Kaitlyn Mulligan

When it comes to hospitality, one name tends to stand above them all in terms of quality: Disney. This company has created an empire based on entertainment and, quite literally, a kingdom based on hospitality and service. There’s a reason it’s so successful.

Why should we look at the successes of theme parks when thinking about retirement communities? The two seem unrelated, and yet — are they?

Senior living and hospitality go hand in hand. It’s important for communities to understand the needs of their residents and meet or exceed them. Learning about other brands and how they accommodate guests or residents can be beneficial for growth.

Disney has many customer service or, as the company calls them, “guest relations” principles that can be put into practice in almost any industry — especially the senior living and senior care industries. For instance, all cast members (that’s Disney speak for “park employees”) follow what are called “the four keys”: safety, courtesy, show and efficiency — in that order.  Safety is always top priority. Before anything else, cast members need to focus on the safety of guests. Then, courtesy and making sure guests are happy comes next. The show, or the storytelling, is essential to the magic of Disney, yet cast members always make sure that safety and courtesy come first. Last on the list is efficiency. Getting guests in and out of lines proves to be a challenge that Disney is always willing to take on. However, it is last on the priority list because, if guests are unhappy or not being safe, efficiency becomes less important.

Disney is so good at what it does because the company has its priorities straight. A cast member who follows these keys correctly knows what’s most important and when to choose one over another. This doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing any one key; rather, understanding what needs have to be met and when.

These keys can stand as pillars even in retirement communities. Hospitality is nothing without safety, and in this industry, caregivers and adult children alike want to ensure the well- being of residents. Courtesy and efficiency are also important in any living community. Employees should be kind, as well as quick and effective. The third key, show, may not seem as valid in the senior living and senior care sector. However, if you think of a brand as a story, you would want your employees to carry out those values on a daily basis. Where in Walt Disney World, “show” means calling a little girl “princess” in Fantasyland or using pirate lingo in Adventureland, at a Life Plan Community, it might mean creating a spirit of care or developing new ways to interact with residents.

All of these ideas center around one concept: cultivating a culture within the employees that extends the brand values and promotes customer service. With clear goals and expectations, the staff can be motivated to do well.

Another important part of Disney’s hospitality success is that the company caters to everyone that it is trying to reach. It creates attractions, dining options, places to stay and advertising for people from all walks of life. Not everyone wants to drop 199 feet while riding the Tower of Terror, so Disney develops slower rides for them. Some people feel too old for the parks, so Disney shows them that they aren’t by providing opportunities (and advertising) geared toward older guests. This can be translated to the senior living industry.

Communities need to approach and reach out to everyone involved: potential residents, adult children, caregivers, etc. A great example is Disney Parks Mom Panel — a forum for parents to ask questions and get answers from real mothers and fathers who know what they are talking about. Each panelist has a specialty and can answer concerned parents’ questions from anywhere. Once again, this shows Disney’s focus on taking care of the consumer, creating new ways to answer questions and give advice.

Taking cues from companies like Walt Disney Parks and Resorts can benefit the senior living industry. Understanding your customers and creating a culture of motivation builds your brand and raises the standards your company may set for itself. And, hey, we could all use a little extra magic.