Re-opening after COVID-19 amidst social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions presents big operational challenges for visitor attractions, and waiting in line for rides or activities is undoubtedly one of the biggest.
Virtual queuing is one way to manage capacity and ensure that physical queuing is kept to a minimum and has been specifically called out in reopening guidance from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Unsurprisingly, interest in virtual queuing is on the rise as visitor attractions start to consider their options for re-opening, and how technology such as virtual queue management systems can help.
Virtual queuing does have its limitations and unknowns. Navigating these and getting things right will be critical in not only being able to open, and stay open, but also in rebuilding guest confidence. While visitors may have been influenced by geography, price or online reviews in the past — tomorrow's visitors will be asking a simple question: "Which attraction is safest for me to visit with my family?”
To help you identify the best solution for your attraction’s requirements, here are some of the most common approaches to virtual queuing, along with their benefits and potential limitations:
A virtual queue operates on a ‘first in, first out’’ basis in the same way as a physical queue. As more guests join the queue, it automatically lengthens, or shortens as demand decreases.
Virtual queuing is usually facilitated by using a smartphone or wearable device to enter a virtual equivalent of the physical queue, getting alerted when it’s time to ride, but can also be supported by lower-tech wristbands.
Larger theme parks and other attractions with high visitor numbers, ideally featuring several popular points of interest with consistently long queue times.
Time slot based queuing offers a simpler option whereby guests choose or are assigned a time slot for a specific ride or activity. This is either facilitated by taking a physical ticket or booking a slot via a smartphone.
Time slots are allocated in ‘windows’ for instance, 15 mins or 30 mins apart, depending on capacity and demand.
Single activity-based attractions such as observation towers, smaller attractions with lower visitor numbers, or attractions offering talks and other time-based activities such as museums or zoos.
Day planning works as an alternative to virtual queuing by providing guests with an itinerary for their visit based on their interests and the capacity of each area, activity or experience.
Guests supply their interests by way of a day planner tool such as an app or pre-visit survey and receive a schedule for their day which is calculated based on balancing capacity and demand as evenly as possible.
Medium to large physical sites with very large capacity attractions where multiple bookable activities and experiences exist.
Similar to day planning, this approach aims to distribute the flow of guests more evenly throughout an attraction. Simpler in theory than day planning, this option works by assigning guests a category or group — for instance a number or colour.
Certain areas, activities or experiences can be made available to different groups at different times of the day, providing a more adaptable means of dispersing crowds.
Attractions or venues with lower visitor numbers and where demand would likely be equally spread across all activities on offer.
Queuing has long been identified as the biggest source of frustration for attraction visitors and operators alike, therefore while the immediate decision has likely been born out of necessity to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, this is also a huge opportunity for attractions and the industry to evolve for the better and shift to a model of virtual queuing that is better for guests and operators alike.
Changing behaviour is challenging and while this may have been an obstacle in the past, emerging from lockdowns and restrictions, tomorrow’s guests will be more familiar with technology and more open to change than ever before. As guests place more emphasis on using digital means to enrich their experiences and keep them safe, attractions must respond quickly to seize the opportunity.
Each solution has merit and different strengths making it more suitable for certain types of attraction than others. When evaluating which solution would work best for specific needs and challenges of your attraction, you should consider it’s suitability both to solve an immediate need, and also add value in the longer term. Also, as no solution can guarantee to eliminate queuing entirely, while social distancing remains in place, it’s essential that your chosen system works in conjunction with other physical distancing and hygiene measures such as floor markings, capacity restrictions and cleaning & sanitisation procedures.
What we can be sure of though is that there’s never been a more relevant time to embrace technology that improves both safety and the experience for guests. Those who demonstrate responsiveness and leadership in this area can, therefore, secure a point of real differentiation and build trust and loyalty that will extend far beyond the current crisis.
If you need some guidance on how technology such as virtual queuing can help you respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and get ready for a safe and successful re-opening, please get in touch.