For theme parks and visitor attractions, these world-changing advances have come in the form of digital technology adoption, which has rocketed among theme parks in response to limited visitor numbers, increased health and hygiene measures and the easing of congestion in notoriously crowded areas.
“COVID is like the great accelerator,” Simon de Montfort Walker, general manager of Oracle Food and Beverage, says. “Trends that were very clear beforehand have just been absolutely supercharged.”
And these sudden digital accelerations have produced remarkably positive results for an industry whose bread and butter has been, until now, real-life experiences and interactions.
So many of the changes that have been made and processes that have been digitalised are behind-the-scenes. Where they’re making theme park operations and employees’ lives easier, they’re also having a hugely positive impact on the guest experience; almost by accident.
“We were able to lean in and probably accelerate a lot of our innovations because of the need and the necessity that came out of the pandemic,” said Legoland Florida General Manager Rex Jackson. “Yes, they were done from an operational standpoint, from a health and safety standpoint, but there’s tremendous guest benefit to that too because it allows you the convenience of scheduling things according to your schedule.”
The art of convenience
For years, most visitors have simply come to accept that long queue times and over-crowded food halls and kiosks were a necessary negative, in order to experience a theme park’s positives – the rides.
But the pandemic has flipped this view on its head. Changes made by parks to reduce numbers and congested areas are being received with delight by customers. In a recent survey conducted by Oracle and Merlin Entertainments, 40% of families said they were willing to pay extra to be able to pre-book their activities in advance and 70% of UK visitors griped that long queues were the worst aspect of a trip to the theme park.
In addition to this, over half the people surveyed said that having access to data on park hotspots would help them to plan their days and avoid busy areas – thereby avoiding the frustration (and health concerns) that comes with it.
So it seems that all people are asking for is to be given the data and the information, which you are probably already collecting, so that they can make informed decisions. Of course it’s not as simple as simply handing out the data – you’ve got to have systems in place that will collect and blend all the different elements you’re using seamlessly. But these large steps into digitalisation aren’t hampering the guest experience. They’re enhancing it.
“The less time you spend in the queue waiting for food, the more time you’re able to have to experience our rides, our shows and our attractions, which is what you’ve come to the theme park to experience,” says Jackson.
Where do you start?
So what should you be digitalising to help your operations and, in turn, improve your guests’ experiences at your park?
Virtual queuing and digitally displayed queue times are two of the big winners from the COVID-era. The digital capture of this data and the functionality for visitors has helped some of the biggest theme parks and attractions to increase capacity and reduce queue numbers, something that has been crucial during pandemic times.
Food and drink ordering also comes in very close behind, with over half the people surveyed in Oracle and Merlin Entertainment’s study saying that they would order more food and drink if they didn’t have to queue.
For operators, there are significant financial gains to be had through the digitalisation of these processes, previously run in old-fashioned ways. Not only does it help customers to spend more but it improves your staff processes behind the scenes; easing congestion and managing the flow of orders – and both of these lead into an improved guest experience. In an industry that’s been hard-hit by pandemic lockdowns, it’s hard to ignore the need for such transformation.
But, as Oracle and Merlin’s survey highlights, there’s no need to do-away with traditional approaches just yet. “It’s about giving the guest choices,” Jackson emphasises. The generational divide means that while technology adoption among younger park visitors is high, older generations still want and appreciate the more traditional interactions they’ve come to expect on a trip to the theme park.
If you need some help getting your theme park started with your journey into digitalisation, our cloud-based operations Apps will streamline your ride operations, increase your park capacity and enable your managers to make smarter, data-led decisions. Get started today.