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Technological Trends to Keep Pace with in 2018

Updated: January 18, 2018 | Share on LinkedIn

by Randy Josselyn, Principal, Wildlife & Conservation

I have spent the last few days of the New Year tinkering with some of the many new technological gadgets that materialized in my household over the holidays. Our home is buzzing with an ever-expanding trove of technology from new phones, smartwatches, Google Home devices and tablets – and based on holiday sales data, we are not alone.

Take, for instance, the Google Home devices. Since October, Google has sold a Google Home device every second – an astounding 7 million devices this holiday season. Incredibly, some analysts believe that Amazon outperformed Google with their Echo devices based on recent sales.

The result in our home is a crescendo of Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift battling for the affection of our family along with the Xbox, Netflix, Chromecasts and Phillips Hue lightbulbs.

As you can see, I LOVE technology! When Obi Wan Kenobi was talking about the Force (“It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together”), I am pretty sure he was referring to the awesomeness that is digital interconnectivity.

But how much technology is too much technology?

During my morning walk today with my dog Starbuck, the birds were chirping, and the wind was rustling the remaining leaves that somehow survived past Christmas …umm … at least I think they were … I was too absorbed in my newest audiobook, courtesy of Overdrive, to have heard for sure.

It’s quite comical actually … Starbuck knows that it is time to hang out near the front door not when he sees me put on my coat and jacket, but when he observes me jamming my earbuds in my ears. Perhaps my experience would be enhanced if I simply unplugged and enjoyed my surroundings.

I read an article recently about cell service expansion and the United States National Parks becoming the next “Digital Battlegrounds” and the uproar from purists who are mandating a technological moratorium.

The debate about embracing technology to stay relevant is not new to any industry, and certainly the attraction and recreation industry is no exception. Understanding the balance of just how much technology is required at your attraction will be a hot topic for every attraction this year. I believe that technology is to be embraced whenever and wherever possible to enhance the guest experience, provided that that experience is immersive holistically and not just technologically.

Let’s revisit the US National Park Service’s dilemma. Back in 2013, the National Park Service began launching a pilot program to increase cellular coverage at many of the nation’s parks. A debate that is still continuing today as detailed in the above-mentioned “Digital Battlegrounds” article.

While visitors would now enjoy the opportunity to be connected and share their experiences globally – critics argue that the purpose of such places should be to do the opposite. The National Parks had a decision to make and according to James Katz, Director of Emerging Media at Boston University, the social pressure for the National Parks to extend the technological reach was immense and the parks have begun to transform, placing cellular towers in popular areas. But at what risk? A quote from John Muir, one of the early advocates of the National Park Service, seems to be advising our technological dependent generation to seek refuge from technology by visiting national parks. In the early 20th century, John Muir was reportedly quoted as saying: “Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.”

I am sure we all agree that listening to someone loudly chat on a cell phone is the last thing we want to be subjected to while on a tranquil hike (or on an airplane for that matter.) Of course, having strong cell phone service is the FIRST thing I would be begging for if I were lost in the wilderness.

So what is the correct balance of technology for your attraction? Do you want your guests tethered to their phones to supplement the experience – or do you encourage visitors to put away their technology and disconnect? Let’s examine some options.

Safety

When it comes to the safety of your guests, an attraction should harness as much technology that is available and reasonable to keep guests safe. Notwithstanding the technology of your security operation (metal detectors, radio communication, data security, etc.) some technology extended to your guests can assist them and provide peace of mind. Back in 2004 when I was the Director of Admissions at Wild Rivers Waterpark in Irvine, Calif., we employed a child locating system made available to all guests free of charge. The system employed RF-tracking devices linked to families that could be displayed on kiosks throughout the park. The families of today desire the same, if not more visibility and with the proliferation of mobile devices, many families are relying on interconnectivity to give them peace of mind while they enjoy your attraction.

Attraction entrance and ticketing

A few weeks ago, I tried to set my mom up with a paperless airline boarding pass, and she simply would have none of it! I showed her how easy it was to add her boarding pass to the Apple Wallet, and with a single click, her boarding pass “magically” materialized on her screen.

Whether my mom likes it or not, mobile connectivity seems to be a requirement for tickets in the future. In fact, some sports arenas have abandoned ticket printing altogether to cut down on fraudulent activity and ticket reselling. Major League Baseball began exploring the practice back in 2014 and in 2016 the NY Yankees stopped accepting print-at-home tickets altogether.

Expect many attractions to begin adopting similar policies. Some emerging ticketing technologies include time-controlled ticketing validation, wherein a unique ticket ID is generated on demand via a mobile device before disappearing (think Snapchat for tickets). This security comes at a cost, requiring connectivity to display the barcodes on each mobile device. International visitors could have some issues as well if they cannot access the cellular network. Consider guest wifi near your front entrance areas to allow for access to digital tickets and mobile ticket purchasing for guests.

Social “ability”

As a father of four daughters, I must often fight the urge to snatch the cell phones from their incessantly tapping fingers – especially when I am pointing out the awesomeness of their surroundings. This irks me at theme parks as well when we could be spending our idle time in queues interacting with each other, and not the entire world at their fingertips. I secretly wish that theme parks would block all access to their cellphones so we can have some good old-fashioned family bonding in line … that is of course until I realize that the queue line wait is over 2 hours long – UGH! How on earth did my parents keep me entertained back in the day?

Many attractions understand my plight and thankfully are experimenting with micro-social apps to engage visitors during idle time such as attraction queuing. I really like Disney’s partnership with Ellen’s Heads Up app to create a special experience while on a Disney property. This is a simple, yet effective way to harness technology while keeping the family focused on the experience.

Some attractions take gamification to a more social-macro level, involving all guests on the property who wish to play. Cedar Fair’s Battle for Kings Dominion (Cedar Fair’s 2nd foray into theme park gamification after last season’s Battle for Cedar Point) is a mobile application that includes augmented reality, gamifying the theme park experience pitting patrons together on teams. Based on customer feedback, Cedar Fair’s 2nd generation app adds more queue line gameplay. What I really like is that the app allows guests to earn points through regular theme park activities passively (like riding rides, miles walked, etc.) but does not require them to be continuously on their device. I expect to see more attractions move toward this type of balanced approach – enhancing the guest experience without being tethered to a device.

Guest convenience

The number of visitors who bring iPads, laptops and mobile devices to waterparks never ceased to amaze me. I used to ask myself, “Why would I ever bring my electronics to a waterpark when I plan on frolicking in the wave pool, barreling down the slides and tubing on the lazy river with my kids?”

Well, as my kids begin to get a little bit older, I am learning to appreciate what I call “Homebase” – those few lounge chairs together near the snack shack and soda fountain (or better yet, a shaded cabana with a server) where I camp out and relax while the kids play.

To be quite honest, sometimes, I even do a little bit of work – and I am not alone. At every park I visit, I observe moms and dads working on devices – usually sucking data from their cellular data plan due to a lack of wifi. There is a great opportunity for similar attractions to offer wifi to guests and capture a bit more data on their “lounging” customers. Convenient guest wifi can also be utilized to support food ordering, cashless spending and guest amenities.

Guest queueing

Guest queueing and visitor experience optimization will continue to be a technological point of emphasis for years to come. Using mobile devices, apps and kiosks, attractions are employing new technologies allowing guests to purchase VIP passes granting front-of-the-line access on all rides, some rides or a single ride, or reserve attraction and showtimes in advance. This technology requires a robust wifi network and interconnectivity of a variety of systems. Attractions must be mindful of the amount of time a guest must spend on their mobile device to leverage such services. Some of the current systems require guests to be interacting on a continual basis with the app – such constraints can be a guest dissatisfier.

Edutainment

Zoos, aquariums and museums can benefit greatly leveraging technology. I feel that this is the perfect arena for the marriage between mobile interactivity and immersive educational experience. The Art Museum of South Texas is one of the many museums exploring augmented reality with great results, especially for children. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is one of many zoos that is exploring augmented reality apps to add a more dynamic educational element than traditional signs at exhibits.

Are your guests having difficulty discovering your attraction? Consider using augmented reality to orientate guests like the Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo, Japan. The Aquarium of the Bay is exploring augmented reality as a means to allow animal interaction without disturbing the animals. It should be noted that such technology requires guests to download an application and possibly require mobile connectivity. Also, augmented reality, while immersive, can detract a guest from the surrounding experiences at the attraction in exchange for a targeted, more provincial area.

Whether your desire is to entertain, or educate (or both!) the guests at your attraction – be mindful of the balance between dependence on technology and the physical experience you desire your guests to have. One of the great advantages inherent in the technology presented above is the ability to collect analytic data. By monitoring metrics like guest usage, geo-location, revenue increases and social media activity, in conjunction with traditional surveys, you can better understand the benefits of the technology as well as try something new.

What do you think? How are you using technology at your attraction? Let me know what you think. If you want to continue the conversation, reach out to me via my email. I look forward to hearing from you.

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