To attract repeat business.

To attract repeat business, theme parks convince potential guests that previous visits are inferior to new experiences and improved parks, a notion theme parks often subscribe to (Braun and Soskin, 1999). In 2011, the construction of new rides and the renovation of existing rides was the largest capital investment by theme parks (Clavé, 2007; Yildirim, 2011). For profitable growth, companies strive for new sources of innovation and creativity (Chang et al., 2014; Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004).

The fifth strategy is variety, wherein a company provides as many options as possible to satisfy everyone. Poon (1989) describes this strategy as taking on cluster segments, when a company works to cater to every segment in a group with different needs. Flexibility is the main goal and is required in tourism to create competitive advantages (Fyall et al., 2008; Hutcheon, 2013; Kemperman et al., 2000; Milman, 2009; Poon, 1989). Theme parks supported the idea of variety for years with new parks, new sections and new themes that provide additional options. Braun and Milman (1994) agree that individuals want to visit a particular park to satisfy all members of their travel party. The transformation to greater variety is a key feature of the modern tourism market (Poon, 1993). In fact, Formica and Olsen (1998) say that the majority of the parks under construction are conceived as multi-purpose entertainment centers with options.

The final strategy is quality. Tourism and recreation consumers are increasingly more sophisticated and sensitive to quality (Augustyn and Ho, 1998; Kandampully, 2000; Milman, 2009). According to LeBoeuf (1987), businesses spend six times more money trying to get new customers with quality products and services. Contemporary tourists are more experienced, more quality-conscious and harder to please (Kandampully, 2000; Milman, 2009; Poon, 1993). Clavé (2007) notes that one major factor of success among top theme parks is high-quality products and services. Consumers mold their expectations and perceptions of service based on reliability, honesty, trustworthiness, competence and courtesy (Fyall et al., 2008; Mayer, 2002; Parasuraman et al., 1990). Considering the importance of quality, tour operators must focus on improved service as a way to increase customer satisfaction and improve a company’s performance (Font et al., 2006).

Together, these six strategies, or principles, form the conceptual framework against which this study assesses the strategies of two major theme park companies in the USA as they appear in the mass media. There is still no comprehensive source of information on the practical application of strategy in the theme park sector; this paper, therefore, aims to fill this gap.

Research methods

This study uses directed content analysis to identify and analyze strategies applied in the theme park sector as manifested in the mass media, similar to the work of Barringer et al. (2005), who quantitatively examined the content of the narratives of rapid-growth firms, including Disney. Content analysis gives researchers the ability to sift through large volumes of information systematically and derive useful data on a wide range of topics (Stepchenkova, 2012). Directed content analysis allows the use of prior research to form initial categories before sorting through texts. Directed content analysis is most useful when there is already knowledge and prior research on a topic, although incomplete (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005). The content analysis in this study was conducted by a single researcher and verified by a second person.

Academic research compiled for the literature review about theme parks, competition and strategy was reviewed for patterns in strategy theology to form six preliminary categories to be scrutinized further after content analysis of the collected mass media articles. As previously noted, the identified strategies were value, uniqueness, niche, innovation, variety and quality (Figure 1).

To find media sources, an initial search was conducted for relevant articles from newspapers, magazines and online publications produced in the USA. Sources include

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