24 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Attractions Management
2021 issue 2

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Leisure Management - Capacity challenges

Talking Point

Capacity challenges

Visitor attraction operators around the world are balancing the need to keep visitors safe and comply with social distancing measures while maximising revenue and offering a great experience. We find out how they’re rising to the challenge

The government’s reliance on regulatory controls has been confusing and wrongly focused Photo: shutterstock/Photographee.eu

The need to optimise capacity in the age of social distancing is something many visitor attraction operators are grappling with right now, with this challenge not looking likely to go away any time soon.

Whether they’re having to comply with social distancing regulations or just ensure anxious visitors feel safe when out and about, operators are having to think about maximising revenue while often having to limit numbers of people in their attractions.

This capacity may be different indoors and outdoors and by attraction type and location, adding another level of complexity when it comes to management.

Some operators are employing technology to help spread visitors out around their attractions, others are opening up new outdoor areas, and some have decided to offer a premium, higher-priced offer to control volumes.

What have been the most successful approaches, and what lessons can be taken forward to a post-COVID future? Magali Robathan speaks to the experts to find out.

Ken Robinson, CBE
Independent tourism adviser

Before COVID-19, few attractions actively managed capacity. The principal benefit to doing so is not just that they’re complying with regulations, but also that matching the number of visitors to the attraction’s ability to create the most enjoyable experience is good for business.

We take the simple efficiencies of the internet and the related online ticket prepayment options very much for granted, forgetting the administrative burden – pre-internet – of pre-booking and mailed or ‘collect on arrival’ paper tickets.

Within the last decade online pre-purchase became simple, which – taken together with time-slot access – made the control of booking rides and features very straightforward, with “tickets” being issued online and validated on-site via visitors’ smartphones.

So when the UK government introduced its frequently changing and stop-go COVID-19 regulations for the attractions sector, it was practical to adapt online systems to manage access by pre-booking.

However, I’m a committed cynic when it comes to the ‘infection risk-management by government regulation’ approach, except for in really high-risk places, such as public transport or potentially crowded, unventilated spaces.

At most attractions, it was ridiculous to believe or expect that the management and staff could safely regulate public behaviour.

For attractions, hospitality, sports and other leisure and cultural businesses, the more government has defined rules, regulations and guidance, the more loopholes have emerged, and the more clarifications have had to be issued.

The fact is that sensible people behave sensibly and cautiously to minimise infection risks and those who do not maintain social distancing or follow government rules and guidance cannot be policed to do so. We see the evidence in streets, outside pubs and in football crowd. Who polices that behaviour? No one.

Governments should encourage individual responsibility, rather than setting industry-specific capacity limits

Within an attraction, in capacity-controlled internal spaces, how is any member of staff to know whether people standing “too close” together are in a family group or bubble or not?

There is only one thing that can control infection – it is not government rules, or attractions’ management of capacity, it is the responsibility of every individual to maintain social distancing.

Education around COVID-safe behaviour is where energy should have been directed by government, instead of the misplaced focus on regulations.

Their rules were ineffective in many respects, while seriously impacting attractions businesses.

Yael Coifman
Leisure Development Partners
Yael Coifman is a founding partner of Leisure Development Partners
What are the challenges and opportunities around the need to reduce capacity?

In one sense the pandemic has been a good thing – because of capacity challenges and social distancing requirements, and the need for pre-booking, it has forced a lot of attractions and theme parks to start embracing new technologies. That should increase efficiency of operations in a lot of cases.

There’s obviously a challenge in that attractions just aren’t getting as many people in, yet they still have to operate as normal. You can’t say, here’s access to our park, but half the rides are closed. They’re having to support the same level of operating costs with lower levels of revenue, which puts them in a very difficult position.

What are your thoughts on the VIP model – charging more for a premium experience?

It’s a way to get more revenue from a select group of people, but the danger is that it decreases the experience for the other people using your attraction. I would caution people not to put too many eggs into the premium experience basket; there’s only a certain portion of the population that can pay for that long-term. In the short-term, people might be willing to pay for anything just to have an experience, but at the end of the day, our industry functions off the middle class and working class.

You can offer low-capacity high-value experiences – and they do work – but it’s a small percentage who can afford them. If you go too high-end, you’re going to annoy your core market.

I’d caution people not to put too many eggs into the premium experience basket – go too high-end and you’ll annoy your core market
Are there upsides?

For operators happy to offer queueless rides and reservation systems, there’s a real opportunity to make money from F&B and retail. While people are waiting to go on a ride, they need to find something to do, and that could be spending, eating and drinking. That’s an opportunity people could be leveraging.

As people pay using apps, you can start looking at patterns of behaviour and reorganising your internal operations to reflect that. One of the biggest benefits of the pre-booking system is that you can manage staff costs through the week and weekend and flatten the curve.

It will take at least a year for international tourism to get back to where it was, so the focus should be on the residential and domestic markets; on building loyalty and attracting those people.

The use of technology will definitely stick. The average consumer has got used to having to book.

There’s been a real shift in thinking in terms of planning more. That will be useful, because it will flatten the attendance curve for most attractions. Hopefully, people who were forced to visit during off-peak times because they couldn’t get in at the weekend will realise it’s a quieter experience, and will continue to do this going forward.

Kidzania has worked with Leisure Development Partners / Photo: Kidzania
Leisure Development Partners works with a number of global brands, including Kidzania / Photo: Kidzania
Leisure Development Partners works with a number of global brands, including Kidzania / Photo: Kidzania
Bernard Kochen
Bernard Kochen, Convious
How do Disney parks, crowds, and dynamic pricing relate?

Ever since the pandemic started, attractions and venue managers have had to squeeze their brains to figure out how to deal with the following scenario: high fixed costs, reduced visitor capacity, government regulations to comply with – and on top of all that, anxious visitors with high expectations when it comes to the balance between their fun and their safety.

Giants such as Disney have put an end to some of their most popular programmes as a consequence. For example, Disneyland decided to end annual passes back in January. The underlying issue with the annual pass programme in the pandemic context was derived from the fact that these lower revenue-generating visitors were taking the spaces and capacity slots from higher-spending visitors, leaving considerable revenue opportunities for Disneyland on the table.

Most annual pass holders were people living near the park rather than inbound tourists. Since they live close by and are frequent visitors, they usually only stay for a couple of hours. As a result, they don’t spend nearly as much on food and beverage, merchandising or accommodation as tourists and visitors from abroad.

How are attractions addressing this?

As a solution to face this challenge, more and more attractions (Disney parks included) are implementing dynamic pricing strategies such as real-time pricing. This allows attractions to offer an incentive for frequent local visitors to come on slower days, by lowering the prices at these times and then increasing them on the most popular days, so they generate higher revenue on days where demand is high and spread price-sensitive visitors to slower days – strategically managing their capacity.

Having prices that are not static but dynamic offers more options to satisfy as many guests as possible
How has this been working for operators who’ve adopted this way of structuring their pricing?

Having prices that are not static but dynamic offers more options to satisfy as many fans as possible – including those willing to pay a higher price in exchange for flexibility.

In addition, this allows attractions to spread their attendance effectively and level out crowds more evenly throughout their peak days, weeks, and overall, throughout the entire year.

Disney has experimented with dynamic pricing / Photo: Pexels/Craig Adderley
Annual pass holders spend less on food and drink than international visitors / Photo: shutterstock/Josep Suria
Erin Morris
Data Duopoly
Morris says attractions management apps can deliver better experiences for guests / Photo: DATA DUOPOLY
How can operators optimise capacity and revenue in the age of social distancing?

Be innovative and flexible – it’s important to deliver the best possible visitor experience.

From looking at negative reviews of the top UK attractions it’s easy to see that the biggest frustrations come from long queues, overcrowded areas and poor customer service. When these things are addressed, the other factor – price – isn’t as much of an issue.

Review your customer journey to ensure you’re streamlining processes and improving every touchpoint.

Take this opportunity to make the most of goodwill by including opportunities for donations during this recovery stage. Memberships are also a great way to secure guaranteed revenue, so think about how you can add value to these and promote them.

How can operators use technology to help with this challenge?

Communicate changes that visitors are likely to encounter during their visit via your website.

If you don’t have one already, use an online booking platform that can assist with timed entries – vary the price of tickets to drive visitor numbers to less busy timeslots.

Apps such as XplorIT and Attractions.io enable visitors to operate interactive maps which allow them to spot busy areas to better navigate the venue and avoid crowds.

With XplorIT, information on exhibits or facts about the surrounding area can be made available based on visitors’ location, maintaining their attention and enriching their experience. Gamification can be included to encourage children’s engagement.

The app can identify potential hotspots for overcrowding in real-time and send nudge notifications or incentives to shift customer flow away from busy areas. These have been proven to increase dwell times and concessionary spending.

For example, it can also control how many guests are in different areas, by offering discounts at the shop if they leave a certain ride until the afternoon.

Parks can identify hotspots for overcrowding in real time and send personal incentives to shift customer flow away from busy areas

In addition, its COVID-19 tracker can notify visitors about capacity limits via a traffic light system and send a warning to the venue when this has been reached.

XplorIT’s alert system notifies the venue if a visitor has tested positive for COVID-19, allowing the attraction to see where they were on-site for effective clean-up, as well as notifying other visitors.

When social distancing is a thing of the past, will we still need this tech?

In a world where overtourism is an issue and on-demand consumption is shortening people’s attention spans, digital solutions that engage visitors and control visitor distribution will be essential.

The Eden Project is a client of Data Duopoly / Photo: shutterstock/Anna Jastrzebska

Originally published in Attractions Management 2021 issue 2

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