It gives me great reservation to reflect on this past year. The challenges we all faced, the difficulties we had to endure, trying to imagine what the future holds – 2020 has been unsettling to say the least.
From the countless lives lost, to the hundreds of thousands who contracted the virus, to those affected by economies shutting down for months, to those who have battled COVID-19 from the frontlines in the healthcare profession; so many people have been impacted physically, emotionally, mentally, and economically. It’s a lot to take in.
It has been even further exasperated by the fact that so many businesses, big or small, have been greatly impacted and either forced to rethink their business models or decide to pack it up. From local restaurants and bars, to retail shops, attractions, live events, all the way up to theme parks and destination resorts, each has been greatly affected in some way or another.
Having just completed our company’s 2020 fiscal year, it was incumbent our team reflect on this past year to understand the impact it has had on our business and the attractions industry. While we cannot predict the outcome of the upcoming year or for that matter the years to come, we can use what has happened in the past to help guide us as we plan for a better future.
Our industry has seen some very difficult times over many years. In my 25 years plus career creating memorable experiences for the attraction and hospitality industry, this is my fourth time experiencing a major downturn. During the last three, we as an industry had the opportunity and ability to grow and move forward to successfully create meaningful guest experiences.
As humans we have a natural desire to participate in and share our experiences. Whether it be for a personal milestone like a birthday, graduation, wedding, or an annual public celebration such as New Year’s Eve or Thanksgiving, we need and want to celebrate these special moments. And we seek places where we can celebrate them together. We need to play, explore, relax, learn, challenge ourselves, socialize and share moments. That is what storytelling is all about and as experience designers that is what we do best, create a narrative to immerse guests in.
In this pandemic, we’ve learned how to connect and cope using digital platforms like social media, video chatting, texting, and for the older generations the time proven phone call. However, there is nothing in the foreseeable future that can replace that in-person tactile experience of sharing moments together. The physicality of engaging all our senses together is something that I strongly believe is irreplaceable. And that’s why, I am very optimistic for our future.
Looking at the big picture for a moment, we know that it will be some time before people will feel safe and will want to share experiences together again. However, as the past has shown us, people will be eager to spend time together again – the flood gates will open and the pent-up demand to travel, dine out, shop, go to an event and seek thrills will emerge.
As we continue to deal with the short-term measures to keep our guests and employees safe and succeed in generating revenue to maintain a healthy business, I believe, it is equally as important to plan for the future. As we design for the future, consideration may be made for incorporating the lessons learned from the operational models we are experiencing today under the safety regulations we are required to incorporate in order to open. At FORREC we successfully provide our clients with a variety of options in how to plan for the future.
Future Proofing Options
As we reimagine the future, we should take inspiration from industry leaders some of which are FORREC clients:
The Premium Experience – A viable option would be to rethink the business model to create a premium experience to grow the business through increasing the per cap spend from the entry/gate fee to food and retail. This way, you can manage the capacity levels, potentially reduce future capital investments after an initial reinvestment to focus your brand and guest experience, and possibly create a more immersive experience and effective operating model.
Reconsidering Low Performing Attractions – To provide insight into the ride’s low performance, you should ask yourself the following: are there rides, shows, food or retail that have decreasing footfall over the years? Does it cost more to operate and maintain then it generates in capacity, revenue, or brand awareness? If you have answered yes to one or more, you should consider a change.
Seasonality – Have you given thought to expanding your capacity to take advantage of multi-seasons? This applies mainly to outdoor facilities where your peak months take place in the summertime. This can also include limited time festivals that guests will want to come back to the park to experience different decoration or seasonal food options that are only available for a limited time.
Increase Efficiencies – A cost effective way of increasing capacity is through analyzing your program’s efficiencies. For rides and attractions, consider all aspects of the guest experience from queuing, lockers, baby swap, load/unload to exiting. The same is true for your food facilities. Are there ways to increase kitchen capacity, seating turnover, or for that matter are there kitchens that have more capacity but are in the wrong location?
Attraction Inclusiveness – Develop programs that accommodate the entire family to broaden active and engaging experiences for multiple generations. People will enjoy experiences together. We continue to see this trend as the population ages, people live longer and are more active in their later years and want to create memories with their children and grandchildren.
Add Capacity – Contrary to what many businesses are considering right now, we feel it’s important to plan for the future, release projects on hold and overall add capacity to your experience. This added capacity can come in many options including physically building more by replacing existing underperforming program or finding those spots where you can add one or multi program to your existing offering.
There is no one size fits all and each operation will be different and have its own unique formula for success. However, we cannot sit back and wait. We need to plan and be prepared for those days when we will experience peak demands once again. I could even envision a time when peak demands will be higher than we have ever experienced before.
Is this being overly optimistic? I do not believe so. It is anyone’s guess when this will happen, however when it does, will you be ready?