Why COVID-19 has created a surge in app usage at visitor attractions

Mobile app usage grew by a whopping 40% in 2020. Here's why guest-facing apps will soon be an essential requirement for visitor attractions.
September 2020

By helping to deliver an enhanced, seamless experience, apps are becoming a common digital accompaniment for attraction guests. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of visitor app downloads was already increasing year-on-year. In 2019, visitor attraction apps were used on-site by almost 40% more guests than in 2018. There are many great reasons why guest apps are growing in popularity. From providing information to helping guests find their way and make the most out of their day, guest apps can significantly improve visitor experiences not only while they are on-site but also in the pre and post stages of their visit. 

Despite these benefits, app use was never as widespread as it could have been. The reasons for this are varied. Some guests simply did not bring a smartphone with them to an attraction, while others did not want to use one. Often guests did not see how an app could enhance their on-site experience, or the attraction they visited did not promote the app enough or incentivise using one. However, not every visitor needs to download an app to be influenced by one. Even if only one person per party downloads an attractions app, that app can influence as many as four people — the average number of people in a group visiting an attraction. This already made visitor apps a worthwhile investment. 

Today, however, app use has skyrocketed. When guests decide to visit today's attractions, an app is set to become the first thing they look for. 

What’s changed? COVID-19 has accelerated app adoption for several reasons...

Mobile app usage grew by a whopping 40% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020. Here is why we’re seeing a rebirth of an “apps culture” among attraction guests: 

1. A spike in consumer tech use

Without a doubt, one unforeseen side effect of the pandemic is the deepened reliance consumers now have on technology. In a recent study from Mojo Vision, 50% of respondents said their use and dependency on devices, apps, and services have increased compared to pre-COVID-19. 

consumer tech use spike

From the way they work to the way they shop and socialise, more consumers live their lives online. Workplace tools like video chat and online conferencing apps experienced explosive growth this year. Domestically, more than one in two consumers bought groceries online in 2020 (up from 36.8% in 2019). And almost 1 in 2 people have used telehealth services since the beginning of the pandemic. 

This growth in technology and mobile app usage is unlikely to slow. More than half of all consumers said they’re likely to continue trying new apps and services in the future, as well. 

2. The need for improved communication

In these uncertain times, guests want certainty. This means more frequent, more relevant, and more timely communication before, during, and after their visit. Surprises are no longer fun. Guests want to know exactly what they can expect when they visit your attraction.

For this reason, it’s vital that attractions reassure guests and provide up-to-date information. In particular, guests want to know what physical distancing measures are in place, how attractions are limiting numbers, and what will happen when they are on site. Guests also want to know whether or when they have to wear a mask. 

Communication during guests’ visits is particularly important. With a mobile app, attractions can notify guests if a particular ride or exhibit is busy and redirect them to less crowded areas. An app can also inform guests where they can find the nearest hand-sanitising station. 

3. Social distancing requirements

In its reopening guidance for attraction operators, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) recommends implementing technology to help facilitate social distancing. This includes using:

  • Digital ticketing. To minimise friction at entry and exit points and within attractions.
  • Mobile food ordering. To enable distributed food consumption opportunities and cut down on crowds at restaurants and cafes, 
  • Virtual queuing. To cut down on long queues, which are a major concern for guests.
  • Cashless payments. Contactless payments are a big part of the new normal.

All of the above can be easily facilitated via a mobile app. An app that allows these features reassures guests that an attraction they’re planning on visiting is capable of mitigating any risk. With almost one in two consumers thinking that theme parks may find it difficult to provide adequate social distancing measures, reinforcing guest confidence is vital. 

Apps are becoming essential, not just nice to have

Since the start of the pandemic, we have witnessed a tremendous increase in user adoption for our apps. This is the case for customers across the globe. While app popularity was already growing pre-pandemic, reopening has meant that some attractions are now seeing 100% user adoption. Whereas in the past, having a guest-facing mobile app might have been seen as “nice to have,” it is now becoming a standard requirement for attractions of all kinds.

App uptake is increasing partly because guests see apps as creating a safer and more enjoyable experience. To see the dual benefit that guest app features can have, take virtual queuing as an example. Virtual queuing delivers a safer experience for guests since they don’t have to wait physically in a queue. This means there are fewer opportunities for the virus to spread. Virtual queuing also improves the overall guest experience by giving guests more time to explore the parts of an attraction that they like most. No one wants to spend half an hour in line when they could be enjoying a ride or seeing an exhibit. 

Thanks to options such as smart wristbands, virtual queuing can work without a smartphone. However, unlike wristbands, apps can give guests real-time updates on where they are in a queue and notify them when they should head to a specific ride or when their food order is ready for collection. With an app, guests also have the option of leaving one queue and joining another one instantly, which gives them more flexibility. 

contactless payments theme park

Another key dual benefit feature enabled by apps is contactless payments. While cashless payments are nothing new (cash represented 30% of all payments in the U.S. in 2017), COVID-19 is accelerating the shift to a cashless society. A recent Mastercard survey found that over 8 in 10 consumers see contactless as the “cleaner” way to pay. It comes as no surprise, then, that ATM transactions have fallen by over 60% since lockdown. Importantly, more than 7 in 10 consumers plan to stick with contactless payments post-pandemic. Features such as mobile food ordering and digital ticketing make contactless transactions easier and more convenient. Cash may soon become the rare exception rather than the rule — some parks are already only accepting card payments. 

Apps can also boost much-needed secondary spend revenue to aid attractions’ recovery after COVID-19. With an app, attractions can send targeted offers to on-site guests based on their demographics, location, and behaviours. On average, an attraction can expect to see a 42% increase in food and beverage transaction size in-app compared to walk-up sales. One of our customers generated over £1m additional revenue in add-on sales in 2019 through their app.

COVID-19 implications aside, mobile apps can support existing trends that are influencing the visitor experience. One such trend is the shift to more personalised experiences. Gladly’s 2020 Customer Expectations Report found that 84% of consumers will spend more on brands that provide personalised customer service. On top of that, 77% of customers would recommend such a brand to friends and family, and more than half would talk about their experience on social media or review sites. In contrast, one in two consumers would switch brands after a few bad experiences.

In general, customers also want instant gratification. Whether it’s queuing for a ride or anticipating a response to an email query, consumers have less tolerance for waiting. According to Salesforce, by 2020, almost half of consumers will switch brands if a company fails to anticipate their needs. 

What’s next for apps?

Apps are the only channel that can span the entire guest journey — pre, during, and post-visit and every touchpoint in between. A comprehensive solution, apps are the ideal interface between guests and parks’ operators to facilitate social distancing, better communication, and personalised experiences. 

Not convinced yet? Here are some statistics about apps that will change your mind:

  • The number of smartphone users worldwide is estimated to reach 3.5 billion by the end of 2020.
  • Almost 9 in 10 smartphone users spend their mobile time on apps.
  • Both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store had 33.6 billion app downloads in the first quarter of 2020, the highest number of downloads ever achieved in a quarter.
  • According to eMarketer, more than 70% of e-commerce sales globally will occur on a mobile device in 2020. 

Feedback from guests using our apps has been incredibly positive. More than 9 in 10 guests who used our app and left feedback said their experience was positive. 


Even after the initial need to adapt to social distancing diminishes, app user adoption is unlikely to drop. If anything, the evidence shows that consumer reliance on apps will continue to rise. If you want to succeed in the new normal, jumping on the guest app bandwagon is a no-brainer. 

Interested in finding out more about how a mobile app could support your visitor attraction? Download our eBook 


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September 2020
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