What essential features to look for in a theme park app

5 must-have features your mobile app should include to deliver a great visitor experience across all touchpoints.
November 2020

Theme park apps are fast becoming ubiquitous across our industry. With benefits for guests and operators alike and a suite of capabilities that make adapting to social distancing easier, that's not surprising. However, as the boundaries between the physical and online world blur in other parts of our lives, attractions will increasingly need to have a high-quality digital offering as a standard to meet and exceed the expectations of their guests.

Indeed, according to Joe Pine, the co-author of The Experience Economy, the recent fusing of the digital and real-world is here to stay. Theme parks can respond to this trend by offering guests a hybrid experience that blends a personalised interactive layer with their physical attractions. The easiest way to connect all touch-points in the visitor experience and achieve personalisation pre, during and post-visit is with a guest mobile app. 

Still don’t think a mobile app is necessary for your attraction? Think again. Theme parks with mobile visitor apps are already pulling away from their competitors when it comes to retaining guests in challenging circumstances. Back in 2011, Disney approved a budget of $1 billion for implementing the “Next Generation Experience” (NGE) system, which included the official Disney app “My Disney Experience” at Walt Disney World Resort.

However, you don’t have to be the size of  Disney to see a positive outcome from a guest app. Here are some of the results our clients, with varying budgets and business requirements, have seen since introducing a mobile app:

  • 16x ROI within just 2 months of deployment.
  • £1000s in increased revenue.
  • 11% increase in Net Promoter Score (NPS).
  • 42% increase in food and beverage transaction size.
  • 96% of guests who use the app and leave feedback had a positive experience.
  • 1 in 4 guests that use a guest mobile app opt-in to email marketing.

That being said, not all apps are created equal, so how do you know where to start?

Top 5 features a theme park app should include:

The type of functionality your app needs depends on several factors. These include, but are not limited to, guest feedback (what are the common frustrations that an app could solve?), your business objectives, and industry and consumer trends. 

If you’re still not 100% sure which features to go for, below are the five features that, in our opinion, every theme park app should have. 

1. Digital Ticketing

Today, paper tickets are becoming the exception rather than the rule. From airlines to sporting events and even Broadway plays, mobile tickets have largely replaced paper ones. 

Although paper tickets serve as a nice memento, they’re not exactly convenient or good for the environment, especially if guests have to buy or redeem them at the entrance. Queuing for half an hour just to walk in through your gates is not only frustrating for guests, in today’s digital-first world, it simply doesn’t make sense. 

Even if guests can print their tickets at home, there’s a chance they won’t be able to. A lot of people today don’t have a personal printer. In fact, over three-quarters of Brits print personal documents at work. With many people now working remotely, that may no longer be possible. Another risk is that guests will forget their tickets at home or lose them on the way to your park. 

In-App Ticketing

It’s not just about the guest experience, either. While digital ticketing may need investment in the short-term, it saves a ton of money in the long-run. Digital ticketing decreases printing costs and reliance on admission staff, as well as creating an opportunity to offer ticket upgrades. With less paper, there’s also less waste — something that your eco-conscious guests will appreciate.

2.  Wayfinding

If you’re still handing out physical maps to your theme park visitors, you’re in trouble. A 2019 study found that one in seven Millennials have never even read a paper map. For attractions that rely on paper maps, the likelihood that their younger guests will get lost on-site and then leave a bad TripAdvisor review is growing increasingly high. 

Luckily, digital wayfinding can reduce the frustration of getting lost. With wayfinding, guests can see exactly where they are and how to get to where they want to be. They can even choose between different routes depending on their needs, i.e., fastest versus accessible routes.

In-App Wayfinding

Sometimes, guests, especially those visiting your theme park for the first time, may not know what they want to see or what there is to see. Here, too, wayfinding comes in handy. With wayfinding’s intelligent search options, guests can see:

  • What rides and shows are near to where they are right now
  • Which rides have the shortest wait time
  • Which shows are starting soon
  • Which cafes and restaurants serve the food they want to eat
  • Which rides have height restrictions or are family-friendly

3. Virtual Queuing

Queues are one of theme park visitors’ biggest pet peeves. Even on holiday, the last thing anyone wants to do is stand in a slow-moving queue when they could be enjoying rides, interacting with their favourite characters, and generally having the time of their lives. 

Virtual queues, on the other hand, are a different story. A virtual queuing system allows guests to remotely check-in to a ride, restaurant, hotel, or any other on-site amenity via their smartphones, while they carry on exploring until their turn draws near. In this way, virtual queuing not only improves the guest experience, but it also has the potential to increase visitor spend on food and beverage as well as merchandise. That’s because when not stuck in a long queue, guests have more time to enjoy everything that you have to offer. 

In-App Virtual Queuing Notifications

Social distancing requirements necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic have further accelerated the importance of minimising personal contact and making queues virtual. By implementing virtual queuing, theme parks can manage visitor flow effectively and regulate the number of people visiting a specific ride or exhibit, thus keeping close interactions to a minimum. With many guests concerned about COVID-19, virtual queuing can help make them feel safe when visiting a theme park — and indeed, encourage them to make the trip in the first place. 

4. Mobile Food Ordering

Today’s customers don’t just want mobile food ordering — they expect it. This is especially true at attractions, where guest time is limited. Research shows that more than four in five U.K. theme park guests often or occasionally decide against buying food and drink on-site to avoid queues, and about one third feel the same about purchasing merchandise. 

In-App Food Ordering

Guests will buy food and beverage and merchandise if it doesn’t inconvenience them. If it does, they’ll go without these extras. And that’s a problem for theme parks looking to make up for lost ticket revenue with secondary spending. One in two U.K. theme park visitors says that, on average, their spending on food and beverage increases fourfold when they can order in advance via a mobile phone app. 

But while some of this increase in spending has to do with convenience (i.e., guests can order food and beverage anywhere on-site and collect their order when they’re ready as opposed to the other way around), a lot of it also has to do with targeted cross-sells and up-selling. For example, if someone is buying a burger, the mobile guest app may ask them if they want a portion of chips and a milkshake with it. Chances are, they do — especially if there’s a small discount involved. 

Besides, mobile food ordering doesn’t just increase revenue. It also cuts down on other expenses associated with running a theme park, like staff wages (mobile food ordering frees up employee time) and printing costs (there’s no need to print menus as they’re available in-app).

5. Real-Time Messaging & Offers

Being able to influence guests to spend while they’re on-site is vital, especially in the current economic climate. But printed brochures and guides, no matter how well designed they are, no longer cut it and staff can’t always be there to answer visitor questions and give recommendations either. 

In-App Notifications & Offers

What your attraction needs instead is a way to communicate with every one of your guests directly and in real-time while also making them feel special. For example, there's no point in offering all your guests a second-day upgrade as some of them might already be season pass holders, or promoting a family-friendly ride to thrill-seeking couples. 

Besides, as they become increasingly familiar with custom ads and personalised email marketing, guests will likely ignore one-size-fits-all messages anyway. Over 70% of customers will only engage with marketing messages that are personalised to their specific interests. Today’s customers want brands and companies to understand them and know when and where to approach them.

With mobile app-based real-time messaging, you can target visitors based on their behaviour. For example, if a visitor has just joined a virtual ride queue, they may trigger a queue jump offer. Or, if it’s approaching lunchtime and the guest has been at the theme park since morning, they might see an in-app food and beverage offer. Because these messages and offers are highly targeted, they enhance rather than detract from the guest experience. 

Choosing the right supplier:

In addition to getting the right functionality, there are many different approaches to developing a mobile app, including in-house development, agency, and specialist provider/SaaS platform. All this can make getting an app seem like a daunting experience for attractions. In reality, though, it doesn't have to be.

When choosing a supplier, pay attention to their:

  1. Capability. Does the vendor have experience and results within the attractions industry? If possible, test the apps they’ve developed already and read end-user reviews of the experience.
  2. Capacity. How quickly can the vendor develop the app? If you decide to build the app in-house or hire an agency, it’ll likely take several months before your app is ready to go. With an existing platform, you could be up and running in just under a month.
  3. Cost. Your ROI estimates should guide you here. It’s always better to have a high-quality app with fewer features than an app that has it all but isn’t usable. Also, consider the on-going costs. Will you get lifetime support and bug fixes? Or will you have to pay extra?
  4. Case studies. Case studies from other theme parks can help you decide whether the supplier is the right choice for you as well as the results you can expect to achieve with their app.


Our approach, at Attractions.io, removes the cost and complexity barriers that setting up a guest mobile app for theme parks typically entails. Get up and running quickly with an app built from years of experience perfecting our SaaS platform. Interested? Read our brochure.

Alternatively, if you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of what makes a mobile app successful, have a look at our eBook.


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November 2020

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