Dressing the Park: The Significance of Guest Dress Codes

Many of the industry’s larger parks and resorts focus heavily on the family vacation market—a segment that remains one of the travel industry’s largest.  While there are many ways to reach out to family vacationers, many amusement operators emphasize family friendly shows and attractions as their main tool.  These can be very effective, but another less-used tool can also create an atmosphere that will make families feel comfortable (and thus want to attend) your amusement facility.  This tool is the guest dress code.
This issue, The Large Park Report examines how a guest dress code can be an inexpensive, yet important, option for convincing family vacationers to select your venue for spending their valuable vacation time.
Safety, Courtesy…and Good “Show”
Many amusement facilities have strict dress codes for their employees, but fewer utilize a similar policy for visitors to their park. This comes as a surprise to people like Brad Rex who recognize that the benefits of an in-park dress code is not limited to just your employees.
As the former Vice President for Epcot, Rex headed one of the world’s most-visited theme parks.  In addition to thousands of employees, an even larger number of guests came through Epcot’s turnstiles every year.  While the guests range in type, a large portion of these visitors are comprised of families with children. Creating an environment where they feel comfortable is a key goal, noted Rex, who currently serves as CEO of the TBRG, LLC.
This involves a multi-pronged strategy at Disney’s theme parks.  First, a facility must go about creating the actual policy.  At Disney World, the guest dress code is part of an FAQ on the resort’s website:
What is the best way to dress for a day at the parks? Is there any clothing that isn’t permissible?
The parks are a casual, family-oriented environment. We suggest you dress comfortably, wear good walking shoes and check the local weather report before you leave for the parks.
Ensuring that the parks are family friendly is an important part of the Disney experience. In that spirit, we ask you to use your discretion and common sense. Attire that is not appropriate for the theme parks (and which may result in refusal of admittance) includes but is not limited to:
Adult costumes or clothing that can be viewed as representative of an actual Disney character.
Masks (unless you are dressing up for a particular event).
Clothing with objectionable material, including obscene language or graphics.
Excessively torn clothing.
Clothing which, by nature, exposes excessive portions of the skin that may be viewed as inappropriate for a family environment.
Objectionable tattoos.
A Guest is allowed into the parks if her or his hair (or make-up, if applicable) has been made to resemble a Disney Princess or character (for example, after a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover) provided the Guest is not also wearing a costume or clothed to look like the character.
Six Flags has been another industry leader in establishing guest dress codes.  For many years, the park chain was viewed as less family friendly than places like Disney or Universal because of a perception that it permitted more inappropriate attire.
Former CEO Mark Shapiro tackled this perception head-on in his effort to convince families that the company’s parks were clean and comfortable places.  This included adopting dress codes such as the one found at Six Flags America:
Does Six Flags America have a dress code?
In keeping with our family-friendly atmosphere, and for health and safety reasons, Six Flags America strictly enforces a dress code. Proper attire must be worn in the park at all times, including shirts and appropriate footwear. Clothing with rude, vulgar or offensive language or graphics is not permitted at any time (shirts cannot be turned inside out as a solution). Bathing suits may be worn only in Hurricane Harbor waterpark. Park admission may be denied if clothing is deemed by management to be inappropriate.
Simply writing the policy though is not as important as making sure you can enforce it, and that the policy meshes well with your facility’s overall operational strategy.
“Disney dress codes for Guests are based on Disney themes of safety, courtesy and show,” explains Rex.  “These rules ensure that all Guests have a safe and wonderful experience, and can focus on the show rather than fellow Guests.”
Viewing guest dress codes in this light makes sense because Disney focuses almost every aspect of the theme park experience under the same safety, courtesy and quality system.  This allows the dress code to fit seamlessly into the overall guest strategy.
For instance, according to Rex, “Guests must wear shirts and shoes for safety, and adult guests are not allowed to wear costumes, so that a child does not mistake a Guest for a Disney Cast Member.  From a courtesy standpoint, Guests cannot wear clothing that has an offensive message.  Finally, Guests cannot distract from the show by wearing clothes that are transparent or do not cover adequately.”
This is not to say that dress codes for guests cannot still be controversial.  In fact, Disney itself can be somewhat skittish about even discussing the topic.  After a request for additional details related to its policy, the resort refused to provide any comment or explanation.
The reason for this hesitancy is unclear but, as with any policy that places a restriction on paying guests, could be based on a concern that guests might misconstrue a dress code or object to its content.  Still though, according to former Epcot VP Rex, this concern might not be truly problematic.
“From my experience, most Guests are very good about following the dress code and fixing any issues when they are brought to their attention,” observed Rex. “Especially when the Cast Member explains the reason for the rules.”
Nevertheless, all amusement operators should still carefully consider the potential impacts of such policies. In the long run, though, the opportunity to preempt guests from wearing disruptive or offensive clothing into your facility in the first place will likely offer more benefits to your overall guest population than the likelihood that some small segment would decide not to come because they cannot wear those type items.
(Reach contributor Chad Emerson at cemerson@faulkner.edu.)

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