By Peter Cliff, Creative Director, Holovis
As theme parks and visitor attractions around the world start to reopen, reports are emerging of how each brand is approaching social distancing. These include physical signage, markers on the floor, reduced capacities, extra sanitation stations and loading rides only with family groups.
These are all fantastic initiatives but there are added benefits found by combining these with a technological approach, as the data gathered, both in real-time and in retrospective analysis, makes operators more agile when responding to situations. It can also help increase attendance capacity in a scientifically sound way and quickly enhance contract tracing procedures if needed.
Here are my suggestions for technology solutions that help ease the reopening process:
Mobile phones have been a great resource throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They have enabled people to order groceries from home, keep in touch with loved ones via video streams and socialize virtually. Phones will continue to be an essential tool as we ease out of lockdown and nearly every family will have one. Therefore, managing attractions through the use of a smartphone makes perfect sense.
One option is the smartphone app we at Holovis developed, Crowd Solo, which we are making freely available for all themed entertainment destinations. Guests can use the app to plan their day through attraction reservations for themselves and their family group, including those that don’t have a phone. Guests can link their account to friends, so all can reserve attraction times together.
This acts as a virtual queue and reservation system that manages capacity safely, so guests don’t have to wait in physical lines. By dispersing guest demand, congestion is avoided, both in the queue and by stopping groups from forming at ride entrances.
Universal Orlando Resort, recently reopened, is offering a new Virtual Line™ Experience which uses a QR code to generate a Virtual Line Pass, leaving guests free to explore the rest of the park and return at their selected time.
Having all guests connected on the same app or website informs operators where guests are scheduled to be in the park. This helps with operational planning as guest movements can be predicted based on their schedule for the day. Additionally, the time guests save by waiting in shorter queues has been shown to increase revenue spend, as guests have more time for other activities.
Further functionality can be added, such as integration with ticketing and contactless payment solutions from various suppliers.
Using signals such as Bluetooth and GPS, which are both inherent in mobile phones, the patterns of guest behavior and movement around a space can be mapped via heatmaps to show if crowd hotspots are forming. Viewing this in real-time gives operators the power to instantly take action to disperse them, through push notifications alerting guests to other available activities nearby as well as across digital signage networks.
Using multiple platforms such as Bluetooth, GPS and CCTV ensures maximum coverage and overcomes challenges of signal blackout zones.
The spirit of the theme park or visitor experience destination still needs to be maintained as we transition back to these spaces. Guests visit these locations for a magical day out, to be transported to other worlds and to create memories that last a lifetime with family and friends.
There may be some interactive fixtures and games that need to remain closed for the moment, but what I think we will start seeing is the rise of gesture-based interactivity.
Guests are likely to be concerned about hygiene for the foreseeable future so options to interact without having to physically touch props, screens or buttons are going to be preferred. These can be incorporated into narratives within rides or for parkwide gamification experiences. The methods of touch-free interaction vary to include gesture-based (striking poses, pointing or waving hands) and audio based (asking guests to make noise to drive the direction of the ride).
Our touchless technology system, HoloTrac, allows guests to benefit from individualized interactivity without having to touch anything. As well as enhancing the guest experience, this also benefits park operations and security, by once again adding a real-time data layer to understand guest footfall and behavior patterns.
RFID enabled devices such as wristbands can be used to generate peer to peer proximity alerts if people come into breach of the recommended safe two-meter distance of someone outside of their group. The audible, vibration and visual alerts can act as a helpful reminder throughout the day.
This can also be gamified to keep the notifications light-hearted, fun and in keeping with the themed world the guest has entered. Parks can wrap into their own narratives and IPs why guests need to keep away from each other, can give points for those that manage to do so over certain periods of time and can have health scores deplete if they do come into too close proximity with someone else.
Finally, signage networks across the park are another great method for quickly getting messages to guests. Screens and loudspeakers are prevalent throughout parks, in queue lines, retail areas and in restaurants, making them ideal for sharing status updates, reminders of social distancing policies and to help drive footfall away from busy areas to those less frequented.
All of these technologies and approaches are driven by the power of data, particularly real-time data. The benefits include keeping destinations agile, enabling fast responses and using the data to support staffing plans, safely increase guest capacity and prove that essential social distancing measures are being met.
They are great accompaniments to physical solutions such as markers on the floor, PPE and sanitation stations. The technology adds an extra layer of assurance for guests, and when used properly can enhance the guest experience as well as the operator’s confidence.