Ask any executive at a large theme park about keeping visitors happy, and they'll tell you that queueing remains a top issue. In fact, in his keynote presentation during the 2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo, Merlin Entertainments CEO Nick Varney confirmed that queueing is still the number one guest complaint.
As you might imagine, such an obvious pain point has attracted a wide range of solutions that have come to market over the years, all promising to greatly reduce, or even completely eliminate, queueing from the theme park experience.
However, none of these systems are perfect yet, and the realities of limited ride capacities and large seasonal crowds make the prospect of a truly queueless experience unlikely.
Even if queueing could be completely eliminated, it's a matter of debate within the industry whether that would be desirable. Would it kill the anticipation of each experience? Would it affect spending habits? Would it shorten multi-day visits?
With queueing here to stay, parks must look at ways to minimise the negative impact that they have — but what can be done?
It turns out that if you want to make queueing as pain-free as possible, it's all about managing expectations.
Anyone who's been to a theme park on a busy summer's day knows that there's nothing more frustrating than being told a ride has a 20-minute wait, only to still be waiting in line an hour later.
This happens because measuring wait times in real time and reporting them reliably to guests is quite an involved process. Many parks have little or no technology to assist them in doing this, and the end result is frustrated guests.Recording accurate queue times isn't only important for guests either — it's crucial information for park operations teams, too. Without reliable data, it's impossible to understand ride demand patterns over time and to make sound operational decisions.
The most basic way to monitor queue wait times is to ask ride operators to visually inspect the queue and estimate the time from their knowledge.
Pros: An experienced operator can report surprisingly accurate times.
Cons: Recording times regularly and communicating them to guests is a challenge.
Camera tracking involves installing cameras that count people both in and out of a queue in order to determine how many people are currently waiting. The ride’s throughput can also be calculated, and this in turn allows queue times to be determined.
Pros: You can measure ride throughput as well as wait times.
Cons: It's expensive to install.
Device tracking uses special equipment to detect WiFi and Bluetooth signals emitted by mobile devices such as smartphones. Special scanning hardware is strategically placed to pick up these signals and report them back to a central system for processing.
Pros: Data is collected from most mobile devices that visitors carry.
Cons: Hardware can be expensive and the technology relies on a security vulnerability which the IEEE body and device manufacturers are working to fix in the interests of privacy.
Mobile app tracking leverages the number of people with the park’s app installed on their devices (the install base) to collect wait times. Bluetooth beacons are strategically placed within a queue, and as users of the app walk past, the app picks up these beacons and reports the users.
Pros: You can tie wait times back to individuals for enhanced targeting.
Cons: Only users with the park's mobile app installed are picked up, so a good install base is required.
A comparison of the capabilities of each method is illustrated in the table below:
Queueing is one of the top pain points for theme park visitors, and it's not going away any time soon. Managing expectations is crucial to ensure that visitors remain happy, and parks have a number of technologies at their disposal when it comes to automated monitoring.
Picking the right queue monitoring solution for your attraction will not only help to manage guests’ expectations, but will also provide an accurate stream of data that can be invaluable for operational planning.