One of the things that struck us most at the IAAPA Virtual Education Conference was how resilient, adaptable, and inspiring our industry is. Despite closures and uncertainty about capacity restrictions, many attractions see COVID-19 as an opportunity to do better. Instead of hoping that they’ll be able to revert to the old ways, attractions everywhere are pivoting their strategies, operations and priorities to come out the other side of the pandemic in a stronger position than before.
Unsurprisingly, technology plays an important part in most attractions’ plans. To prepare for a new or ever greater digital integration and meet the expectations of a new generation of guests, visitor experiences must keep pace with technology trends. However, while there’s been no shortage of attractions that have adopted new digital trends after COVID-19 when it comes to technology, Disney has presented a particularly inspiring vision for the future.
In his keynote at the IAAPA virtual education conference, Tilak Mandadi, the Executive Vice President and Digital & Global Chief Technology Officer at Disney, shared their vision of linking together physical and digital experiences that are personalised and social, creating a “theme park metaverse.” According to Mandadi, “this is where physical and digital worlds converge, with wearables, smartphones and digital access points immersing the guests in the metaverse experience.” Crucially, these technologies enable multi-layered visitor experiences while never getting in the way of the experience itself.
Achieving Disney’s vision may seem like a daunting prospect for smaller attractions. However, there are a few key takeaways that any attraction can learn from Disney’s metaverse concept and apply to their operations.
Before you can apply Disney’s vision to your attraction, you need to understand the value of digital transformation. Although the term “digital transformation” has been used so often, it has by now been reduced to a mere buzzword, the idea behind it is straightforward enough: changing your business model to adapt to the new market reality.
Like it or not, the world around us is changing rapidly. From widespread restrictions on public gatherings to changing guest demographics, attractions need to be able to adapt to the continuously shifting circumstances at a moment’s notice to ensure their continued relevance.
When COVID-19 hit and theme parks the world over had to close, Disney did not expect things to blow over quickly. Instead, it launched #DisneyMagicMoments, fun content designed to engage fans and foster communication with them across their blog, social media, and My Disney Experience app. Thanks to these digital tools, “guests were able to maintain that Disney Parks connection” even during the lockdown, says Mandadi. Indeed, Disney saw three million guest engagements on its apps while the parks were closed because of the pandemic.
In addition to enhancing their existing capabilities, Disney also created new ones, like the park reservation system, which was implemented in record-breaking time, demonstrating how nimble we can all be when the circumstances demand it.
Earlier this year, Disney also announced that it would add “inclusion” as the fifth key to its guiding principles. “Events in the U.S. forced us to look across our entire business with an updated lens and frankly we have some work to do both on stage and backstage," said Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, Josh D’Amaro in his keynote at the IAAPA virtual education conference.
Here too, technology plays an important part. Thanks to technology, digital content and experiences can be updated faster and more regularly on-site, ensuring they remain relevant and representative for guests. For example, Disney said it would reimagine “Splash Mountain” and replace the controversial “Song of the South” with “The Princess and the Frog.” To make Disney more accessible to everyone, the company is also planning on extending the magic of Disney parks to guests’ homes soon.
Josh D’Amaro ended his keynote with a strong call to action. Challenging attractions to do better, he said, “I dare you. I dare you to dream bigger, and differently. I dare you to throw out the dogma that has us sometimes acting incrementally rather than exponentially. I dare you to say what you’ve always wanted to say. I dare you to ask: if we can navigate the challenges of this crisis -- perhaps a little battered, but never beaten -- what else can we do? Can we take what makes us special, reinvent it, and make something entirely new.”
To avoid a jarring experience when converging digital and physical experiences, you need to have a coherent plan in place. Only then will you be able to create a seamless experience for your guests.
Ideally, you want to balance the number of people that visit your attraction (volume) while also improving the amount of money they spend (value). However, these two things should not be achieved at the expense of the guest (visitor experience). If you can get these three things right, you’ll see sustainable growth. This is what ALVA’s Bernard Donoghue calls the “visitor attractions trilemma.”
So, where do you begin? A good starting point is mapping out your guest journey. Start with the pre, during, and post-visit stages before breaking these down into more granular steps (i.e., consider, purchase, arrive, etc.), and don’t forget to include the existing physical and digital touch-points. This is also a good time to explore new ideas.
Here are some features you may want to consider to improve your guest experience:
Now that you’ve mapped out your guest journey, highlight points of friction — talking to your guests can make it easier to understand what these are.
Having a strategy in place can help you prioritise your efforts to focus on the outputs that generate the most impact. Mandadi recalls, “I remember the reopening meeting when we discussed and agreed to put into place a park and pre-reservation system for Walt Disney World, something never done before, and we needed it in...what? Five weeks flat? Well, our awesome team pulled it off and the rest was history.”
If you need help with your strategy, check out our webinar on how you can create a connected digital experience to meet your guests’ next expectations.
It’s time to build the above objectives into a specification for a technology system. Looking at Disney, you might think that designing a converged guest experience requires a multi-million dollar budget. Luckily, that’s not true, especially if you leverage the technology that’s already in all your guests’ pockets — smartphones.
Although Disney’s technology operation is beyond sophisticated (encompassing IoT sensors, AI, and more), the seemingly “simple” functionality can often have the most impact. Indeed, unlike some digital tools, a mobile app can span all touch points in the guest journey, including the pre (i.e., online booking and visit planning), during (i.e., entry, contextual messaging, food ordering, ticket upgrades, accommodation, and more), and post stages (i.e., guest feedback). Since its reopening, Disney has used its apps to stay in touch with its visitors, support physical distancing, facilitate contactless payments and transactions, and more.
Don’t think that the digital tools you invest in will become redundant when the pandemic ends, either. Since enhancing the My Disney Experience app’s existing capabilities, Disney saw food and beverage mobile order use rise from 9% to 84%. Moreover, 90% of payments on-site are now contactless.
Although inspiring, Disney’s vision may seem unattainable for attractions with limited budgets and resources. However, we hope we have shown you that this vision isn’t as out of reach as you think.
Remember: digital transformation is all about keeping up with the “always-connected” customers. To do that, you don’t need to spend millions of dollars on the latest technological developments. In many cases, digital tools like mobile apps and a bit of ingenuity can achieve the same result.
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