The Waiting Game
By Will Wiess
"We spent a whole afternoon and only rode two rides. I'm sure you can understand our disappointment."
"We paid close to $50 a person to wait in line for almost an hour…I plan to urge others to avoid it (the park) at all costs."
"I'm tired of waiting hours in line for just a 2 sec. ride."
If you've ever wondered how wait times are affecting the major theme parks, pay close attention to some of the complaints registered with PlanetFeedback.com. With no existing research able to accurately monitor the impact, it is an issue long ignored by many park designers. In most cases, shortening those waits equate to increased costs for parks. It is argued, standing in line is an accepted by-product of any theme or amusement park.
But all that is starting to change.
At present, nine major U.S. park chains have, or will soon implement, various versions of the ride reservation system. Disney recently adopted their own, dubbed Fast Pass, for most of their theme parks. (Though some have credited them with pioneering the system, the idea isn't a new one; time tickets have been used successfully at World Fairs for years.) The concept is fairly simple. Guests insert their "passport" into an electronic turnstile, after which a receipt prints out their reserved time in which to board a specific attraction with a minimal wait. By evening the demand, they hope to decrease hourly wait times.
They must be doing something right; after nearly two years of testing, Universal launched their own system, known as Universal Express. Paramount and Busch are both following suit.
But it doesn't stop there. The future could very well be found in a few Six Flags owned properties, who recently introduced the Lo-Q System. While pagers issued to guests allow them to effectively plan their entire day of rides, they can also act as a locating device. (By the way, other Six Flags parks use a time ticket system called Fast Lane.)
So why the sudden change of heart? Exit surveys are becoming increasing filled with comments similar to those found on PlanetFeedback. The fact is, we live in a wired world where time has become a precious commodity. Guests are ever more irritated with paying exorbitant gate fees, only to stand in line for the average four-minute ride. In rare cases, outright violence is the end result. Not long ago, a Disneyland Cast Member was assaulted by an irate guest who had mistaken him for someone cutting in line.
But the benefits of line reduction programs go well beyond guest satisfaction. As customers waste somewhere around 25 per cent of their day in line, the parks are missing out on time (and money) spent in restaurants and shops. With an industry serving 316 million guests per year (according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions), the remuneration is potentially enormous.
There are countless ways at accomplishing this reduction, some more economically feasible than others. Let's take a quick look at just a few:
In the end, it will probably never be economically practical to fully eliminate the lines. Hundreds of millions of visitors will hit the turnstiles of worldwide parks this year, resulting in thousands of waiting hours. Therefore, when it comes to guest satisfaction and return, it's the details that become all the more important. Here are a few to keep in mind:
It's easy to see that there are a million things we can pay attention to when focusing on the reduction of lines. One thing is very clear: this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. Despite an uncertain economy, theme park attendance is on the rise. You can be certain that those with the least amount of waiting will win in more ways than one.
Will Wiess is a freelance writer for the themed entertainment industry.
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