10 March 2014 // Thoughts

Defining Your Story: Creating Experiences By Telling Tales

Last week, our JRA CEO/Owner Keith James presented to an eager group of listeners at the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2014 in San Francisco, California. The Conference, which continues today and tomorrow, provides top industry leadership the opportunity to discover the latest industry trends and hear how attractions around the world have addressed business opportunities and challenges to create compelling experiences.

During the learning session “Defining Your Story”, Keith discussed how storylines have been used to create some of the world’s best visitor experiences. Over the next four blogs, we’ll share with you the transcript from his presentation, beginning with why we tell stories at all:

Thanks for allowing me the chance to speak with you today.

Like many of you, over the past forty plus years I have made my living immersing a variety of guests within stories – be they in theme parks, attractions, museums, halls of fame, etc.

But it occurred to me, that while our industry often talks about stories, we don’t often talk about why we use stories, how these stories are developed, and how each of us can determine what story is the right fit for each our facilities and project.

So, that’s what I’d like to discuss with you today, specifically:

  • Why are stories used in visitor experiences?
  • What are these stories based upon?
  • How are these stories conveyed?
  • How do you define or improve your story?

So, to begin with: why do we in the leisure industry use story? What are the benefits?

There are a variety of reasons, some of which are very obvious, some of which may not be:

  • First, stories attract and engage guests. Whether its immersing themselves in the world of Harry Potter or the history of the New Jersey boardwalk, guests want to go to a place where they can take a brief escape from their day-to-day lives.
  • Second, stories can provide differentiation. For example, if two theme parks have the same ride, but one is themed to a more evocative story, it can be a point of differentiation for attracting guests.
  • From a design standpoint, stories provide a foundation for creating the guest experience, from the selection of rides and attractions that best tell that story, to theming, to music, to what the staff wears.
  • Stories also orient the guest during their visit, whether it’s a zone within a theme park, or the pre-show experience within an attraction, stories provide a bit of context to where a guest is in the site/facility.
  • Finally, and perhaps more important than you might first think, stories can help drive food and retail revenue

If you don’t believe me, when was the last time you had a turkey leg outside of being immersed within the story of your local Renaissance Fair?

Photo credit: 10000birds.com

Or, how much more money do you think Universal Studios makes on Butterbeer, versus selling the same drink without its backstory?

Photo credit: NBC News

Now that Keith has helped us explore why we use stories, in tomorrow’s excerpt, he identifies the various types of stories that can be used within leisure experiences.