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Guest Journey: Drive Focus and Value at Your Attraction

Updated: November 26, 2018 | CRM | Share on LinkedIn

by Matthew Hoenstine, Principal, Destinations

Matthew Hoenstine, Principal, DestinationsHave you ever navigated a new city without a map? Unless you have a terrific sense of direction, you probably felt a bit lost at times and took longer to get to your destination than if you knew exactly where you were going.

Too often when introducing a new ticket redemption process, implementing a new ticketing system or launching a new website, we inadvertently make significant changes that impact the guest experience and leave them “map-less.”

Enter the guest journey (aka guest journey map)

A few years ago, I was involved in a major guest transformation project. It was during the launch of this project that I was first introduced to the concept of a guest journey. This simple exercise focused energies, aligned disparate teams around a clear mission, and provided a measuring stick for our efforts.

Nowadays, it’s how I start all new change projects.

Whether you call the people coming to your attraction guests or visitors, it is critical to understand what their journeys are, what you expect them to be, and how you sync them to each other.

What a guest journey is

The guest journey tells the story of how your visitor experiences your business. This journey is what you are going to use to tell the story to everyone within your organization as well as to any outside parties helping to deliver on your objective. This puts everyone on the same playing field with equal knowledge of the task at hand.

More importantly, it puts everyone in the shoes of your visitor.

I recently worked with an attraction that sold tickets directly to consumers via their website, at a walk-up ticket booth and through third-party resellers. Though most of us understood the visitor experience with buying tickets online or onsite, few of us were aware of what it was like to buy tickets through a third-party. As a result, the team didn’t understand what information the guest would have or not have when they arrived at our attraction.

What a guest journey is not

I initially faced some obstacles when starting to explore the guest journey. I wanted it to cover every possible situation. I wanted it to be complex. But instead it quickly became overwhelming and no one understood it.

So avoid my pitfalls: your visitor journey should not be exhaustive. It shouldn’t be overwhelming. Or it will never be done or understood.

The journey you create today might look different tomorrow. And that’s ok. Today we need a plan and a rallying point. Tomorrow will come and you can adjust later.

 ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’

I like to describe the guest journey as a “choose your own” adventure comic book. First off, you’ll want to load up your book with both imagery and storytelling. Put all your characters in there too – from the guest to the team members and business partners that affect the guest journey.

By way of an example, if the journey starts with the visitor interacting with your website, figure out if they’ll be doing that from the comfort of their couch at home or on a subway commuting from work. These scenarios lead to two different sets of needs.

The comfy couch-sitter might be on their laptop or tablet and so you’ll need a responsive design web store to accommodate different screen sizes. But most likely, they’ll have higher bandwidth at home and so your website can include rich graphics. But the subway commuter, she’s most likely on her smartphone. You’ll need a mobile version of your site for her and understand that internet connection might be challenging so images should load quickly.

To illustrate this concept, here is a fictitious example that outlines how consumers plan vacations. This example is for the equally fictitious RollerWater Thrill Park that wants to attract more prospective visitors.

To construct the guest journey, RollerWater Thrill Park sought out to better understand their prospective visitors. A cross-departmental project team reviewed website traffic to glean how folks ended up on their website and what devices they were using. The marketing team shared their paid search advertising efforts (e.g. Yahoo, Google & Bing search) and what type of consumers they were targeting. And they also asked their fellow employees for feedback on their website.

Armed with their research, they could have put together a dull PowerPoint slide full of bullet points and hoped that the IT team and senior management would grasp the problem.

Instead they decided to illustrate their case – aka create a “Choose Your Own Adventure” comic book of sorts – by humanizing the guest journey and telling the story of the Thriller family.

The result enabled the project team to explain how their separate desktop and mobile web experiences hinder conversion. As they continued their discussion, they pitched a unified web experience across devices resulting in more favorable conversion rates and showed what the journey would look like with a responsive design web store in place.

This succinct form of storytelling helped the decision-makers understand how the proposed project was critical to business growth – and the project was greenlighted.

When should you think about the journey?

The earlier, the better. You’ll definitely want to take the time to do this before you send out your requests for proposals (RFPs), before you have a solution that’s “baked” and certainly before you start implementing.

Investing in a new ticketing system, revamping a website or opening a new business is huge. Without including the visitor journey during preplanning for any of these changes, your team may not have the focus needed to deliver. What Sales and Marketing believes is important may not be what the Information Technology team thinks. Certainly, everyone has their own responsibilities and concerns but everyone should be united on the experience you want to deliver. Otherwise, I’m certain an experience no one expected will be the result.

During a project I was involved with, the importance of visitor journeys was noted but speed of delivery was prioritized over planning. As a result, we concurrently developed the journeys with implementation. When we reached the finish line, we noticed some large gaps between what we had delivered and the experience we wanted. We had an entirely new product for consumers to buy; however, we had only made it available to a small percentage of consumers.

The miss wasn’t disastrous to the entire project. But, it was a large miss for a specific area of the organization. Their buy-in and support dropped and planted the seeds of doubt in the overall program.

Completing the journeys early on allows them to be used during all phases of a project – from initiation and planning, to execution and closure. Each time you review the journeys, all team members will have your intended audience front and center. This will inform key stakeholders in thinking through what this means to them, their processes and the way they contribute to (or hinder) that experience. They will then be able to round out the requirements of what needs to be done to make the journey reality.

Leveraging the visitor journey in the project’s closing steps is just as important as using it upfront by helping you determine whether you delivered what you intended.

For the RollerWater Thrill Park their “after” visitor journey had John Jr. seeing the same website content and imagery on his mobile device that his mom saw on her desktop but in a responsive design. Any team member could take that journey home and test it out with their spouse and teenager to see if they delivered it.

Be honest

It’s human nature to want to “hide” things when we’ve missed the mark. But with your visitor journeys, keep facts and brutal honesty at the forefront. It’s not about placing blame if, for example, the Operations department inadvertently put an obstacle in the way of your visitor’s enjoyment. Rather, document that visitor’s journey and use it as an objective method to understand what is contributing to that scenario. Then work on new journeys that alleviate this pain point.

Also, be honest with how many folks take the journey you defined. During a large-scale change I was involved with, we focused on journeys that only a minority of our visitors would experience which left many “uh-ohs” when we realized we hadn’t thought through what we were going to do with most of our visitors.

It may be important to focus on a small group so that you can introduce change at a manageable pace. But also think through the journey for your majority of guests to make sure you aren’t accidentally making a process more cumbersome for them. By having eyes wide open with all the facts, you’ll reduce surprises in the end.

Understand the journey and your business will be better off

If visitor journeys are new to you, I recommend jumping in and using them as much as possible. Make them realistic. And build both “before change” journeys and “after change” journeys. Use them with everyone that is involved in your project. Let your colleagues ask questions. And encourage them to use journeys to define their requirements.

Similar to your project charter, your visitor journeys are the blueprint for the improvements you are looking to make. You will find that the journeys will grow in detail or in steps, in ways you may not have understood were possible. The result of this will be a more well-defined project and a better focused team delivering results.

3 tips for getting started

  1. Collect facts and “experience” the journey you are trying to build.
  2. Talk with guests who will be impacted by the journey and ask them for feedback.
  3. Socialize your ideas with cross-departmental teams and allow them to enhance the journey.


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