Cleanliness Begets Cleanliness–And More!

Map of Shanghai Disneyland displayed during D23. Can something that costs $4.4 billion end up trashed? Photo by J. Jeff Kober
Map of Shanghai Disneyland displayed during D23. Can something that costs $4.4 billion end up trashed? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

A recent poll by Shanghai Daily showed that over 1 in 4 readers were concerned about the potential misbehavior of other guests when in the park. Their concern is that it might not end up being the “happiest place on earth” after all. One person noted…”it will be the same old story, Chinese people have no manners just like the metro passengers pushing in when people try to get off, just like all the regulations they take no notice, still smoking in public places, still spitting, still black caps, still trying to cheat other people and no respect for other people.”

I contemplated that article as I was finishing up my workout at a brand new fitness gym in the area. The facility is beautiful, and they spent good money investing in it. But you wouldn’t know it from the men’s locker room. The place was filthy. No one had swept the sauna or cleaned the glass windows. One of the sinks was splattered with gunk. The showers were worse, not only with empty plastic bottles, hair and tissue, but with razors littering the floor–a safety hazard if accidentally stepped on.

How could this place be so bad when it’s so new? The answer came in part from a sign on the door–“Now Hiring!” Clearly they lacked staff. Or did they? When I left, I found 7 guys sitting behind their desks, and more than half of those were doing absolutely nothing. The others were selling gym memberships to potential new patrons–but how do you get a new customer to sign on when the place is looking trashed? Can none of these guys (and they were all guys) get the fact that they should go through and pick up trash before taking potential customers through?

Of course, speaking collectively and not individually, guys can be slackers–even pigs–when picking up after themselves. But if it’s already clean, don’t you think that even the average jerk might think twice before dumping trash around him? I’ve been to other fitness clubs by this same brand and found them kept very clean not just by staff, but by the patrons as well.

Walt Disney believed in this idea. The bankers, the carnival industry, and even his wife questioned spending what was in 1955 an astonishing 17 million on a park that would ultimately be trashed within a few months. Walt held a different philosophy. He thought that if you did a great job keeping it clean, that guests would respond favorably toward that and would help to keep it clean as well.

Will that work in Shanghai Disneyland? Will it be spit spot as Mary Poppins would have it, or just spit?

Some say that it doesn’t matter what Disney does. They point to Disneyland Paris and that the French aren’t good at picking up after themselves. They also point to the Japanese at Tokyo Disney and note that it’s spotless there because the Japanese culturally respect their environment much more. There may be some truth to that. But consider the Disney Cruise Line. Those ships, while carrying many Americans, carry an abundance of visitors from around the world. Yet, whoever it is, it’s largely kept clean and tidy. Disney’s Castaway Cay is the same. Traveling to both recently, I noticed there was a big difference between the cleanliness of the beaches there and the beaches at Cozumel. Yet, the same kinds of tourists frequent both spots.

Simply put: Cleanliness begets cleanliness.

Decks scrubbed and clean for visiting guests on the Disney Cruise Line. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Decks scrubbed and clean for visiting guests on the Disney Cruise Line. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

By the way, an article a couple of years ago noted a study by an Indian-origin marketing expert that showed that cleanliness breeds honesty. The study suggested that “if the employees find their workplace spic and span, they are more likely to cooperate and less likely to cheat.” The professor at Rice University said that small things can trigger specific emotions which ultimately lead to making better decisions.

Makes sense to keep it really clean–then trust your customers to help keep it that way.

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