You've done your research, aligned your stakeholders and agreed that you need a digital platform to enhance your guest experience and start influencing on-site behaviour. That's the tricky bit over, right?
Not quite. Now you’re faced with a difficult decision. Do you buy an existing guest experience platform, work with an agency, or build your own from scratch? On the one hand, you’re eager to protect your brand, but you’re also conscious of keeping costs down.
To help you make the right decision for your attraction, we've put together this guide to lead you through the world of app development and help you understand your unique requirements.
So, where should you start? Before you do anything, it's important to plan ahead.
It’s difficult to make such a significant decision for your attraction without running an in-depth planning exercise. This will help you draw out the key outcomes of your guest experience project–both in terms of the benefits to your guests, and to yourself regarding the actual functionality. During your planning exercise, think about:
Remember, when you’re going through these questions, ensure you’ve got buy-in from all of your stakeholders. Everyone should have an input. It’s likely that other teams will have different priorities to your own. The CFO of your attraction, for example, will be more concerned with pricing, costs, and return on investment. Your operations team might be more concerned with how this affects your guests and your teams on the ground.
Once you’ve mapped out your project goals and main priorities, it’s time to explore the options you have:
Everyone loves a bit of DIY. If you’re an enterprise attraction with the right digital infrastructure in place and the funds to back it up, you’re probably exploring the idea of building your own digital guest experience platform. There are a few obvious benefits to taking the app development into your own hands:
To reap those benefits, however, you need the right people on hand. Building your own software takes a dedicated and experienced team that includes:
And that’s just a top-level view of the roles involved. Getting a piece of software to market takes a whole host of hard and soft skills. But, if you have those on hand, or you’re willing to get the right people in, the returns on your investment can be huge.
Take Disney as an example. They reportedly injected $1 billion into the internal development of their magic+ platforms, with Accenture alone billing around $100 million for their role in helping the attractions giant go ticketless.
If you’ve got a team of superstar developers who are each on $100k/year salaries, you’ll be looking at several hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a minimum viable product (MVP) off the ground. However, this price will jump up quickly if you require complex features, such as:
It’s a large upfront cost. But, when you consider that Disney World welcomes around 60 million guests a year across their parks, those costs start to look a little more realistic. Not to mention Disney’s Genie+ service which starts at $15 per day at Walt Disney World Resort and $25 per ticket per day at Disneyland Resort. Even if only a small percentage of the annual guests choose to upgrade their guest experience, Disney are quickly making that money back.
You might also think about handing your development over to an agency. We understand they speak your language and free you up to focus on your day job.
Under an agency model, you'll brief developers and designers on your desired goals and outcomes, and they'll then create a custom-built application according to your specification. Pricing will depend on the platforms you want to use and the features you require.
But remember, just because your existing digital marketing agency lists development on their website doesn't necessarily make them the best fit for the job. Marketing agencies often draft consultants in for apps, which essentially puts a very expensive go-between between you and your end product. If you're considering the agency approach, do your homework and find a partner dedicated to app development with a proven track record of success.
If you’re not quite ready to let go of such a high capital expenditure, you might want to investigate SaaS solutions instead.
SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies provide you with a service using their software. For attractions, this means the SaaS company hosts your guest experience platform and provides you with top-notch customer support to keep it running.
It’s a popular route for businesses of all sizes to take. In fact, companies are now spending 20% more on these cloud technologies than they did just a year ago. The world is growing more and more reliant on SaaS.
But why does that make it a good choice for your attraction? Well, the benefits of SaaS include:
SaaS gives you a ready-made app loaded with features, customisable elements and personalised branding. All the tricky backend infrastructure is already in place, and everything’s been tried, tested, and approved by attractions around the world.
“It’s not necessarily about the tools you use to make your guest experience platform. It’s about how they’re integrated into everything you do. Just because you’ve got the same hammer as someone else doesn’t mean you’ll build exactly the same house.” - Peter O’Dare, Head of Product at Attractions.io.
The downside here is that you won’t have control of a SaaS product roadmap like you might if you build your own. But you’ll be getting close to your perfect app without the years of development time, the high overheads, and the prospect of long-term maintenance. Some platforms, like Attractions.io, can also build on top to meet bespoke requirements and offer more flexibility than would traditionally be possible.
It’s true that not all SaaS solutions are created equal. Make sure during your research you look for providers that offer a branded app (rather than a generic, one-size fits all approach), and a rich set of features and integration capabilities.
Let’s take a moment to look over the choices. We’ve broken down the ins and outs of each route below:
Knowing the options and having a rock-solid plan for your guest experience platform is a strong place to be. It helps you understand your unique requirements for your attraction, and what you can realistically expect with the capital you have on hand. Your choice will come down to your unique requirements and how well you can integrate your new guest experience platform into your current systems.
Choosing whether to buy or build your guest experience platform is a big decision, and we’ve only scratched the surface in this article. If you’re eager to learn more and want to know exactly what goes into each development route, check out our in-depth guide. It’s got all the facts, figures, and costs you need to know to make an informed decision and kickstart your guest experience project.