What’s in a name – visitor or guest


I was recently asked by whether it is better to refer to people who visit zoos “visitors” or “guests”, while it may only be a word or title it is very important – see my response to this question below.

The way in which you refer to people who come to the zoo is an important concept as even though it may be a label, that label will impact and influence how they see themselves within the zoo and how your staff will view them as well;
Sport = spectators (implying people are there to watch)
Retails = customers (implying a transactional relationship)
Medical = patient (as they are there to be treated)
Airline = passenger (as they are seeking passage)
So you can see that the label which is given implies what role they will play and can even define their purpose for going to the zoo. Traditionally in hospitality we use the term guest. The term guest is also used in the experience economy theory which uses the concept of theatre as their metaphor and they regularly refer to staff and guests ‘playing roles’. The use of the term guest implies a deeper relationship between the organisation and the person in which more needs are met and there is a higher level of care about, and responsibility taken for, the guests overall enjoyment. It also provides a foundation from which an ongoing and future relationship can be built.

The use of the term visitor is more temporary and implies that they are there for a short time and there is no ongoing relationship once the interaction is completed.

In using the term guest there is also an expectation that more has been done to prepare. Think about the difference between having someone come to your house and stopping in for the afternoon – perhaps a quick tidy of the common areas and bathroom, as opposed to having someone stay overnight – you are now thinking of getting towels, what meals you might have and their dietary requirements etc.

Overall, I think the use of the term guest puts a different and positive focus onto the people coming to the zoo. The next logical question which will come from this is if we are treating them at guests what does this involve from a staff member point of view and this is where learning to play a role and being supported by scripting and training (even including improved theatre) is important. I also think it is important to relate the concept of a guest broadly to hospitality (especially as the zoo covers a range of areas of the hospitality sector), making comparisons solely against hotels is useful but will limit your interpretation of the term guest

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