions more.
Review management. Who was minding the overall operation during the emergency? Management and lead guides often have the highest level of first aid qualifications and therefore are called to provide aid. But it is very important for whoever is running the overall operation during the emergency to think about the bigger picture: How many guests are in the park? Where are all the staff located? The manager must stay in that role and oversee operations. He or she should not be giving full attention to first aid.
Listen to your guests. Ask for feedback and READ IT. Did you? Did you respond to all your reviews, good or bad? How can you improve on this performance?
Then, consider how you can best respond to any negative comments. The difference between a 4-star and 5-star review is probably in small details, such as having a changing table and/or nursing area for babies if you accommodate children in your park.
Is there a good place for non-participants to observe or wait? Having refreshments for sale and some books and magazines to entertain folks is smart. After all, these guests have time and cell phones in their hands—and probably their wallets, too.
Did you experience extreme weather this season, and is there a way to be better prepared for future events? How well did you monitor and interpret your weather reports?
Lightning storms are common everywhere, and in our industry, these mean evacuation and lost sales. With today’s technology it’s simple to track weather and monitor lightning in the area. Are you using this technology? Did it allow you to manage your guests in a reasonable time frame?
If a storm hit fast, how well did your plan hold up? What’s your plan for when the power goes out? How well did it work? Did you call all reservations to postpone or reschedule? Little things like that call go a long way.
Natural disasters are one of the things that can keep you awake at night. What practices are in place? For our park, experiencing a forest fire was terrifying—so much so that we installed a sprinkler system above our entire park, and built a fire trail above it to stop its path down the mountain. We also trained our staff for fire response and evacuation.
No matter how long and busy your season was, it’s best to conduct your review now, while the experiences of the past season are still fresh. Make lots of notes, and you can then spend the next few months figuring out how to address all the issues that you catalog. You can then look forward to your best season yet.