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What the New Year Holds for Destinations

Updated: January 17, 2018 | Share on LinkedIn

by Matthew Hoenstine, Principal, Destinations

It seems that everything in the world today is bigger and better than it was yesterday. At the time of writing this I was stranded in New York City due to the Blizzard of 2018 which brought us exciting meteorological terms like “bomb cyclone” and some of the coldest air in years. Similar to what we’re seeing in weather, politics and the world at large, the various attraction destinations across the world continue their evolution as they adapt to the changing consumer behavior/desire and various competitive pressures.

I can’t think of a more exciting time in the industry. We see new and unique experiences opening with regular frequency in existing parks throughout the world and new parks springing up in Asia at a furious pace. As I look to the coming months I see an opportunity for destinations to continue to adopt everyday technological advances, efforts to maximize the return on their fixed assets and a re-focus on the guest experience.

Everyday technology comes to destinations

Consumers continue to embrace technology in simplifying their day-to-day activities and for entertaining themselves during the more mundane parts of their day. In 2017 we saw Walt Disney World Resort bring two everyday technological simplifications to the theme park experience. With the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom consumers were able to leverage the My Disney Experience mobile app to complete a Mobile Order for expedited access to the otherworldly food of Satu’li Canteen. They quickly followed that up with the introduction of the Minnie Van Service in a partnership with the ride sharing app Lyft.

These improvements address the individuality that today’s theme park guests want and need. They want to maximize their time and reduce wasted time versus standing in line waiting to place a food order. They want to be a unique individual that operates on their own timetable and goes where they want versus waiting for a specific bus that arrives on a prescribed timetable. While mobile food ordering or usage of the Minnie Van Service will not appeal to the majority of Disney’s guests it is allowing the differentiation of guests in an equitable and “opt-in” way that has not been present in the mass experience theme park of the past.

In the coming months I believe we will see similar adoption of these technology-enabled solutions to pop up in more theme and amusement parks across the globe. You may find the simplicity and efficiency of Amazon Prime Now or Uber Eats at your next theme park experience. During an extended queueing for The Haunted Hotel at IMG Worlds of Adventure what if you could open up the park app and order drinks and popcorn for the family to be delivered in queue? While queueing during the opening season of Hangtime at Knott’s Berry Farm what if you could order exclusive personalized merchandise from your phone that is delivered to you?

We will continue to ensure that we do not allow these modern-day advances to negatively impact the immersive worlds and environments we create. Similar to how Disney chose to highly theme the Minnie Van Service and use Disney Cast Members versus the typical Lyft ride these new offerings should meet the brand promise that your park has with consumers.

Maximization of fixed assets

As noted earlier, capital expenditures are continuing in existing parks with new lands, attractions and experiences. However, the initial investment for a theme park is so significant that we see owners looking for ways to continue to maximize the return on that investment. In 2016 in preparation for the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter we saw Universal Studios Hollywood introduce EZ Rez where consumers were asked to provide the date they intended to use their ticket and then received pricing specific to that date.

The demand-based model of airlines and hotels being adopted and applied to the theme park experience is critical for refining our ability to drive demand to where we have an overabundance of supply, those really slow days in the park. It also allows us to drive our ticket per caps to the appropriate yield on the days when demand exceeds our supply. Large theme park operators have begun to establish the practice which is helping with consumer adoption to this new way of pricing and planning a theme park experience.

Additionally, creating events and experiences to drive demand during shoulder periods will continue to grow in 2018. These experiences can be simple as exclusive/low-cost in-park only events like a series of postcards tied to a unique intellectual property that guests can complete for free and have posted by the park. Separately ticketed Halloween events are beginning to spread from the United States to other countries as the consumer in those countries find more interest in the holiday.

Focus on the guest experience

The focus on delivering cutting-edge attractions with intellectual properties that drive revenue generation is well and healthy, however, the focus on the guest experience is often overlooked when we stitch together the many touchpoints consumers have with the park they choose to do business with. In 2018, I expect to see more destinations taking a step back and focusing on this holistic experience so they can better focus time, energy and assets at the elements that will truly elevate their business in the guest’s eye.

I anticipate that this will point to different areas of focus for each theme park. It may be that your park can find improvements to the service provided by your employees to create a more authentic and hospitable environment. For others, the amount of hoops, process or work you require your consumer to go through in their effort to give you money may need improvement.

I look forward to seeing 2018 thaw out and blossom.

What do you think? What trends do you see emerging for theme parks this year? Let me know what you think. Reach out to me via email to continue the conversation.

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