Attraction Accountability

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Attraction accountability: the impact of new attractions on the performance of European theme parks (towards an Attraction Response Matrix)


Pieter Cornelis

Research proposal, March 2008



Global mind maps. 1

Context 2

Attraction Response Matrix (concept) 4

Attraction Response Matrix. 4

Research question. 6

Subquestions. 6

Methods and timetable. 6

Reflections. 8

Conclusion. 8

Final conclusion. 8

Bibliography. 9



Global mind maps

The two mind maps below give you a global idea of the content of my PhD. On the next pages you’ll find an explanatory note.


Figure 1 Global mind map (part 1)




Figure 2 Global mind map (part 2)



It looks like many European theme parks are inspired by the great Disney-example. Within the parks much attention is given to theming and performative labour; according to (Bryman 2004) two important Disney principles. Simultaneously it is notable that within most European theme parks processes are getting more and more rationalized and standardized (McDonaldization: Ritzer, 2004) It looks like the European theme parks want to follow the great Disney-example, but are afraid to do so. This could be due to the uncertainty of the impact of the high investments.


The research that is available into effects of (new) attractions is fairly limited and fragmentary. In 2006 (Cornelis, and Backx 2006) did a econometrical study to find the impact of new attractions on the number of visitors to European theme parks. The research that was supervised by professor van Heerde (Tilburg University) looked at over 40 general variables (as the weather, price of petrol, inflation, holiday period etc) and at approximately 50 specific attraction variables (such as the kind of attraction, G-forces, capacity etc.) The parks that participated were ...... The data were put in on a weekly basis and modelled by the error correction model. The explained variance of the model came to ..%. Which means that at this moment in time we are not sure where ..% of the number of visitors came from.


Other research does show the effect attractions have on the experience (for instance (Bigne, Andreu, and Gnoth 2005), but whether or not they eventually have an economic effect is not known. Other research shows that standardisation and rationalisation of services and attractions have a negative effect on the visitor’s experience and that the so-called “eye for detail” has an effect in a positive way. This research is on the other hand small-scaled, park-bound and not public. Furthermore there is also the question what this eventually means for the brand and the economical effects. “Eye for detail” could on the short term be unfavourable for the profit of the organisation, but favourable on the long term. Whereas standardisation and rationalisation could on the short term be favourable for it, but not on the long term. However, we don’t know.


The reason why we know so little about the effect of new attractions comes according to me from the fact that we do not have an integrated attraction working model in which the effects have been recorded in connection with each other. Developing new attractions now usually takes place based on subjective, intuitive and often random presuppositions about the possible responses from visitors. Research into the effects of attractions remains therefore insufficient and fragmentary and yields insufficient returns for the branch. ‘Without a systematic approach, experience marketing can only be left in the hands of creative and intuitive designers and managers, who albeit talented and well-intended, may not see the customer experience in its entirety and complexity (Le Bel 2005)’.  Maybe this is true and (then) we should find a solution for this. But maybe, on the other hand, this creative and intuitive appeal could be exactly the strength (and myth) of the industry. As (Hesmondhalgh 2007) states the cultural industry has a certain uniqueness and singularity that makes it interesting and hard/complex to answer the abovementioned questions. Why wouldn’t this be true for the theme park business, that from a certain point of view can be seen as part of a global cultural industry? Be it the one or the other, I believe there is a kind of a third way: we should find a systematic approach to develop new attractions, but at the same time we have to take the creative and intuitive appeal of the industry into serious account. Without a good programme of requirements the imagineers and attraction designers won’t be able to be successful creative. There has to be a straight briefing as a starting point for the creative process. Without such a briefing Le Bel is right. The goal of my PhD is to determine the criteria for successful innovations in the field of theme park attractions.


Furthermore I have the impression that much research is not suitable, because it only takes the conscious effects into consideration. Whereas more than 95% of all mental consumer responses are unconscious (Zaltman 2003).


According to me it would therefore be good to work on a so-called Attraction Response Matrix (see figure 3.) in which all possible effects will be recorded and  from which research can be done in a systematic way to the effects and their mutual connection. Only by doing that we can enhance the necessary accountability for investments in new attractions. Which ultimately means that we will be able to connect certain efforts and certain effects in such a way that we can justify the efforts beforehand and verify the effects afterwards. 


In 1998 (Franzen, and Goessens 1998)  have presented an advertising response matrix in which all effects that are possible through advertising are recorded. Something similar I see before me with regards to attractions. It should be mentioned that creativity is a serious critical success factor in the advertising industry. The reason I take the advertising response matrix as a base lies within the fact that a great interest in brands is portrayed there. According to Tom Wolber (COO Disney cruiselines) for Disney the brand is in the end the most important asset of the organisation (conversation November 2007). Various other sources also underline the importance of the Disney-brand (among others (Project on Disney. 1995), (Eisner, and Schwartz 1998), (Bryman 1999) (Wasko, Phillips, and Meehan 2001)). An attraction is therefore not a target as such, but merely a means to.


Attraction Response Matrix (concept)


Figure 3 Attraction Response Matrix (Cornelis, 2008)


Attraction Response Matrix

The thought behind the Attraction Response Matrix is that an attraction can evoke several responses and that these responses are connected to each other.


Attraction-input level

The attraction-input level represents the attraction-efforts and exists of two components. The qualitative component (A1) signifies the features of the attraction and the area. The area of Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom has for instance several attractions such as Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tow Sawyer Island and Country Bear Jamboree. Apart from Frontierland the Magic Kingdom also contains the areas Main Street USA, Adventureland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Each area has a complete own story, theme and atmosphere. Attractions, catering establishments, shops and entertainment within that certain area all run along that same line. The features of the attractions and areas are related to the amount of theme, the entwinement with the symbolic world outside the park, the amount to which the story behind the attraction is or isn’t already known, the uniqueness (both internal as well as external) and so on. Furthermore the already mentioned ‘hard features’ of an attractions, such as number of G-forces, speed, kind of attraction (roller-coaster, dark ride, water attraction, free fall a.s.o) have to be taken into consideration. The quantitative component (A2) signifies the amount of money invested , the number of new attractions each year, the number of years in between new attractions etc.  


Output on an individual level

The individual responses can be divided into attraction-, park- and brand-responses. The latter one can be divided into mental brand-responses and brand behavioural responses (Franzen et al. 1998).


Attraction responses

In this category of responses the physical/sensorial, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, mental and behavioural responses (Schmitt 1999) (Nijs, and Peters 2002) (Pine, and Gilmore 1999) of the individual consumer  to the attraction at hand during and straight after the confrontation are taken into consideration firstly and secondly the aggregated reactions of the individual consumer on the series of attractions within a specific area. Possible responses are: familiarity attraction awareness, attitude towards the attraction, experiencing the area etc.


Park response

In this category  the same sort of responses are concerned as the ones regarding the attraction response but then more focused on the park as a whole. We can hereby think of attachment to Magic Kingdom, amount of time spent in the park, visiting catering-establishments, buying of merchandise etc.


Brand response

In this category the brand awareness, brand associations, brand values, brand positioning, brand relation, brand attitude en brand behavioural intentions are taken into consideration. Furthermore the search behaviour for information in the orientation stage is considered, the actual buying behaviour, the amount of behavioural brand loyalty and sometimes the actual use of things that were bought (frequency, moments of use) and/or the end of that use behaviour. All of this with regards to the actual brand. What matters is whether a consumer is prepared to buy Efteling desserts, ask information about Efteling accommodation and how intensely the Efteling magical box is actually used.


Output on market level

Ultimately the theme park industry is interested in the effects on a market level. That means that people want to know what effect a new attraction might have on the yield, on the markets hare, the average price, the higher price the consumer is willing to pay, the elasticity of the price, the stability of the yield, the profit margin, the profit, the return of the money invested and the cash-flow. In fact the market response consists of the individual behavioural responses aggregated to market level. (Franzen et al. 1998) 


Dimension of time

As can be read from figure 3 we also made a distinction in dimension of time. Immediate effects relate to responses that happen during and directly after a confrontation with an attraction or area. Short term effects relate to responses that occur as a result of a confrontation with one or more attractions (within an area), right up to the moment where no more effects can be established after this. Long term effects are a continuation and cumulation of short term effects.


The brand- and market reponses can be found in the marketing communication- and branding literature. The challenge will be to complete and to compose the attraction effects and to find the attraction-efforts/ characteristics. The abovementioned model is meant as a concept until further notice. Completion of this model is one of the main objectives of this PhD.


Based on the Attraction Response Matrix it is possible to research in a systematic and structural way the influence of new attractions on the performance of theme parks. Within the frame of my PhD.-thesis two main objectives regarding this come to the surface. Firstly I want to elaborate the Attraction Response Matrix in a as complete as possible way. This means that on the one hand the 16 cells will have to be filled in with all possible effects of attractions and that on the other hand the features of the attractions will have to be charted in a systematic and exhaustive way. To enable this desk-research will have to be done and I will have interviews with experts from the field. Secondly I wish to examine the most important relations within the matrix. This means first and foremost research the relation between A on the one hand and B,C,D and E on the other. Or to put it in another way, the influence of attractions on attraction response, park response, brand response and market response. After that the research will have to be extended and specified into the relations between for instance attraction response and park response, attraction response and brand response, park response and market response etc etc. To  research these relations  a combination of qualitative and quantitative research can be used. The qualitative research is primarily a means of making the features of attractions and various responses ready for use.


Research question

What is the impact of new attractions on the performance of European theme parks?



*      What are the possible (un)conscious effects of (new) attractions and how can these be categorized?

*      To what extent can differences be found between European theme parks with regard to the different levels of effects?

*      What is the impact of attraction features on the ultimate market response? Aà E

*      How are the intervening relations?

·         Attraction features on attraction- and park response (Aà BC)?

·         Attraction features on brand response (A à D)?


All other effects are interesting as well, but won’t be dealt with in this PhD.


Methods and timetable

The next figure shows you the methods that will be used. An justification and explanation on the ZMET-method (Zaltman 2003)can be found in (Cornelis 2007) .




Figure 4 Time table 2008-2010



I will set up an econometrical study (2009) to find out the impact of a new attraction (in general) within the top 20 of European theme parks. This study will not be in depth, but I think it will give us a first insight of the impact of new attractions. Of course, there will be a great variance within the data, but nonetheless I think it makes sense to do this study. For an explanation of the effects of this econometrical study I want to talk to the management of the concerning theme parks. They can explain the results and give me better insights in the reasons for success and/or failure. By this methodology we can find the so called ‘hot buttons’. In other words, we will find which attraction characteristics really seem to matter.  This information is useful for the next step. Moreover I hope to get assistance for the descriptive part of the research. The quantitative research (September 2009) would probably be more valuable if more parks would participate.


The quantitative research will give us insights into the effects of new attractions at different levels within different parks. I think it makes sense, for this reason, to make a difference between the parks based on their origin and recent developments. Some parks started as a European pleasure garden (Tivoli Gardens), where others started as an amusement park (Blackpool Pleasure Beach), out of the cinema business (Disneyland Resort Paris), or directly as a theme park (PortAventura); based on (Anton Clavé 2007). This origin will probably influence/mediate the effect of new attractions.


The econometrical study (2010) will be in more detail than the one in 2009. I will measure on a daily level to find out the ‘best and worse cases’. For every park I will select a best and a worst case attraction. In total I will have 6 cases to do experiments. The experiments are not designed yet, but will be held to measure the causal effects on different Attraction Response Matrix-levels.



So far I found out that the hardest part of a PhD-project for me is getting started. After a one-year struggle I decided (during the Christmas holidays) that ‘attraction accountability’ would be the subject of my study. I also decided that if I haven’t realised some basic results by the end of June 2008, I will put my PhD-desires aside. Meanwhile I am happy to state that I succeeded in the most important success factor so far: finding two inspiring promoters!


From September 2008 I want to recruit 4th year students (Tilburg University as well as NHTV) to help me do some research projects. One NHTV-student will deal with gathering information about the European top 20 theme parks in order to do the econometrical study in the beginning of 2009. Three Tilburg University students will be partly concerned with the operationalising of the three levels within the Attraction Response Matrix (level B, C and D). Concerning the ZMET-method I will contact professor Zaltman (Harvard Business School) coming July, that I will continue with (t)his method.



In the short term we will draw up and sign a contract. Hans Mommaas will contact the PhD-department  at the Tilburg University for this reason. He will also check the Dutch PhD-system for the financial aspects,  because the promotion rights will be in Holland. In the meantime Ger Pepels (director NHTV) will do the same to check the possibilities/ requirements for the NHTV. Salvadorand Hans will both be the first promoter.


This draft of my research proposal will be the underlay of the contract, meaning that ........






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Bryman, Alan. 1999. The Disneyization of society. The sociological review, 25-47.

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