I recently had the opportunity to speak as a panelist on Gateway Ticketing’s Webinar Wednesday series. As their final webinar in 2020, the topic was “Then, Now and Hope for the Future.” In addition to providing their regular update on the industry, each of the panelists and attendees were asked the following questions:
- As we reflect on the close of 2020 and the year ahead, please share with us your most profound/significant/surprising learning since the outbreak.
- What technology has had the greatest impact on your attraction as you have navigated the COVID crisis?
- As we look ahead, many attractions have embraced new ways to do business as a result of the outbreak. What are some permanent changes for the better that you or your attraction have adopted?
The third question is one that has been on my mind since shortly after the pandemic began. We have discussed it on the AttractionPros Podcast, in our COVID-19 Video Series, and regularly in conversations with friends and industry colleagues who are also pondering the same question. When I was asked to respond to this question, a myriad of changes immediately came to mind, from remote working for staff to timed entry for guests, virtual queuing, mobile food & beverage ordering, reduced capacity, physical distancing, enhanced sanitation measures… and the list goes on.
If you look at all of these changes individually and how each of them came about, they were all generated from a genuine desire to keep the industry moving forward, find new and improved ways for attractions to take care of guests and employees, and ultimately – to prove to the world that we can act quickly and find ways to operate even under the most unusual of circumstances.
If you pull back and look at all of these changes as a whole, each of these changes came about because of a change in thinking, put in place by constricting parameters with which the industry needed to comply. The best part about it though is what the way of thinking led the industry to create. By operating in a pandemic we have learned that enhanced procedures shouldn’t lead to a diluted experience, but instead a different experience that yields the same outcomes. Wearing a mask does not need to stop employees from smiling, and a glass barrier does not prevent a personalized experience.
So what does this change in thinking look like? Meeting new guidelines based on limiting restrictions requires creatively looking beyond what is feasible. I am reminded of the story of Airbnb’s founders, who designed what they believed to be an 11-star experience. By the time they got past a 7-star experience, any trace of feasibility was out the window, yet they kept going (by the way, the 11-star experience involves going to space with Elon Musk… come on, Airbnb – make it happen!).
Bringing it back down to earth, I believe that the pandemic has not only required, but given permission to be unrestricted in creatively identifying ways to improve the guest experience, employee experience, and industry as a whole. Even if you come with plans or goals that you know you cannot reach 100%, can you dial it back and achieve 20%? What about 10%, or even 5%? Improvements of great magnitude start in small increments.
For instance, let’s take virtual queuing. Many attractions have embraced virtual queuing and much of the industry strives to reach an end-goal where guests are no longer waiting in line. Maybe virtual queuing is a permanent change for the future or maybe it’s seen as an option for the time being, but if we use it as a starting point we can create many more advanced features. Let’s see where it goes:
- All attractions have virtual queues and reservations
- What do our guests do while they’re waiting if they’re not in line?
- What if dry parks offered cabanas or private spaces that guests can consider their “home base” while waiting in line as a more comfortable alternative?
- There is significant revenue potential in this as it will deliver premium value.
- These private spaces can be mask-free zones while masks are still mandated in public spaces.
- What if you could assign a personal concierge to your guests as they enjoy their cabana? This is a step between a guest services representative and VIP tour guide.
- The concierge could help plan their day most effectively, using their expertise to make suggestions and recommendations, and even book times for rides, shows, and attractions.
- This private space can include comfortable chairs, couches, and tables, and will protect guests from the elements in the case of undesirable weather.
- Are you set up for mobile food ordering? What if guests ordered food directly to them, instead of waiting line at food venues or ordering on an app and picking them up?
- Now families can order from multiple food venues at once instead of having to make a unanimous choice.
- Is there power in these cabanas or private spaces? Guests will need to charge their devices to maintain battery life throughout the day.
- If there’s power and Wi-Fi, then you can equip their cabana with a tablet which allows guests to reserve ride times, order food & beverage, post on social media or online review sites, upgrade their ticket to an annual pass or membership, or start planning their next visit.
- Instead of paying individually for each purchase throughout the day, charge everything to your cabana and check out when you’re ready to leave or when the park closes.
- Get a personal escort in a golf cart to the park exit where your car will be waiting and any merchandise is loaded into your vehicle.
I’d pay more for that experience! Not only does this present a more luxurious guest experience, but helps to strengthen per capita spending, allows guests to remove masks in their private space, keeps parties physically distant from each other, and ultimately makes guests comfortable during their visit. But remember: I am not suggesting that this is possible to implement today or that this initiative is free from faults, but this way of thinking can lead to small breakthroughs that lead to quick wins along the way, which keep moving the industry forward. There are no wrong answers when thinking beyond what’s feasible today.
Josh Liebman specializes in guest experience within attractions, tourism, and hospitality, including service standards, complaint resolution, and driving guest loyalty. Josh is a serial entrepreneur, podcaster, consultant, and speaker. Josh has worked for some of the top attraction operators in the world, including, but not limited to Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Merlin Entertainments, and Cedar Fair. Josh has been integral to the openings of multiple attractions in various leadership capacities. Additionally, Josh has consulted for many of the world’s leading hospitality brands, including Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria, and many more. Josh is Co-Host of the AttractionPros Podcast, which brings the audience into the room with the top leaders, executives, and influencers in the attractions industry.