Communications Lessons from a Mouse

November 30, 2023

I recently returned from an enjoyable, week-long vacation in Hawaii with my family. We have visited the islands before, but this time we had the good fortune to stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort on Oahu thanks, in large part, to our 20-plus-year accumulation of “Disney Rewards” points. How this came about is an entirely different story and may speak to a lack of foresight and an abundance of optimism when my wife and I were much younger . . . but I digress.

In short, the Aulani experience was great, and I would recommend it for a number of reasons as a place to stay in Hawaii. This is what you may reasonably expect from a Disney property, as the company – which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year – is widely known for going to great lengths when it comes to elevating and promoting its global brand.

There were also some communication-related things I noticed during my stay, which admittedly entailed a large amount of time spent lounging (either on the beach or poolside) and observing people from all walks of life – all of whom were there to experience Disney.


Here are some Disney observations:


“Aloha, Family”

This was a frequent, daily greeting heard from countless “cast member” at the resort. In fact, anywhere you go, you are regularly greeted by staff with plenty of smiles and seemingly genuine “Alohas.” Whether it was the front desk personnel, housekeeping staff, the restaurant hosts or whomever, they all did it consistently and with energy. This sets a tone for your stay and definitely creates the feeling you are a part of a welcoming, friendly culture – one where people care about you and your experience.

Lesson Learned:

EVERYTHING communicates a message, so what you say and how you deliver it matters. Given this, Disney staff consistently reinforcing their guest-oriented approach to service is a winning formula. Consider this when you are deciding how you can modify or upgrade your own communications efforts, whether it be with your team members, customers/clients or even friends and family. In short, it is not just what you say, but how you say it and how consistently you communicate.


“Follow the Path”

We heard this (or something similar to it) on multiple occasions during our visit when asking for directions. Disney, not surprisingly, leaves little to chance, so everyone is quick to offer help in getting you where you want to go – all with a smile, of course. In fact, it is hard to find things that have been overlooked on the Aulani property. Details matter and Disney has found a formula that leads people from a wide range of backgrounds all down the same path. Case in point, I heard guests speaking Japanese, Russian, French and German during our visit, but this did not appear to alter how any of them were greeted or served. Simply put, there were no barriers or obstacles when it came to delivering (and communicating) the Disney experience . . . everyone got the same “Follow the Path” help, even if it took a multi-lingual staff member to step-in and assist.

Lesson Learned:

Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced environment, it is far too easy to find shortcuts or ignore something when there is any type of resistance or challenge – people are quick to “swipe and delete” and move onto the next item, task, etc. In reality, most of us cannot (and should not) use this approach. There is always a way to communicate with an intended audience, but it may require some creative thinking or a willingness to use a different approach or platform.


“The Disney Difference”

This phrase, though not expressed by staff during any interactions, certainly manifests itself in a variety of ways, whether it is reading Disney literature, perusing the Aulani website, observing staff interactions with guests, or even paying attention to what is being shared on your television in the room. Simply put, “The Disney Difference” encompasses a lot of things and is reflected in the culture they clearly work hard to cultivate. But it really comes down to a very strategic and conscientious effort in two areas, one internally focused, the other external. First, Disney strives to create a special and welcoming work environment like no other for their cast members; and, secondly, they want to create a one-of-a-kind experience for anyone visiting any of their properties.

Lesson Learned:

What you say, how you say it and how consistently you convey messages are important, as is making the effort to overcome any communications barriers you may encounter. None of this, though, will likely happen in an environment where open communication is not properly valued or given the attention it requires. This is why creating a “culture of communication” (both internally and externally) can pay big dividends for your organization, but it will not happen overnight. Time, resources and training all need to be devoted to this effort, and a leader (or leaders) needs to champion the movement, just as Walt Disney did 100 years ago when he founded the company. What is your “Disney Difference” when it comes to communicating?


Blog by Mark Yontz