Youth sports and venues located near amusement parks are a natural fit and when you throw vacations into the mix, it gets that much better. But long lines and overcrowding (a natural byproduct of travel during peak times for tournaments like spring breaks and summer vacation, as well as long weekends like Presidents’ Day, Martin Luther King Day or Memorial Day) can dampen the fun factor. And if it’s bad enough, it can dissuade parents from a return to that destination.
Now, throw COVID-19 into the mix. As parks try to make their way forward, they are developing protocols to allow for social distancing and create adequate time for park employees to sterilize high-contact areas such as rides, restrooms and restaurants.
One of the recent trends theme parks were latching onto prior to COVID-19 was the use rise of mobile apps, which (among other things) show wait times, allow users to register for rides and make them aware of any admissions specials that might be offered. And making parents aware of those (so that they can get the app in advance) can absolutely score event owners important bonus points.
Their use post-COVID has become even more critical, according to this article in Blooloop, which notes that parents can use apps to get tickets without physical contact and to know in advance when the park has reached its capacity.
And, in fact, it’s not just that an increasing number of visitors expect apps that work to help them with their visit; they expect them to help them simplify and strategize that visit. According to one study from The Thinkwell Group, almost 70 percent of those who visit theme parks want more mobile integration while they’re present.
As apps become increasingly sophisticated, they are starting to create an entirely new visitor experience. According to UserZoom, which highlights SeaWorld’s app as an example, some of these include the following.
- Day planning: The app allows users to see current wait times, interactive park maps, and daily schedules for shows and special events.
- In-app purchasing: Park tickets and additional purchases (for example, in-park VIP experiences) can be purchased within the app. Digital ticket barcodes can be used or printed tickets picked up at a nearby kiosk.
- Interactive park maps: The interactive maps feature includes detailed images of the park, along with a GPS-connected feature that shows guests exactly where they are.
- Scavenger hunt: This gamification feature uses SeaWorld trivia and uses a badge-based system to reward players for their participation.
- Height limit filter: The height limit filter helps users find out in advance which rides they’re able to enjoy, based on the heights of different members of their party.
- Car finder: The car finder features stores the user’s parking location and helps guide them back to their vehicle at the end of the day.
- Fun frames: Users can take pictures with their smartphones, modify with animal-based filters and frames, and then e-mail them to friends or share on social media.
- Exclusive deals: This feature offers users exclusive deals, such as in park discounts and exclusive content
Move upwards on the map and you’ll find Cedar Point, whose app also includes many of these features as well as others such as FriendFinder, a customizable calendar of events and show times and information on hotels. In fact, Cedar Point was among the first amusement parks to offer an interactive game on its app.
Want more? How about amusement park apps that help visitors find rest rooms? HersheyPark is one of the parks offering it. The Hershey app also has GPS-enabled maps to help families find their way around the park and lists of potential allergens in the food available for ordering. It also allows users to watch videos of selected rides, locate ATMs, lockers and other services, and share images of rides, zoo animals, and characters on Facebook and Twitter.
In all cases, says the amusement industry blog, BlooLoop, the growing trend in apps is gamification. Omnico research among more than 3,300 international travelers to theme parks reveals that most guests want an app that helps has multiple uses. They want something that will help them organize their visit, avoid long lines and generally assist them in optimizing their time.
The arms race to develop better apps for amusement parks has also created a demand for apps that keep kids occupied while they stand in line. Apps, therefore, must be packed with functionality that is both highly effective but also engaging and simple to use. Previous Omnico research revealed how substantial proportions of theme park guests are open to virtual and augmented reality in tools to help them organize their visits.
According to The Points Guy, one of Disney’s newest and most in-demand rides, the Star Wars-themed Rise of the Resistance, all but requires use of the Disney World App in order to get a reservation for a boarding group. (Reservations for each day are taken almost immediately after they are released each morning, so the app is a powerful advantage.)
Zoos, wildlife parks and other attractions, such as beachfront areas with boardwalks, also offer apps. Some places less likely to offer them, though, are waterparks. And, says Leah Hauck, Communications Manager at Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau, there’s a reason for that.
“As you can imagine, waterparks and phones don’t go together so the waterparks always encourage people to use the lockers to lock up personal items – including phones,” she notes. “We are not aware of any of the theme/waterparks having apps, nor is there one app that encompasses them all; all the theme/waterparks in Wisconsin Dells are individually owned and operated.”
And as you might expect, not all apps are created equal. There’s an interesting inside view on LifeWire, which highlights a few theme park apps, with brief reviews of each.
But as more parks offer apps (as well as more sophisticated gamified apps), those apps have a benefit that stretches beyond guest convenience. According to Theme Park Insider, by encouraging guests to schedule more of their day (instead of just wandering into the nearest lines in the park) park owners can use schedule availability to make sure that one part of the park isn't getting overloaded while another stands relatively empty.
Apps can also include feedback tools that allow users to tell management in real time if a feature on the app isn’t working properly, as well as to report problems in the park. They can also include emergency information, such as allowing users to call for help if needed, or for blasting out information in the event of circumstances that would require evacuation of sections of, or all of, the park.
Want to remain a hero to your athletes’ parents? Particularly if you’re flying at a busy time, or at a time of year when weather might cause travel delays, make sure to recommend one of the flight tracking apps (FlightAware and Flightradar24 are examples).