How to automatically measure wait times at your theme park

If you're looking to monitor and communicate wait times at your attraction, what options do you have?
February 2018

Update: Looking for information about virtual queuing? Read our blog post

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, Merlin Entertainments CEO Nick Varney confirmed during his presentation at IAAPA Expo 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?

Managing expectations

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.

Wait time monitoring methods:

Manual monitoring

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

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

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

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.

Method comparison

A comparison of the capabilities of each method is illustrated in the table below:

Queue monitoring comparison table


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.

Our recommendation

As well as offering the most advantages and fewest drawbacks, the mobile app method is unique in its ability to actually influence and improve the queuing experience, boosting both satisfaction and on-site spend. A mobile app can empower guests with a real-time view of wait times across the whole park and even provide intelligent suggestions on where to go next. Whereas guests already in queue lines, for example, can be targeted with real-time messages and offers such as fast-pass upgrades or even the option to pre-order their lunch whilst they wait.

Beyond queue times, a mobile app can also provide significant other benefits to both attraction operators and guests, therefore it's often best to review your needs through a more holistic lens, rather than seeking a potential solution to one problem. If you're not sure where to start, our recent eBook covers how to approach a mobile app as a wider digital transformation initiative and highlights the opportunities for operations, marketing, commercial and guest services teams. Get your copy here

Discover the mobile app platform

Get the brochure
Discover the mobile app platform

Get the brochure
Discover the mobile app platform

A feature-rich mobile app for your guests, a powerful platform for operators

Get the brochure

February 2018

Request a Demo

Find out how attractions of all shapes and sizes are deploying mobile apps to improve the guest experience, increase revenue and unlock visitor insights.

Be a part of the digital revolution.

Technology is rapidly changing guests' expectations. In our monthly newsletter, we explore the trends and technologies set to shape the future of the experience industry. Subscribe for expert insights and tips.
By attractions enthusiasts for attractions enthusiasts.
Related News & Resources
View all