Be Passionate — When you are passionate about what you do, the guests can tell. They know you will strive to make them feel welcome and happy. When a guest asks for your opinion on food or an activity, show them the passion you have for what you are suggesting. This will help them feel confident in their choices.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Bigley.

Ron Bigley has been in the food service industry for the past 47 years. He began his career with Marriott’s

Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, California. He now works at Lancer Hospitality as General Manager at the Phoenix Zoo.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was going to college to pursue a career as a police officer and ended up taking a seasonal food service job at a theme park that was being built in Santa Clara, California. The park was Marriott’s Great America, and it was the corporation’s entry into the theme park industry. During my time there, I loved the people I was working with and fell in love with the job. I met longtime friends and my wife, who I’ve been married to for 44 years. Once I got the itch to work in the food service industry, I knew I’d found my passion.

Over the past 47 years, I have had a lot of jobs in this industry. I opened several restaurants in Minnesota and started a catering business. I also worked with Catersource, the largest national conference and trade show for the catering industry. Since 2017, I have worked for Lancer Hospitality as the general manager at the Phoenix Zoo.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I am sure my story is not unique, but I can say that the most interesting and challenging part of my career was going into and out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without notice and during the busiest week of the year, we had to shut down operations, figure out what our staff would do and deal with all of the perishable food we had on hand. I started having to work from home to make sure we didn’t have too many people at our zoo offices, and I hoped none of my staff got sick. I wondered when I would be able to return to work. We rose to the occasion and adapted to our new reality.

Once I was able to return, we had a whole new set of challenges. We all had to find new and safe ways to serve our guests, ensuring that my employees were going to remain safe too. The ability to think outside the box was essential. I am truly grateful that we were able to weather that storm and come up with new innovative solutions that we are still using today.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At the time, this was not funny, but all of us eventually were able to look back on it and laugh. Our catering company in Minnesota won a bid to cater picnic concessions on the Mississippi River for some national powerboat races. We packed up our vehicles at our commissary and began to head to the location. I was following the lead van and as it turned the corner at a busy intersection, the side sliding door of the van popped off and landed in the street in front of me. Of course, the fun did not end there, as several 5-gallon pails of potato salad quickly flew out of the van and landed in the street. Needless to say, this created a real challenge for us, local traffic and our staff’s stress levels. We cleaned up quickly, got extra product and executed a flawless event and no one was the wiser. In the end, we learned how to play Tetris better so that we could pack our vehicles more efficiently and securely.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I have had several mentors in my life, but the one who stands out to me is Bill Marriott Jr. 
He influenced many of the attributes that have made me successful. The Marriott family used to visit our theme park somewhat frequently during the first few years of operation. I remember the fire drills that we all would go through, getting our stands spotless for their visits. I remember him speaking to us about the values of good customer service and the importance of making sure every guest had a “Great Day”. It was my first job and I was impressionable, but this also taught me how my actions could make positive or negative impressions on others. I learned that, as a manager, you set the example for everyone to follow and you must provide that positive influence.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Technology is a wonderful thing that provides many options that can contribute to a successful guest experience. Even though the use of technology is not new, modern advances make many platforms easier to use and more interactive.

At the Phoenix Zoo, we are staying on trend with advancements in the retail and restaurant world that our guests have become accustomed to. We are increasing our technology platforms to include the guests’ personal mobile devices, and we are now providing self-serve register stations. Allowing guests to pre-order their food from their mobile devices allows them to escape from some of the lines they would traditionally encounter. When their food orders are complete, they get a text message letting them know their order is available for pick-up.

But great customer service still matters! I strongly believe that our staff still must interact with the guests at the pick-up counter, letting each guest know that we are here to take care of their needs.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

When guests come to our zoo, I believe that they come for two primary reasons. They want to experience animals in an open environment and escape their daily grinds with friends and family. At the Phoenix Zoo, we need to make sure we are efficient so guests can get both of these experiences without having to wait too long. That is where technology comes into play. Utilizing technology not only increases the information that is provided to guests, but it also helps decrease time in lines. The less time you are waiting to order and pick up food, the more time you can spend enjoying friends, family and the zoo experience.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many things, but there were some good things that came out of it. We all had to learn to adapt to an environment that was so unfamiliar and unpredictable. The hospitality industry had to adapt too. At the Phoenix Zoo, we began doing drive-through zoo experiences that allowed guests to get out of their houses and do something fun with their friends and families. They felt safe in their cars, but at the same time, they had a good time.

In the next 5 years, we must continue to innovate experiences that ensure guests can feel confident that we care about their safety. The activities that the travel and hospitality industry provides must include safety protocols that are simple and effective. Early on in the pandemic, we created 6-foot barriers, safety shields and tons of informative signs. We should continue to place a high priority on safety for our guests but in more subtle ways. For some, more small group experiences may be what they prefer to feel safe. We must continue to make multiple options available to guests, and at the Phoenix Zoo, we continue to find innovative ways to accomplish that.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I am an old-school traveler that enjoys a combination of human interaction and modern technology to aid my vacation experiences. I enjoy visiting the different National Parks. The initial person-to-person contact with a park ranger not only is informative, but it makes me feel welcome. I enjoy the multimedia presentations that are available in the park. It gives me the history of the location but also gives me a good overview of what that place has to offer. I then love engaging in the experiences provided. Whether it’s taking a hike, watching wildlife or just finding a beautiful view to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the area, I can relax and recharge my soul.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

Hospitality and travel are about making everyone feel welcome and cared for. Whether you are from the Phoenix area or just visiting for the week with family, we want to make sure your visit to the Phoenix Zoo is special. True hospitality is caring about people and their needs. It is trusting our team’s abilities to bring value to their jobs while making guest experiences fun and rewarding. Creating a true hospitality destination, like the Phoenix Zoo, isn’t complicated, but it must be executed in the most sincere way possible. Everyone must feel included and cared for no matter who they are or where they come from.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

Hospitality is key to creating a wonderful travel experience. In today’s world, there is not a lot of effort to provide hospitality on a consistent basis, but if you do these five things, you can ensure your guests will always want to come back.

  1. Genuine Sincerity — Make a guest feel that you really mean “Welcome”, “Thank You” or “It is my pleasure”. It can’t just be lip service. I can remember many times in my career seeing a guest’s positive reaction to a true and sincere act. Smile, because it truly is contagious.
  2. Deliver the Promise — This is a phrase I have used a lot throughout my career. If we make a commitment to our guests about a service, product or activity, then it is our obligation to fulfill the promise. Have you ever done a catered event? Delivering what is promised is an absolute priority for a bride to have her very special day go as she expects.
  3. Listen — Too many times people are not listening to each other, but it is key to understanding what your guests and clients really want. If you take the time to listen, not only will you be able to fulfill your guests’ needs, but you show them that you care about them.
  4. Be Passionate — When you are passionate about what you do, the guests can tell. They know you will strive to make them feel welcome and happy. When a guest asks for your opinion on food or an activity, show them the passion you have for what you are suggesting. This will help them feel confident in their choices.
  5. Have Fun — Having a good time is contagious for your guests and fellow coworkers. People go on vacation or to destinations, like the Phoenix Zoo, to have fun. Share how much fun your experience is.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for nearly five decades, and I honestly can only hope that I have brought some good to the world. What I do know is I have worked hard through the years making sure that I have been a positive influence and role model for people. I have always tasked myself with bringing smiles and positive experiences to the guests I have served. I am a firm believer that the interactions I have had with guests and the employees I’ve mentored have left lasting impressions that will help them make the world a better place.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Working in a conservation-conscious business environment at the Phoenix Zoo, I am challenged by our overuse of plastics in this day and age. I remember when I was a child, my friends and I would collect glass soda bottles in the neighborhood and return them to the grocery store for a small amount of money that we could use to buy snacks. It was a small gesture, but it had the ability to make a huge impact in my community.

While I know the use of plastic is economical and convenient for businesses, it comes with a price for our environment. Our oceans and animals face huge challenges because of our plastic use. More people are working on solutions to this problem, but it feels like it is growing out of control. My movement would involve every person on Earth asking themselves “How can I make a difference?” and then doing it! Every journey begins with a step. Let’s all begin stepping up to save our planet.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find a full list of the venues Lancer Hospitality serves on our website They can also follow our journey on Facebook and Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.