What to look for in a virtual queuing system to support social distancing at your visitor attraction

A guide to virtual queuing solutions and their opportunities & limitations to support social distancing at theme parks & other attractions.
virtual queuing app theme park

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.

Google Trends data indicates a sharp rise in search interest

The Challenge

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:

1. Virtual Queuing System

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.

Advantages:

  • Provides a very accurate estimate of waiting time once established
  • Guests spend less time queuing and have more time to enjoy their day and browse shops, increasing secondary spend
  • Can be monetized by allowing guests to pay to “skip the line”, all without guests ever seeing this take place — eliminating potential frustrations
  • Can automatically adjust queue time to accommodate changes in throughput, for instance delays caused by a guest becoming ill on the ride.

Limitations:

  • A small physical queue is still required as guests arrive at the activity or experience, in order to fully utilise attraction capacity
  • Requires a means of validation at the ride entrance (either digital or staff) to scan-in eligible guests
  • Works best when guests have access to a smartphone and connectivity, though fortunately, this is commonplace.

Works best for:

Larger theme parks and other attractions with high visitor numbers, ideally featuring several popular points of interest with consistently long queue times.

2. Time slot based queuing

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.

Advantages:

  • Guests spend less time queuing and have more time to enjoy their day and browse shops, increasing secondary spend
  • Works well for activities or events that already operate on a schedule, such as shows
  • Can be monetized by introducing the ability to upgrade to an earlier time slot

Limitations:

  • Allocating the number of guest for each time slots accurately is challenging and requires ongoing adjustments based on capacity and demand:
    - Underestimating demand could result in too many people turning up and creating crowds
    - Overestimating demand per time slot could result in a ride or other experience running under capacity, unnecessarily inflating wait times
  • Choosing the spacing of time slots and capacity limits would be trial and error as no data exists to model from in a scenario where social distancing measures and capacity restrictions are in place
  • Operational delays, for example if a guest becomes unwell, can easily disrupt every remaining timeslot
  • Knowing the exact time you’re going to board in advance could result in guests “queuing for the queue” as their time approaches
  • Requires a means of validation at the ride entrance (either digital or staff) to scan-in eligible guests

Works best for:

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.

3. Day Planning System

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.

Advantages:

  • Enables operators to influence guest flow across the entire site, not just to specific points of interest
  • Guests spend less time queuing and more time enjoying the experience

Limitations:

  • To be effective, day planning must be planned in advance, therefore does not work well with on-the-day admissions
  • Complex and time consuming to set up for the user  
  • Requires all guests to stick to their itinerary, which could be too rigid or restrictive
  • It is impossible to allow all guests to do everything they want in most cases, due to individual attraction capacity restrictions — so making it fair can be difficult
  • Limited opportunities to monetize in future

Works best for:

Medium to large physical sites with very large capacity attractions where multiple bookable activities and experiences exist.

4. Group-Based Capacity Management

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.

Advantages:

  • Simple and cost-effective to implement
  • Easily facilitated by technology, but also manually, removing the barriers to entry for guests without a smartphone
  • Enables operators to influence guest flow across the entire site, not just to specific points of interest

Limitations:

  • Does not account for guest preferences which could restrict and detract from the experience if guests find all options they are interested in ‘uneligible’ at once
  • Limited opportunities to monetize
  • Delivers less relevance or value after social distancing restrictions lift.

Works best for:

Attractions or venues with lower visitor numbers and where demand would likely be equally spread across all activities on offer.

Conclusion

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.  

So where do you start?

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.

social distancing theme park
New safety measures in place at Fantawild

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.

We’re here to help!

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.

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