Competitive strategies in the US theme park industry: A popular media perspective

Tayllor Lillestol, Dallen Timothy, Rebekka Goodman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Scopus citations


    Purpose – This paper aims to examine the competitive strategies employed by two of the largest theme park operators in Florida, based on a content analysis of popular media articles about theme park giants in the USA. It aims to provide a comparative examination of their competitive strategies, to develop a conceptual model of the same and to expand knowledge about current competitiveness in the theme park sector. Design/methodology/approach – This study used directed content analysis to identify and analyze strategies applied in the theme park sector as manifested in the mass media. Each database was searched using the following four key terms: competition, strategy, Disney and Universal Studios. Results were screened for relevance based on their inclusion of all four key terms. At the conclusion of the search, 87 articles from 34 US-based sources were amassed, varying in circulation size and published between 1985 and 2013. Each article was read, and sentences that suggested the use of a strategy were recorded. Although the intention was to leave each data point at a one-sentence maximum, occasionally, a second sentence was included for context and clarification. Each article was read twice to ensure the inclusion of all potential data points. Findings – The findings suggest that the largest US-based theme parks utilize strategies of value, uniqueness, niche markets, innovation, variety and quality as highlighted in the research literature. However, this study also confirms two additional competitive strategies that have heretofore not been examined in tourism studies – currency and convenience – as advantageous management and promotional mechanisms against their competitors. Research limitations/implications – Limitations to this research include a limited number of popular media articles available for analysis. This precluded a random sample of articles. In addition, the study was based on print media statements and keyword identification, which could also limit the generalizability of the findings. Nonetheless, it is believed that the case studies researched in this paper are indicative of many of the competitive strategies used by theme park managers throughout the world. Practical implications – The paper developed a competitive strategy model that has utility for them park planners and managers, as they attempt to understand the competitive advantages and those of their direct competitors. The findings in this study have broader implications for other theme parks throughout the world. Social implications – The social implications of this study are manifold. They include the notion that theme park attendees manifest certain behaviors and seek out certain experiences as they make decisions on which parks to attend. The notions of value, uniqueness, niche markets, innovation, variety, quality, currency and convenience all reveal how some consumers determine their choice of venue for recreational travel. Originality/value – This paper provides an original research of the theme park sector by examining two of the USA’s largest theme park giants and the strategies they use in a comparative and competitive manner to attraction clientele and maintain visitation. In particular, the paper develops a conceptual model based upon the review of strategies literature and, then, tests it and modifies it based on the findings of the study.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)225-240
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Journal of Culture, Tourism, and Hospitality Research
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Aug 3 2015


    • Competitive strategies
    • Content analysis
    • Disney
    • Theme parks
    • USA
    • Universal

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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