Park Spy — Spring 2019

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The question: “How does your park compare to others in the area?”

What makes your park unique? We wanted to find out how operations sold themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace, so we called parks close to one another. We purposely phrased this question around “other parks in the area” rather than asking what makes the operation unique. Some took the bait and some didn’t.

Park #1, TN
First contact
: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, a lot of the other companies vary in how they brake—some allow the customers to brake themselves, some are more extreme than others. We have two [tours]. (He goes on to thoroughly describe each tour, including lengths of the zip lines, how high they are off the ground, the different scenery each one provides, and more.) We do take ’em as young as five years old and as much weight as 275 and we do all the braking for all the customers.
API: What do you mean when you say you do all the braking?
Staff: That we do the braking for you. You don’t have to stop yourself. Some companies you have to wear gloves and reach up and physically pull down on the cable to slow yourself down. On our tours, we take care of that for you. We have trained guides who manage the brakes so all you have to do is sit and zip and have a good time. It is a tour, so the guides interact and that’s half the fun. You get to know each other, hear some stories, and enjoy the scenery.
API: That sounds great.
Staff: Well, when you’re ready to book, you can either call us back or you can go to our website and book online. We do run specials at the beginning and end of the day so if you wanted to come early or do a twilight zip, we have special rates for those.
API: Great. Thank you so much.

Score: 8
Comment: The method of braking seems to be the differentiator, and rather than putting down other places that do it differently, he touted the experience at his own place. Nicely done.  

Park #2, TN
First contact
: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: So, we have two separate courses you can choose from. (She describes one of the courses, which sounds…) 
API: Neat!
Staff: Yeah! (She describes the other course, and how the two experiences compare.) I know you said you might have a group. If you have more than eight people we do offer a 10 percent discount. We do have an age limit of seven years old and a weight limit of 250 pounds.
API: Alright, so the youngest person who can go is seven. Is there an upper age limit?
Staff: Nope, we’ve taken people all the way up through their 90s out to enjoy the view. 
API: That’s so great.
Staff: When you’re ready to choose where you would like to zip, just let us know. You can book online on our website or over the phone
API: Thanks, I’ll do that.

Score: 6
Comment: She gets points for being nice, knowledgeable, and focusing on describing the experience at her place—but she didn’t actually answer my question.
 

Park #3, CT
Answering phone: Automated system. Chose operator.
First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well there’s not really a ton to do around here so we’re a really great option! Have you been to an aerial adventure park before?
API: No, I haven’t.
Staff: It’s pretty fun. Basically it’s like an obstacle course through the trees. You make your way from platform to platform, which are built into the trees, and you’re fully harnessed in the whole time and attached to the safety cables. We have four courses that get harder as you go.
API: What makes them harder?
Staff: Well, the elements on the courses get tougher. You need better balance, or arm strength, to get through it.
API: Does that mean this isn’t necessarily an appropriate activity for my whole family?
Staff: No, this is great to do with the whole family because you can all climb together, but everyone can make their way through different courses at the same time. You do have to be at least seven years old, though, and our weight limit is 265 pounds.
API: OK, great.
Staff: Yeah, it’s pretty fun. So when you’re ready to book you can call us back or go online to our website and pick a time.
API: Great, thanks.

Score: 4
Comment: Strong finish, tough start—because there IS a lot to do in the area where this park is, including other aerial adventures.

Park #4, CA
Answering phone: Automated system. Chose operator.
First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, we’re actually closed right now, but if you are local to the area and think you’ll come this summer, we’re actually the longest zip line in the area and because of our location you get some really fantastic views as you zip.
API: I’m sure they’re gorgeous.
Staff: Yeah, it’s great. We have X courses so you can get a good range. We also have parallel zip lines so you can enjoy the view side by side with whoever you come with. Ummmm, what else, well you can go up to 55 mph on our zips and, ummmmm, yeah. I think that’s pretty much it.
API: When do you open up for the season?
Staff: Technically we’re open year-round but we’re closed for maintenance right now. I don’t have a solid date of reopening yet.
API: Gotcha, I’ll just call back closer to summer then.
Staff: Sounds good!

Score: 5
Comment: Technically, he answered my question. But, ummmmm, what if I’m not a local? And, yeah, the place is closed, but open year round, but closed for maintenance, and isn’t sure when it’s reopening. Oh, boy.
   

Park #5, TX
First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Do you know what other zip lines you were looking at so I can compare them to us?
API: I can’t remember the names. I’d have to look them up again.
Staff: (laughs) No worries. So there’s one in [town], it’s a four, umm, five line. Well, they do have five lines but the last one on the tour, you’re just kinda racing each other, so it’s a four-line zip line company. And there’s another one over in [town]. I think they have nine? We are a double-line zip line company, I think the other two are single cables, I know the one over in [town]is. 
API: What’s the reason for the one or two cables?
Staff: It’s just extra for safety. 
API: Got it.
Staff: You do have to stop yourself on those other two lines. Here, we stop you, so that way you can go fast. We do have the longest line of everybody, our longest line is X feet. We have lots of ponds, so we have ponds that you’re zipping over at our beautiful facility. And ummm, we have handles on trolleys, so you don’t have to put your hands up on top of the trolley system. Every place is going to be fun no matter where you go, but I hope you pick us!
API: Thank you, I appreciate the information.
Staff: You can visit our website and check out the various packages and reserve a tour. But anyway, we’d love to have ya!
API: Thanks!

Score: 8
Comment: She had some knowledge of other operations in the area, which is good. And she earned my trust by acknowledging I’ll have fun no matter where I zip, which is great—and for that, I’ll definitely pick this place.
 

Park #6, CT
Answering phone: Automated system. Chose operator.
First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: I don’t know that there’s anything else quite like this around here.
API: I think there are a couple of other aerial adventure parks locally.
Staff: Yeah, but those are outdoor and I don’t think they’re open right now.
API: OK, so you have an indoor course?
Staff: Yep.
API: Great. I guess that means we can take weather off the list of concerns.
Staff: So, like I said, there’s nothing really like us around here.
API: Got it, thanks.

Score: 1
Comment: Not good. Did this place really let a rude, condescending jerk answer the phone? Sure seemed like it.
 

Park #7, CA
First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well of course, I’d be happy to give you a quick rundown of our course and the packages we offer. Well, the main thing that sets us apart from other tours in the area is that we have a self-operated brake. So, we provide all of our guests with all the equipment needed. You actually use a gloved hand on the overhead cable to slow yourself down, so there’s a little more interactivity than you’ll find in other places. We also have some of the bigger zip lines in the lower 48 (describes height and speeds), so they’re pretty extreme in all regards. In terms of packages, we have about X main packages that we sell. (Describes each package, the experience each provides, and how much they cost.) 
API: Oh, cool.
Staff: If you go to our website, we actually have some videos that show all those elements I briefly described, and you can get an idea of what they look like, the general scenery of the area, and the general experience.
API: I’ll check those out.
Staff: Yeah, if you go to our website and check those out we actually have a great set of frequently asked questions and the website goes into a lot more detail on the packages than I have.
API: Great!
Staff: Are there any other questions I can answer for you?
API: Nope, I think I’ll just head to the website and watch those videos.
Staff: Great, thank you so much for calling.

Score: 10
Comment: He politely described some of the park’s differentiators without sounding pompous, guided me through the packages and experiences I can choose from, and directed me to the website to see it all for myself. Winner winner!
Identity Revealed: Ziplines at Pacific Crest

Park #8: TX
Answering phone
: Automated system. Chose operator.
First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, you know I don’t really know. I’m not super familiar with the other places around here so I’d have a hard time comparing.
API: I guess I am really just trying to understand why we should book here rather than those other places.
Staff: Oh! OK, well, we have X zip lines, the longest is about X feet and the highest is about 100 feet. It’s super fun. It feels like you’re flying. 
API: Cool.
Staff: Yeah, it’s super fun. Not sure what else to say since, like I said, I’m not familiar with the other places so I can’t compare.
API: No problem, thanks so much.

Score: 3
Comment: I appreciate the honesty. But next time, ask somebody else who might know what to say.

Debrief: 

Twenty-five percent of respondents to our State of the Industry survey opened their doors in the past five years. Untapped markets are becoming scarce, which means many of these new operations are entering competitive marketplaces. With so many choices, guests will want to know why they should come to you instead of the place down the street. 

It’s easy to prepare for this question, though. Compile each staff member’s favorite thing about your operation, as well as the things they notice guests enjoy most. Take those comments and work them into your selling points. 

It’s equally important to know your competition, too. Make note of key differentiators, and make sure whoever is answering the phone knows what sets your place apart, even if it isn’t the biggest, longest, or most elaborate game in town.

Finally—and this is really, really important—present those differentiators in a diplomatic way. In other words, don’t talk smack about the place down the road in an effort to make your place look better. That approach will actually make your place look worse, because it shows insecurity. I was pleased that no one I called jumped on the opportunity to directly bad-mouth the competition. 

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About Author

Sarah Borodaeff is the digital editor and project manager for Adventure Park Insider magazine. A professional ski bum and former zip guide, Sarah enjoys any excuse to talk about outdoor adventures.

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