Can You Launch a Mobile App for Your Attraction Without Offering Free Wi-Fi?

We look at the technology behind mobile apps to see whether free Wi-Fi is a necessity or a nice to have for guests.

You and your customers use Wi-Fi every day. At home, in the office, at the coffee shop — there’s a connection available almost everywhere. Consumers now demand Internet access wherever they go, and for attractions, there’s pressure to deliver that with free in-venue Wi-Fi. But if you don't have Wi-Fi in place, does that mean offering a mobile app to guests is off the table?

The Offline Experience

Let's assume you visit an attraction without Wi-Fi, leaving you with no access to the Internet. What does a mobile app experience look like in that environment?

The park map in the Disney app fails to load without an Internet connection.

Let's take Walt Disney World, the largest theme park on the planet. Without an Internet connection, you'll notice that their app hardly functions. The map, for example, appears as a blank beige space that's no longer usable, with errors popping up to inform users that there is no Internet connection available.

At first glance, you might think Disney could be doing much more here, but there's a very good reason why the Walt Disney World app isn't optimised for offline use. The resort is exemplary in offering guests extensive Wi-Fi coverage across their entire selection of parks and hotels. This means there's little need for them to invest in the offline experience, and can instead focus their resources on improving other areas of the app.

There's another reason, too. If it were easy to offer a seamless offline experience, they'd probably go ahead and do it anyway, but it's actually something that's really difficult to do well. It requires high levels of optimisation, sophisticated update mechanisms and every single component to be designed in an offline-first manner.

The good news is that when done properly, mobile apps are able to offer an incredibly strong offline experience. In fact, if your guest app takes a truly offline-first approach, visitors will in many cases be none-the-wiser about lack of Internet connectivity.

One final note on Wi-Fi: Even if you have Wi-Fi access covering your entire attraction, if you operate a network that requires users to register and then limits connectivity to 30-minute sessions, forcing users to continually re-authenticate, then you should consider doing one of two things:

  1. Ensure your app can work fully offline — nothing is more frustrating than losing connectivity at set intervals and not realising that you need to log back in to the Wi-Fi.
  2. Whitelist the domain names that your app accesses with your Wi-Fi provider to ensure an uninterrupted Internet connection for guests who are using your app.

What About 4G?

For some, of course, lack of Wi-Fi alone is no problem, with 4G coverage widely available in most countries. In fact, 99% of the UK population and 98% of the US population have access to 4G networks.

However, some mobile plans have data limits, making users cautious about what they use their precious allowance for. What's more, if you operate an attraction that welcomes visitors from abroad, roaming data can be expensive for international travellers and many choose to disable it.

Plus, a population's access to 4G isn't the same thing as actual geographical coverage. For example, although 99% of the UK population have access to 4G, that's achieved with 80% geographical coverage — as rural areas with little to no residents tend not to get it. Of course, visitor attractions are often built in such locations.

How to Make It Work

So, you don't offer Wi-Fi access to guests but you would like to offer a mobile app to your visitors. You understand it's possible, but how do you make it work? There are two main things that you need to get right…

Develop a Great Offline-first App

The LEGOLAND® Florida app, powered by Attractions.io, navigating guests without an Internet connection.

As already alluded to, developing an offline-first app for your guests isn't the quick, easy or cheap route. But if you want to offer an app to guests who struggle to get online at your venue, you need to do a really great job of this.

If developing in-house or using an agency, you'll need to ensure you have an experienced team behind its development. There are a number of gotchas along the way and so prior experience working on similar projects will be invaluable.

If you don't want to re-invent the wheel, the Attractions.io platform was built specifically for visitor attractions and is offline-first by design.

Getting people to download your app

Given that you don't have Wi-Fi access on-site, this is a big one. Guests who wish to use your app will need to know about it before they visit and download it ahead of time. The top places to promote the app are:

  1. On your website, including promotion on any "plan your day" type pages you might have.
  2. On your booking confirmation emails. Along with the order confirmation details, this is an ideal time to prompt users to download the app.
  3. On a pre-visit email, sent to guests the day before they arrive, specifically promoting the app.

No matter what promotion you do, it's always important to emphasise the benefits of downloading the app — what's in it for your guests?

Summary

In answer to the title of this post: yes, you can offer a mobile app to your guests without offering free on-site Wi-Fi. Guests can download your app before they visit and can use most of the functionality seamlessly offline during their visit — including maps, wayfinding, attraction information and special offers.

The most important thing is to produce a high quality, offline-first app and to promote it at the right stages in the user journey in order to get guests downloading before they arrive.

If you're considering launching an app for your attraction but are concerned that you don't offer Wi-Fi to guests, feel free to get in touch and we'll be happy to discuss in more detail.

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