By Vanessa Fagard on 4/12/21 11:44 AM
Surely, many professionals in the attractions industry will agree with us that they’ve heard it one too many times: “Digitalization is a must to survive. You need to be online.”
While this almost iconic phrase is a truth we have been preaching for as long as we can remember, we also understand if it throws professionals in an overwhelmingly exciting but also confusing loop of possibilities.
So what if we step away from the big chunk that is ‘Digitalization’ and focus on smaller parts of it instead? Among others, implementing the right technology can lead to a crucial outcome: making things smart. In the attractions and travel industry, this means it can create so-called ‘smart destinations.’
When we combine our human capabilities with advanced technologies and use the data we gather to transform and enrich experiences efficiently and sustainably, we create these smart destinations.
One of these advanced technologies taking a clear lead in this transformation is Artificial Intelligence; a technology that, despite its rapid adoption in various fields, most likely counts as one of the most misunderstood technologies of all. You probably already have a hunch why that is. Often what AI may or may not encompass is overwhelming or unclear and causes fears and distrust.
This is the definition brought forth by the European Commission’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, and oddly enough, it seems more digestible and straightforward, doesn’t it?
For the attractions industry, this definition is reflected in AI powering major trends that take the leap in harvesting its benefits and making our venues and the experiences we deliver smart. Among many significant impacts of AI in the experience economy, the top three overarching benefits are automation, forecasting, and personalization.
How AI enables these benefits to come out to play
These three unlocked benefits are often not separate entities but overlap and become even more powerful once they do.
Let’s look at a few areas within the attractions industry and see how AI enables those 3 aspects to come into play along the customer journey.
1. Marketing & Customer Relationship Management: Automation + Personalization
Impacted by their size (but size not being the only reason), Disney has one of the most diverse target audiences out there and is well aware of that. When promoting their theme parks, they know that they are speaking to those who love their characters, those who most enjoy the thrilling rides, Hollywood or fairytale lovers and movie buffs - just to name a few.
That is why, while they may be talking most times to entire families, they’re not directing the same message to all of these segments at once, but instead reach them one by one with tailored messaging and the right marketing materials. One segment may receive a Spotify playlist and another an interactive video ad to promote the same message.
And how does Disney know who belongs where? Because they use a data-driven CRM system that allows them to segment their customers and create tailored yet automated campaigns. Automated AI systems can identify audiences by finding patterns and correlations in, for example, buying or online behaviour and deliver you the insights you need to create the right content and smart initiatives to reach, nurture and retain customers.
2. Crowd control: Automation + Forecasting
An adequate crowd management system not only allows you to remove the manual task of calculating your visitor numbers by automating smart visitor distribution based on your capacity levels, but a good system will also always inform you about your expected visitor numbers.
Take Avonturenpark Hellendoorn as an example: As part of the Dutch government’s event testing program, they were allowed to open their doors for one day within the frame of strict guidelines, including a negative test upon entry.
Instead of stressing about having to figure out all of the specifics on how to ensure all regulations are enforced at all times, not even 5 days before the opening day, they utilized their 360 platform: using online ticket sales only, time slots for arrival and automated capacity management to make it happen within no time.
3. Crowd control: Automation + Forecasting
An advanced pricing strategy should be as dynamic as your experience, and thankfully, AI can help with that. In fact, it enables you to successfully incorporate factors such as the weather forecast, holidays and previous sales or purchase data to automate and forecast the right price that fits demand and increases revenue while steering purchase behaviours.
Learn more about Dynamic Pricing and its benefits in the attractions industry here.
1. Heatmaps & Geo-fencing: Automation + Forecasting + Personalization
While heatmaps and geo-fencing may sound complicated due to its unfamiliarity, we can assure you there is no hocus pocus involved here. Heatmaps are maps that record your visitors’ in-venue movements to define bustling areas and vice versa. Most times, your visitors’ behaviour is tracked via an app on a visitor’s mobile device with GPS tracking enabled.
These in-app maps can then be used to recommend routes around your venue that avoid larger gatherings of peoples or long queues at rides. This not only delivers a greater and more personal experience for your visitors but also helps to ensure social distancing is naturally enforced at your venue.
And not to forget: such recorded behaviour will also deliver you with lots of information on ride or attraction popularity and habits of your visitors, which in turn can be used as fuel for marketing and in-venue or smartly optimizing your operations!
Geo-fencing can take this a step further by providing you with the tool to send the right push notifications based on a specific area of your venue. This is also called proximity marketing and may manifest itself if a visitor passing by the Bikini Bottom Spongebob ride at the Movie Park Germany receives a notification to drop by a burger restaurant for his Krusty Krab Burger or Pizza. Do you see the additional and automated opportunities for revenue and personalized experiences you can harness? This and many more opportunities reveal themselves when your in-venue app detects the moment a mobile device enters a pre-defined location or so-called geo-fence.
In Singapore, such an app is already used for the Chinese city of Chongqing to provide an AI audio guide, which gives visitors the right information at the right location. And many European venues already use mobile apps with virtual park plans and timed push notifications as a tool to reach, engage and immerse visitors into a richer visitor experience.
You can read more about the power of push notifications here.
2. Virtual Reality Coasters: Personalization
As a side effect of the pandemic, VR has been a great force in bringing experiences to people while being in the comfort of their homes, but the VR trend actually hit the attractions industry long before the pandemic. However, the big difference between the accelerated VR trend during the pandemic and the one before is that before the pandemic, VR was actually rising in popularity on-ride and in-venue.
Just like at the Crazy Bats at Phantasialand, Germany, VR can unleash an entirely new world of experiences. In fact, it can give old roller coasters a new spin, revitalize their appeal and give visitors a chance to make the experience unique by having a range of experiences to choose from.
Although right now, due to hygiene concerns, VR may seem counterintuitive, looking beyond the pandemic and at the very advanced cleaning processes venues have consistently implemented concerning VR glasses, it would be premature to assume this world of smart opportunities would simply fade away.
By now, we all know that the moment a visitor steps out of your venue is not the moment they step out of your consideration set - the customer journey has not come to an end yet. Two things are really important for you now: Feedback & retaining them. Luckily, the first can help you accomplish the second.
1. Collecting & Analyzing Reviews: Automation + Personalization
We know, delivering an amazing experience ticks the boxes for you - it demonstrates you achieved your goal for this visitor. But a captured experience helps you to achieve your goal repeatedly with loyal fans and a continuously growing visitor base at the same time.
A review collector can be a follow-up email campaign or, once again, a mobile application engaging your visitor into leaving a review. Here again, if paired with behavioural tracking a smart app can refer to specific parts of the experience, making the review more personal and leaving your visitor more inclined to complete it.
Take this as an example:
After you collected all the feedback, to use it, you need to understand it. Advanced technologies can help you with this by conducting a sentiment analysis that explores the text data to define and classify their emotional and real qualities and statements.
These insights will not only make the Customer behavioural loop more complete by having feedback on their behavior and experiences caused by it but you can, once again, use it for smart automated marketing and to optimize your experience targeting and delivery.
2. Continuing the hybrid experience: Automation + Personalization
Whether your venue already offers such hybrid experiences as picked up in this blog or not, you can still take your experience hybrid by extending your offline experience to the online world after your visitors leave your venue. This can be done with technologies like VR to relive great experiences at home, as picked up earlier, but can also include complimentary digital content such as videos, mini-games or reading material you continue to nurture them with based on what you already know about your customer.
Coming back to Disney, the fairytale lovers may be more interested in remakes or audiobooks of beloved Disney tales. Whereas character lovers would love to see the newest mini-game to style their favourite characters. No matter what the content they engage with is, if it is targeted well, it will connect their previous offline experience to the online one that follows.
Refreshing the experience and continuing to delight your visitors smartly will nurture them, create a growing bond and increase your chance to turn them into fans and returning visitors!
Smart - Smarter - Venues
What all these advancements and opportunities should do to you right now is kick-start your thinking about which parts of your Customer Journey you could improve by making it smart. And don’t you worry! You don’t have to do it all by yourself.