More from Pat Koch and Holiday World’s Legacy of Friendliness


For many people, visiting a Disney park or property has a magical quality. Because of this, just as many companies around the world have been trying to emulate the Disney experience in their own facility, attempting to tap into their own brand of magic. But here’s the problem: there is no such thing as magic.

As much as I wish it weren’t true, I cannot wave a wand or snap my fingers and transport myself to Hawaii anytime I would like.

Except for magicians, most people can’t explain how a magic trick works (and magicians really aren’t supposed to tell, either). We know there has to some logical explanation about the lady that gets cut in half, but we are too busy being entertained to really question it. That’s what Disney is counting on for the guest experience, and what makes emulating them so difficult.

So I say don’t bother. Especially when there is a little park in Indiana that has been named the friendliest park in the world 13 times, positioning themselves as the new gold standard for hospitality in the hospitality industry.

And here’s what’s cool. If you were at the Pat Koch Lunch and Learn at IAAPA, she told you exactly how Holiday World has done it. If you weren’t, I’ll recap a few points here.

1.  They train. They commit to making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do and has the skill to do it. Even as Mrs. Koch says, “it takes time and it’s expensive, but it is vital.”  And it’s not just for the front line, either.  Folks in management ranks are also required to keep up with industry trends and certifications.

Speaking of training, it was something she said about the timing of their training that was very intriguing as well. She said they let people get comfortable their tasks for a little while, then bring them back in for hospitality training. That way they aren’t trying to cover too much at once.  Seems to be working. :o)

2. They have “high standards and strict rules”. Many people seem to think that young folks need to be coddled or they have no work ethic. Not so. Holiday World proves that you can have high standards and people will rise up and meet them IF you are clear about the expectations and you enforce them fairly and consistently.

3. They “mentor, teach and care for” their employees. People need to know how they measure up to the standards, that they belong, and that there is someone looking out for them.  As a brief aside, my wife and I have been watching the show “Gold Rush” about the new gold boom in Alaska.  One of the characters, 16 year-old Parker Schnabel, recently enlisted the help of his father and grandfather to build a road on his claim.  Parker shows a tremendous amount of respect for these two, not just because they are good at what they do, but likely because they have been there to encourage, guide, mentor and care for Parker throughout his life.  Our employees at work need that, too.

4. They listen to the front line. Mrs. Koch stated that, “maybe the cashier or sweeper has a better idea of how things should be than we do.” It takes a strong leadership team to admit they don’t know everything, and that the people in the trenches probably have some good ideas, too. We just have to listen to them.

There was one last thing that Mrs. Koch said in her presentation that stuck with me, something that applies to business, relationships and how you lead your teams. She said, “Be number 1 to somebody, not number 2 to everyone.”

To me that means be the best you can for YOUR audience (ie. clients, guests, employees, friends, family, co-workers). Don’t worry about being everything to everyone.

Who are you number 1 to?

4 thoughts on “More from Pat Koch and Holiday World’s Legacy of Friendliness

  1. Matt, this is fantastic writing and a tremendous message! In today’s world, there are so many great examples of excellence that are not the usual suspects such as Disney Parks and Resorts. I’m going to make it a point to head out visit Holiday World in 2012 to see first hand their excellence at work.

    Onward,

    O. Lee

  2. Thanks, O. Lee! Holiday World is definitely worth the trip! I know we’ve talked about how many small businesses try to learn from the big boys… I think it’s time to start looking at what we can learn from the little guys!

  3. Thanks so much, Matt. A little bit of inside information … Mrs. Koch’s message of “Be #1 to someone” was in tribute to her eldest son, Will, who passed away unexpectedly in 2010. Will’s declaration of that focus is what brought us to the decision to concentrate on families. Bright man, that Will. We all miss him dearly.

  4. My pleasure, Paula! I love talking about Holiday World! Thanks for the insider info. I’ve always admired Will’s ideas and love for the business. A true innovator!!

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