Editor's corner

I recently gathered up my Continental Airline points and Marriott points and traded them in for a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was my first visit to Puerto Vallarta and the Pacific coast of Mexico. While we were there, we ran into a number of couples who went out of their way to tell us how they come back to Puerto Vallarta year after year. Our visit was very enjoyable. What impressed us most was how friendly employees were - whether at the hotel, restaurants or shops - even the taxi drivers. The friendliness was not forced, like you might find in a Ritz Carlton, but truly genuine.

In thinking about our experience there (we would definitely return) and Puerto Vallarta's obvious strong repeat appeal, we concluded that it wasn't necessarily the beaches, restaurants, hotels, shops or scenery - which were all nice, but not cutting edge or exceptional - that created the repeat appeal, but rather the friendly people.

That reminded me of the core competencies of Walt Disney World and Disneyland, what Disney considers as its strengths, based on extensive guest exit surveys. First is cleanliness. Second is the friendliness of the staff. Fun comes in third, behind clean and friendly.

Then I thought about Southwest Airlines, and how it continues to gain market share and continually make a profit while most of the other airlines are in the tank. What differentiates Southwest in people's minds? It's surely more than the price, as there have been many other airlines that have tried to compete on price and failed. Again, it's the friendly staff, with some added humor. It's genuine.

Then I considered the many experiences I have had visiting location-based entertainment (LBE) centers. I can't recall a single one where I felt the staff was as friendly as the people were in Puerto Vallarta. Most to the time, encounters with staff amounted to nothing more than transactions, and I got the impression that is all employees were trained to do -- take the money, issue the ticket, serve food, take the ticket, etc.

I think most of the LBE industry has a long way to go to succeed in today's competitive marketplace. LBEs need to focus less on the entertainment, the latest technology or game, and instead, focus on line staff interaction with guests by selecting friendly staffers with outgoing personalities and by giving them effective training in how to interact with guests.

In this month's issue, we have a number of articles that discuss key issues for success in the LBE industry. You guys might not be too happy with the first article, but it's something you need to get tuned into. We also have an article about the world's largest, but most overlooked, operator of LBE. Read on to learn about these two topics, plus a lot more.

Randy White