It’s All Different Now: How Your Guests’ Expectations Have Changed

Picture this.  It’s Saturday, and you have a line of guests outside your entrance waiting for you to open.  Many of them are celebrating and excited to gather with friends and family.  They rush in shoulder to shoulder, happy to be there and accepting of the crowds around them.  Big smiles everywhere you look.  Life is good.  We had no idea how good we had it back in 2019.

Not to say that there were no challenges, but I think we can all agree that we’d trade our struggles from 2020 for another 2019 in a heartbeat.  The global economy was strong, the industry was in a state of rapid growth, and consumers were shouting that they wanted experiences more than ‘stuff’.  Maybe we took all that for granted...


When everything changed in 2020, it wasn’t just the guest experience that changed, it was your guests’ expectations that also made a massive shift.  While the nature of expectations is based on a variety of factors and depends on the nature of your specific business, there are a few that are consistent across the entire industry.  For instance, your guests expect that when they visit they will encounter an experience that is safe, open, clean, efficient, enjoyable, and friendly.


These expectations haven’t changed.  What has changed, is how each of these expectations are perceived by your guests.  Let’s take a look at each of these and look at why they’re different now than they were back in blissful 2019.


Expectation 1: Safe.  It’s not a coincidence that this expectation is listed on top, because safety is first, last, and everything in between.  But the definition of safety has changed, mainly because of the new factors that safety now encompasses.  Guests rarely praised safety before, because it wasn’t necessarily top of mind for many guests..   Now, guests are much more in tune with how well you enforce your safety standard, because the standard now includes enhanced sanitation, enforcement of masks, and physical distancing.  The new health risks make guests more skeptical than they were before, and you must regularly demonstrate how critical they are to your operation.


Expectation 2: Open.   Guests have a natural assumption that you are open during your advertised hours of operation.  But in 2020, with fluctuating restrictions that opened and closed businesses, rapidly and inconsistently across geographic regions and business types, that assumption became more of a confusion.  Posting your hours is no longer a “set it and forget it” activity, but instead must specifically indicate if you are open, when you are open, and how current your operating hours are.  Nothing ruins a family’s day quicker than being greeted by a big closed sign (or moose out front).

Expectation 3: Clean.  Do we even want to cover this or are we sick of it already?  Don’t worry, we won’t go deep into this topic, but the big picture is that before the pandemic, you were innocent until proven guilty when it came to cleanliness.  Sure, it was on your guests’ minds, but it wasn’t top of mind.  It didn’t usually come up as a reason to visit, but it sure came up often when guests reflected on their visit.  And not just in a bad way too – if you asked your guests what they enjoyed about their visit one of the most frequent answers was “we loved how clean it was.”  And if they were concerned it would certainly be a reason not to return, but now it better be at the top of the list for why guests are visiting.  Your marketing and communication must stress your new procedures and the level of care you are taking when it comes to sanitation, and then you must prove it to every single guest, every day that they made the right decision to visit.  You are no longer innocent until proven guilty when it comes to sanitation.


Expectation 4: Efficient.  Your guests have a natural expectation that there will be some degree of efficiency when they visit you.  If it’s a peak time, they expect you to be staffed accordingly, focused on moving guests through queues without unnecessary delays, and that crowds will be well managed.  Now, the new expectation of efficiency takes on all of the aforementioned expectations, and brings in physical distancing.  They expect to wait reasonable amounts of time at a reasonable distance from those not in their party.  Technology is playing a large role in this expectation shift, through timed entry and reservations, virtual queueing, and mobile ordering.


Expectation 5: Enjoyable & Friendly.  Wait, shouldn’t this be obvious?  Yes, but let’s cover it anyway.  Frankly, this reasonable expectation is more important now than it was before.  People visit attractions because they want to.  They want to have a good time, spend quality time with friends and family (we all know how difficult that can be), and they crave escapism from the negative headlines that are regularly filling our news feeds. Sanitize your facility, but don’t sanitize the experience.  Don’t let a mask stop you from smiling (yes, you can tell the difference).  This isn’t going above and beyond, this is meeting the baseline.

Each of these expectations must be acknowledged and implemented into standard operations.  When it comes to delivering a superior experience, meeting expectations must come before exceeding expectations.  You can’t go above and beyond if you haven’t first showed that you’ve kept your promises.