Pairi Daiza the best practice of creating an experience?

Article by Didier Van Weyenberge , independend consultant for the leisure industry, and Goof Lukken, MBA, senior lecturer Attractions & Theme Parks Management, leisure and tourism at Breda Unversity, the Netherlands/ founder of The Business of Fun and

The leisure industry is all about creating experiences. By staging compelling experiences, guests can forget about the worries of everyday life and dream away. The more impressed guests are by the experience, the stronger their emotional bond with the company, which leads to higher customer loyalty, turning guests into advocates of the company. The goal of every company in any line of business (or at least it should be).     

Some time ago, we started searching for the best experience builders in the leisure industry taking the framework developed by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in their best-selling book “The Experience Economy” as a basis for evaluation. Together with Goof Lukken from Breda University of Applied Sciences, a number of companies within the leisure industry was defined that have successfully applied – consciously or unconsciously – the framework.

The four realms of an experience.

According to the Pine and Gilmore framework, experiences can be divided into four distinctive types, which are formed by the intersection of two dimensions. The first dimension (on the horizontal axis) corresponds to the level of guest participation. At one end of the spectrum lies passive participation, in which customers do not directly affect or influence the experience. At the other end of the spectrum lies active participation, in which customers personally affect the experience. The second dimension (on the vertical axis) corresponds to the level of guest connection. At one end of this spectrum lies absorption, occupying a person’s attention by bringing the experience into mind from a distance. At the other end of the spectrum lies immersion, when the guest is becoming a part of the experience itself. 

The coupling of these dimensions defines the four realms of an experience: entertainment (e.g. watching a movie), educational (e.g. attending a conference), escapist (e.g. playing a computer game) and esthetic (e.g. visiting a nature park).  

Pine and Gilmore argue that the richest experiences encompass aspects of all four realms and center on the “sweet spot” in the middle of the framework. They incorporate elements valued by guests who look primarily for entertainment (“to enjoy), for education (“to learn”), for escapism (“to do”) and for esthetics (“to be”).  

Taking this framework as a basis for evaluation, one of the best companies in the leisure industry in Europe which has succeeded in finding the sweet spot, is Pairi Daiza.

Pairi Daiza.

Founded in 1994 as a bird garden, Pairi Daiza has developed into a 75 hectares zoological, botanical and architectural park. The park houses more than 7000 animals representing 500 different species from five continents. In 2019, the park welcomed more than 2 million guests.

Pairi Daiza has created 8 distinctive theme worlds: Cambron-Abbey, Cambron-by-the-Sea, The Middle Kingdom, The Southern Cape, The Land of Origins, The Kingdom of Ganesha, The Land of the Cold and The Last Frontier. In these theme worlds, the proximity to the animals, the beauty of nature and the greatness of architectural elements come to a perfect blend. 

When taking the Pine and Gilmore framework as a basis for evaluation, Pairi Daiza has certainly found an ideal balance in its offering, incorporating entertainment, educational, escapist and esthetic elements.

Esthetics. Pairi Daiza is a place where it’s nice “to be”. It feels good just being there, walking around, sitting down for a while. It seems like with every step you take and behind each corner you look, there is something beautiful to discover. You come across ancient monuments, flowers fields, bridges, pavilions, temples,… which are all equally beautiful. Whether just walking on the main roads, through the Chinese Temples, through an avenue with immense centuries-old plane trees,  through the African village…. it is impossible not to become overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. The landscaping and gardening is done up to perfection, you could spend days just walking around discovering new things all the time.  

 Escapism. In Pairi Daiza, all your senses are triggered the whole time. You are stimulated “to do”. Your eyes are being tested constantly. The theming is done with absolute respect for the local culture, with an exceptional level of detail and at an exceptional standard. The music in certain areas brings you further into the other world, as does the singing of the birds and the sound of water coming from the fountains. Even taste is tested in the different themed restaurants that serve authentic food from a region or country in the world. From the moment you enter through the main gate up to the moment you step out again, you feel like you’re part of a different world. It really feels like you’re in ancient China, like you’re in an African village, like you’re in a Balinese temple. It seems impossible not to miss a lot of elements when walking through the park.  

Education. In Pairi Daiza, you are also stimulated “to learn”. The whole park is one big invitation for reflection and thought. You may be interested in reading the information which is made available on information panels if you are actively seeking for knowledge. If not, you still will be triggered to think about the importance of nature preservation, climate change, other cultures, history, philosophy, beliefs, architecture,….. Learning and reflection is stimulated everywhere in a subtle way.

Entertainment. Pairi Daiza is of course also about entertaining, making sure you’re going “to enjoy” the experience. Pairi Daiza has an entertainment crew of more than 7000. The animals are the star performers, giving joy to guests, young and old alike. It is just fun to watch the animals and watching how they are having a great time. The enormous variety of animals in the different worlds adds to this. Who doesn’t get excited just be seeing a herd of elephants, lions, a bunch of rhinoceros or gorillas?    Who doesn’t get soft just by seeing koalas, pandas, polar bears or hundreds of beautiful fish swimming in perfect harmony? The entertainment factor is enhanced by a couple of demonstrations like ‘The Bath of the holy elephants’ and ‘The raptor exhibition’ in which the stars are again – the animals.      

The sweet spot

Going back to the Pine and Gilmore framework, it is clear that Pairi Daiza has succeeded in finding the “sweet spot”, incorporating esthetic, escapist, educational and entertainment elements.

It is exactly this that makes the experience so rich. On an individual basis, everyone on the planet will find one or more elements in the experience that are appealing to him/her. Even in the biggest family or in the largest group, every member will find something which is important to him/her in an experience. Sharing these feelings in family or group makes the experience even stronger. Everyone has something to add to the story, making it a memorable experience which will remain in the individual and collective memories for a long time. This makes Pairi Daiza a place you want to go to again and again.

Over the last couple of years, Pairi Daiza has added an additional element to the experience with its lodging facilities, taking the experience one level further. Who wouldn’t want to feel what it is to live like a Hobbit? Who wouldn’t want to wake up with a polar bear or a walrus at its bedroom window wishing good morning?

Special thanks to the management of Paizi Daiza and the team of Pretparkland for letting the use of their pictures.