Focus on the employee experience: Q&A with hospitality Ph.D Scott Smith

Need to boost revenue this year? Look no further than your employees, according to attractions expert, Dr. Scott Smith.

In this month’s Q&A, we sat down with Dr. Scott Smith, Associate Professor at University of South Carolina’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management to discuss the state of attractions today and why treating your employees right will make you stand out from your competition, increase guest satisfaction, and drive revenue upwards.

Q: In your opinion, what’s been the biggest challenge for museums and attractions since the start of 2020?

A: Hands down, staffing shortages.

Attractions are the busiest they’ve ever been due to pent-up demand. But, they can’t ramp up to normal operations because their skilled, reliable staff were let go when parks closed. So attractions are hiring new and untrained workers that might be unfamiliar with the industry. It’s a challenge that can impact employee morale, which then cascades down to guest satisfaction, and ultimately impacts the theme park’s bottom line. After all, happy employees are key to creating happy customers

However, I think attractions are missing that point. For the most part, they’re focused on delivering the next bigger, faster roller coaster and are ignoring the signs of an issue that will only get worse as time goes on if nothing changes. 

Q: How can attractions turn it around?

A: Attractions must quickly take action now to get ahead. It used to be that theme parks were the place to work because they offered good pay. But now? There are lots of other places that pay well, but also come with a lot of extra benefits attractions are not offering. So if you’re a job seeker, the choice is an easy one – you go where you’re treated well. 

Take Dollywood as an example of a theme park getting it right – they offer employees an educational reimbursement scheme with no strings attached; employees can go to school without worrying about paying back costs. It’s no surprise that Dollywood was ranked as one of the best employers in the country last year.

Theme parks would do well to see what they’re doing at attractions like Dollywood and replicate it to keep their best employees.

Q: How can technology improve the employee experience?

A: Save your employees’ time.

I speak from experience when I say that time is an employee’s most valuable asset when working in an attraction. You spend a lot of time as an employee waiting to turn in your costume, waiting for food, waiting to punch the time clock – it’s all time that they can instead be using for high-value tasks or even taking a proper break. 

So any tech that can improve their welfare or their working hours will reflect in how they engage with guests in the park. Giving them back their valuable time is the difference between a stressed worker doing the bare minimum or a relaxed member of your team taking care of your guests’ needs.

Q: Do you have examples of how the right tech might positively impact the employee experience?

A: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if right before their break, an employee can preorder their lunch on a self-service kiosk so that when they arrive in the cafeteria, it’s waiting for them? That saves at least 10-15 minutes of waiting in line. Or, you could have RFID technology that automatically clocks you in as you walk through the door. 

By utilizing the right technology to improve your employees’ quality of life, you’re streamlining their experience so they can turn around and provide excellent customer service, which in turn, will have guests spending more and wanting to come back. I consider that a win for everyone involved.

Q: What advice would you give to attractions leaders to bridge the staff shortages gap?

A: No more roller coaster wars. Instead, focus on your employees and be bold. Rethink what the employee experience means – from recruitment, to training, to working – and create a better experience every step of the way. 

Make the strides needed to create a positive employee experience. Taking these steps means you’re attracting the right, talented people and building a solid foundation for an excellent guest experience. Your employees are your greatest assets and by investing in them, you’re going to see a highly engaged staff that could lead to outperforming competitors by 147%, and could even see a 1.8 times faster revenue growth

That is the future of attractions – treat your employees well and reap the rewards.

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Focus on the employee experience: Q&A with hospitality Ph.D Scott Smith

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