Getting ready for 2021 – Why attraction operators must take charge to shape the new normal

While 2020 has been about adapting quickly, attractions now need to switch to a transformational mindset for 2021. Here's why:
How visitor attractions should prepare for 2021

Across our industry, 2020 has been a year of damage limitation and reactive quick thinking. While some attractions have managed to rescue parts of their peak seasons by offering scaled back experiences, the impact of COVID-19 on the attractions industry overall has been severe. Recent reports from the U.S. show that as many as 40% of attractions jobs may be lost in the near term. For individual attractions, preventing these short term losses from turning into a long term trend means taking proactive action now.

The long-term viability of our industry now depends on attractions thriving in 2021 and beyond. While many aspects of tomorrow's world still seem incredibly uncertain, attractions can help ensure their survival in the medium to long term by looking towards their future now. Doing so is essential because returning to growth cannot be done by taking only reactive measures. The medium-term economic recovery might be less V-shaped than initially hoped. But flexible, safe, and innovative attractions that stay ahead of changing trends will still entice guests regardless of what the new normal looks like.

A New, Transformative Mindset is Essential:

So, how do you start taking proactive steps when there are still so many tough decisions to be made? The answer lies in mindset. The changes wrought by COVID-19 also offer opportunities for dynamic organisations who adapt their offerings to fit what their guests want in the new normal. Aside from circumstances outside their control, the real risk to attractions is losing sight of the bigger picture and prioritising adaptation at the expense of foresight. The key to mitigating this risk is adopting a transformational mindset based on the below three pillars.

1. Understand That Crises Underpin Innovation

Transformation mindset, visitor attraction

If past crises are anything to go by, innovation tends to thrive during difficult circumstances. Individual businesses are capable of rapid growth even in tough times. Some of today's most well-known businesses, such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Uber, were launched in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008. The last decade's fastest-growing companies, like Airbnb and Tesla, all met changing consumer desires with innovative products or services while their competitors hesitated. Whether it's a recession or a global pandemic, business survival and growth necessitates innovation.

This process of crisis-driven innovation has never been more evident than today. While it has sadly led to the premature demise of many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has also created new household names for services such as Zoom and invigorated how companies ranging from florists to brewers offer products and sell to their customers. This crisis has also markedly increased the rate at which technology has permeated our everyday lives. From how we communicate, work, and learn to how we shop, technologically speaking, we have jumped forward a decade in the space of a few months.

For attractions that already find themselves lagging in terms of technological adoption, the negative effects of COVID-19 are multiplied. Accelerating consumer demands for digital-first experiences will leave retrograde attractions behind. On the other hand, innovative businesses become more likely to succeed by meeting changing consumer demands head-on.

2. Use Learning to Drive Growth

Moving from adaptation to planning is something that needs to happen now rather than in the future. However, it also needs to be based on the present. While the past few months have been about mitigation, the next period needs to be focused on learning. But learning shouldn’t come at the expense of operational necessity.

COVID-19 tech innovation for theme parks

From how guests engage with your attraction to whether operational processes, staffing decisions, and technology/systems are fit for their purpose, smart attraction operators can use the end of this year's season to examine their current setup. To create the scope for future growth, this examination needs to be aimed at ensuring that all systems, processes, and technologies used:

  • Deliver value to guests.
  • Align with business objectives and brand values.
  • Are efficient and cost-effective.
  • Deliver quantifiable results and ROI.
  • Are relevant and necessary in the new normal.
  • Meet guest expectations.

By viewing their attraction through these six factors, operators can plan for the future without neglecting the present. This viewpoint can apply whether the lessons learned come from attractions' own experience this season or indirectly by examining how other attractions have adapted.

3. Understand What It Means to Be Relevant

The primary driver for business growth has always been staying relevant. If a business can stay ahead of what guests want, it will grow rapidly. For attractions, offering the kind of experiences that their guests desire is what has continued to bring new generations of guests back. Driven by both demographic change and the rapid technological acceleration that the COVID-19 crisis has prompted, guest desires are changing at an unprecedented pace.

Staying relevant to your guests means understanding current trends and knowing how to respond to them. Based on our recent report on what guests want in the new normal, here are four trends that attraction operators need to be aware of:

  • Most guests will only engage with personalised communications.
  • Many guests are willing to pay a premium for brands that contribute to their communities.
  • Experiences are becoming the main purchasing driver for the majority of your guests.
  • Guests will increasingly turn to digital channels for safety information ahead of and during their visit.

Where to Start

No attraction is immune to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. However, attraction operators can change their mindsets and steer their businesses in a more stable direction today. Doing so means taking advantage of the potential for growth within this crisis, understanding how to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, and learning from what works and what doesn't.

To help attractions comprehend the changing guest landscape, we have compiled a comprehensive report on guest trends in the new normal, which you can download today.

Guest experience trends for the new normal report

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