Virtual queuing - the future of theme park experiences?

Are we looking at a post-covid era where queueless theme park are a reality? We explore the pros, cons & alternatives to traditional queuing
January 2021

For better or worse, queues have always been synonymous with the theme park experience. While many guests dread them and attractions do their best to stop them from having a negative impact on the guest experience, queues remain somewhat of a necessity for gated attractions with popular rides and experiences that guests naturally flock to.

From a business perspective, removing queues isn't easy, but is removing the queue something that attractions should even focus on? After all, you could also say that with theming and immersive storytelling, queues can enhance the guest experience by building anticipation and setting the scene for the ride experience. However, regardless of how well themed it is, there is a limit to how long any queue can be before it starts to detract from the experience. As guests become accustomed to digitally delivered instant gratification in every other sphere of their lives, future theme park guests won’t be happy to wait around for hours in a queue. These guests won't accept friction, so attractions shouldn't either.  

Thankfully, technology is evolving to meet changing guest expectations. Virtual queuing solutions, such as our own, point to a future where long physical queues could become a thing of the past. However, seemingly simple problems like queuing are often more complex than first meets the eye. While COVID-19 has made addressing queues an important short-term issue, in this article, we look into whether queuing in theme parks is here to stay, or about to become extinct?

What exactly is wrong with queuing?

The most obvious problem with queues is that they waste time, and for guests, wasting their limited time during their visit leads to frustration and a lower perceived value of the experience. This feeling is often compounded by ambiguous time estimates and uninspiring queue layouts — a recipe which could result in a negative review.

For attraction operators, queues can be a letdown too. Even though long queues might be a sign that business is good, the more time guests spend tied up in long lines, the less opportunity they have to spend on on-site retail and food offerings.

Research into consumer queue behaviour also shows that queues can both put people off from lining up in the first place and cause them to jump out of the line altogether. The pandemic will  have also fuelled people's negative attitudes to queues. For many people, queues have gone from being a necessary wait before a positive experience to something to avoid. Even after the pandemic recedes, this kind of behaviour might linger.

Why virtual queuing matters

Transitioning guests out of physical queues to virtual queues is a natural solution for most theme parks. As they use an app or wearable device to "queue," guests don't have to be anywhere specific and are free to roam around your site and maximise their visit.

Free from queues, guests are likely to spend their time and money far more liberally around the attraction. Even though no one has to wait in line, attractions can still offer queue upgrades within a virtual queue system, facilitating that all-important instant gratification. And with everyone queuing virtually, the visitor experience stays consistent for guests even if they don't upgrade. Frictionless, efficient, and scalable, virtual queuing might be a win-win experience for attractions and guests. In fact, in a survey we conducted, over 84% of theme park visitors said they would rather use virtual queuing.

But queuing isn't all bad, either

Research into the psychology of queuing tells us that queues are not always negative phenomena. Interestingly, when it comes to waiting in line, studies show that how people feel about a queue is a lot more important than the length of the queue itself. Also notable is that unoccupied customers generally perceive wait times to be far longer than they really are.

Attractions can leverage these benefits by turning queues into an immersive experience (check out these great examples collated themed attraction design specialists, Katapult.) Guests waiting in a themed line might feel that queuing provides an exciting ride preview, sets the scene for the story, or even creates instagrammable moments, rather than being an annoying obstacle.

Disney's immersive queue at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Attraction.

Making a queue part of the ride experience can also create an opportunity for proactive guest management. For example, Disney observes queues on many of their rides to remove guests with underage children or give worried kids a space to relax before they get on thrilling rides. For smaller attractions, physical queues can be useful for gauging how busy different rides are likely to be. Needless to say, guest management is a lot more straightforward when you can physically see where all your guests are.

Balancing out the pros and cons of queuing

So to queue or not to queue? We say, why not both. In an ideal world, every attraction will have both virtual and physical queues. While virtual queuing can ensure that no one has to stand in line for hours, not every ride will need one. Short physical queues may still work best for smaller or less popular rides, which guests can even enjoy while they wait in line virtually for another ride.

Physical or virtual, every ride needs a short physical queue to manage throughput smoothly and prep the next cohort of guests boarding. Why not make this area a lead-in to the ride itself to enrich the guest experience? With smaller, story-rich queues at every ride, queues can bolster the positive experience that guests crave. As they replace physical lines with virtual queuing, attractions can craft shorter, story dense, thematic queues that feed into a next-generation guest experience.

The future of queuing

Virtual queuing is here to stay. When social distancing ends, guests are unlikely to relish returning to hour-long physical queues. Instead, attraction guests of all ages will emerge from the pandemic more digitally literate and intolerant of friction than ever. However, this doesn't mean the death of the physical queue. As virtual queueing becomes a standard solution for attractions, the physical queue should be reborn into a short, focused part of the ride experience.

We think the rise of virtual queuing will create a new role for the queue within attractions. Instead of being a hindrance to guest enjoyment, the future of the queue is to be a crucial part of what makes attractions fun. As attractions face stiffer competition from digital alternatives, this process of reinvention is what will help theme parks stay relevant to future generations of guests. In a smart, personalised, and friction-less future, virtual queuing will be vital to the attraction industry’s viability.

Interested in learning more about virtual queuing? Watch the video to find out more about how our virtual queuing solution works:


Virtual queuing – feature deep-dive

Watch it now

Virtual queuing – feature deep-dive

Watch it now

Virtual Queuing - Feature Deep Dive

Watch it now

January 2021
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