Disneyland and the Experience Economy – Not just service but selling a magical experience


What if a business sold experiences instead of merely providing a service?
The experience economy is a concept where businesses go beyond and sell an enhanced type of service – an experience. The idea behind it involves businesses staging a “performance”, in which their services are showcased to the customer and an ordinary experience is enhanced because it is turned into a memorable one.

Who are the pioneers in this concept? Disney.

Indeed there are quite a few references to Disney in the original paper on the experience economy by Pine and Gilmore which you can check out here and there’s a few more thrown in from recent experience to Disneyland. Several characteristics of an experience economy can also be seen appearing in escape rooms, which is where this blog post ties in.

Instead of customers, participants are instead called guests and one could argue this is where the performance starts. “Next Customer, please” tells a person they are simply a financial transaction to the business, whereas “Next Guest, please” says to the customer they are valued and triggers an emotional response on a more personal level. This saying is not commonly used and felt strange when first heard in Disneyland but a moment remember much later on. “They are here as my customers” versus “They are here as my guests” – there’s a difference.

In addition, the experience should be slowly revealed over a period of time. The guest should be presented with the first stage of the performance and then gradually the performance evolves showing that there is more to the initial experience than first meets the eye. Customer service and props are utilised to enhance the performance’s impact on guests. All guests upon entering Disneyland Park enter through Main Street and as they walk through the park they encounter seven other additional areas to explore – each with their own themes, props and costumed staff.


The best performances utilise more than one of the five senses to have an impact on the guest – take The Little Mermaid Ride for an example. When Ariel’s ride suddenly stopped and guests were waiting – one of the animatronics made a joke about that sea witch and told us to stay in our clamshells on the ride (sound, sight). Kept guests informed yet still relevant to the ride’s theme and not the usual bored ride operator’s voice giving out instructions. The smell of gingerbread while passing by a long dinner table on the Nightmare Before Christmas ride and the dry, dusty feeling when riding pass the Wild West diaphragm on the Disneyland Railroad, the train around the park. Bubble machines are also cleverly hidden around the park which I think trigger memories of being a kid and being without worries.

The performance helps to create an overall experience which is unique to the individual who has participated in it. From this, the customer derives more value from the experience because of the value they attach to (hopefully a good) memory of the business. In theory, customers are charged usually a high price of admission by the business for the experience they receive.

However will disagree slightly, believing the experience economy doesn’t always mean an admission fee needs to be charged by a business. An experience that is memorable and stands out against competitor businesses is also selling an experience to a customer without the financial reward.

There’s additional criteria to judge how the experience affects the guest:

Guests should be actively participating and contributing to the experience rather than passively observing the event as a bystander.

Being immersed in the performance is where guests will obtain the most value from the experience, otherwise guests are only watching others being involved in the event.

“Escapist experiences can teach just as well as educational events can, or amuse just as well as entertainment, but they involve greater customer immersion.” Pine & Gilmore, 1998.

The experience should have an impact on the guest before they arrive, meet their needs during their time with the business and after the guest has gone home. Think of every Disney, Pixar and Marvel movie ever as a stage for Disney to act out its performance upon and sell you a magical experience. (Yes, Disney owns all these companies – surprise!).


Some tips from the experience economy:
– Design your experience around a strong theme – guests are driven towards a story that captures their attention.

– Leave an impression on your guests by introducing subtle cues in design eg. walls or floors designed in a way to indicate how guests should move around the space such as lining up. Remember regular customers by name.

– Remove negative messages from the environment and don’t overwhelm the customer with things they don’t really need to know. Simplify their experience instead of giving poor customer service such as constantly interrupting their experience.

– Sell souvenirs of the experience – guests will pay a higher price for a product they associate with an experience they want to remember.

– Utilise the five senses to enhance an experience in order to make it memorable – through sound, sight, touch, smell and tastes that relate to your theme – which then triggers the imagination of the guest.

– Engage your guest by continuously updating the experience over time, price well according to the experience’s value and ensure enough capacity to accommodate peaks in customer demand.

# Leftover Notes –
– There was plenty of coin pressers located around the park and it turned into a scavenger hunt. Give the machine some money and a shiny penny, in return the penny would be pressed into an oval shape with a Disney design. If you weren’t looking for the coin pressers – you would walk right pass them. Some were placed at the exit of rides, other times buried into the corners of merchandise shops hidden in plain sight. Finding each coin presser was an adventure in itself.

– Something that was suprising to see was moving walkways (similar to what airports have) in order to load guests quickly on to a ride. The walkways were slow enough to let guests sit on the ride but fast enough to make people quickly move. Never have seen it before in a theme park, really interesting to see in action.

One of the happiest places on earth to visit.

Essa 🙂

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

One thought on “Disneyland and the Experience Economy – Not just service but selling a magical experience

  1. […] This event was created by Ford who are targeting millennials with their product – turning a normal test drive into a memorable and fun experience by utilizing concepts from the experience economy. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: