Creative and out-of-the-box ideas to generate revenue right now

In the tenth instalment of Gateway Ticketing Systems’ Webinar Wednesdays series, panellists explored creative ways to generate revenue in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. 

By Greg Banecker, Gateway Ticketing Systems

On 20 May, Gateway held the tenth instalment of its Webinar Wednesdays series, titled: Creative & Out-of-the-Box Ideas to Generate Revenue Now & When You Reopen. The team has been downright gobsmacked by the creativity and ingenuity of our industry in finding creative ways to use their existing assets to generate new revenue while they are closed.

new experiences while closed COVID gateway

For me, this topic really came to life when I got the email from my home zoo: The Elmwood Park Zoo. This is a small park close to our office. They have been closed for some time, like the rest of us, and their team has been working on creative ways to drive revenue ever since. In this email, I had the option to:

  1. Take a drive-thru safari. Many zoos have been opening the gates for cars. What I like about Elmwood is that they brought the safari into their parking lot. Perhaps their paths aren’t wide enough for cars, or for some other reason, this wasn’t feasible. So instead, they’re leveraging their parking lot. Genius.
  2. Adopt a mascot for a 2020 graduate. So if my daughter graduated, and her school mascot was the Owls, I could adopt one of their owls as a gift for her.
  3. Schedule a virtual meeting cameo, where I could have an animal and their keeper join my monthly managers’ meeting.
  4. Buy Zoo Poo: the finest fertilizer for my home and garden.
  5. And, purchase my favourite Elmwood SWAG, as they were opening an online retail store soon.

This is just a very specific example, but one that I think illustrates the ingenuity of the industry when it comes to generating revenue.

Move your inventory

Since many attractions closed fairly abruptly, operators probably have a lot of pre-COVID inventory collecting dust on the shelves.

Some attractions are selling mystery boxes; boxing up retail items and selling them as an add-on or upsell to a general admission ticket. It’s also a safe way to sell retail and generate revenue right now. It’s boxed, untouched, and guests can open it later.

Curtis Parks, Chief Operating Officer/Managing Partner at Icon Attractions spoke on this episode of the webinar. Icon Attractions quickly created a retail web store to move merchandise. Initial reports are that, as the company gets closer to reopening, sales from the store have increased. In fact, this could be a revenue strategy worth keeping, even when things reopen again.

tokyo disney face masks

Branded masks on sale at Tokyo Disneyland

Icon Attractions is selling branded masks on the store. And it is finding that people are arriving on the site with the intention of buying a mask but then also adding a couple of other items to their cart.

Brandon Willey, Chief Executive Officer at Hownd, works with many FECs. These venues have huge redemption counters with plush, candies, etc. He’s seen many of his clients pre-selling gift cards and passes and bundling in a box of redemption materials as a bonus or upsell.

They’re also selling Birthdays in a Box. FECs have parties all the time, so they have the materials for it. Parents can buy the box and throw their child a quarantine birthday celebration

Partners and packages

Attractions can also focus on bundling your product with the product of a partner to generate revenue. Parks’ company operates the Capital Wheel at National Harbor in Maryland. They’ve worked with several restaurants on the harbour to bundle a ride on the wheel with a dinner and drinks package.

This adds value to both experiences and also markets the attraction to a new audience who may not have otherwise visited. Any partnership is worth considering at this point, but attractions should try aligning the features of their product with the intentions of their intended guest.

creative revenue generation ideas covid closures

When people go out for dinner on the National Harbor, a logical after-dinner treat could be a ride on the Capital Wheel. Another thing the Gateway team likes about this partnership: we’re all in the hospitality industry, and we’re all in this together.

Try different pricing strategies

Buy Now, Play Later: attractions get the revenue now, and log a future visit once they reopen. This is also a way for guests to support attractions. Operators should not underestimate the altruism of guests at a time like this – even as a for-profit company.

Sell discounted gift cards in a special promotion to generate revenue. Gateway recommends the value of the card be less than the average cost of a general admission ticket so that guests pay more when they arrive. Conversely, operators could have the value be larger and then rely on breakage. The average breakage for a gift card is 15-20%, and this is much-needed revenue right now.

When guests arrive with clear expectations and a plan for the day, this helps with social distancing and safety procedures

We’ve seen some reluctance in the industry to pre-sell. It’s usually about converting in the moment. But this pandemic is forcing all of us to change the selling model. We’re already selling capacity managed and timed tickets – asking guests to pre-select a date and time when they will visit. It’s just a baby step, then, to ask them to pre-book a meal or an extra experience.

This is added revenue to an attraction’s bottom line. And when guests arrive with clear expectations and a plan for the day, this helps with social distancing and safety procedures.

Pricing strategies to generate revenue

Buy Now, Book Later: run a presale and have a clearer idea of what future capacity looks like. Guests don’t need to make the booking decision right away, which may make them more comfortable purchasing given all the uncertainty in the world. But they can rest assured knowing that when they are ready, admission will be available.

Operators should lead with their best-bundled packages, their best added bonuses and their best price points first, just to get people in the door

Finally, what about phased pricing to accompany a phased reopening? Parks made a great point. Most attractions have been discussing a phased reopening: 25% capacity for the first three weeks, then up to 40%, only this section of the park open at first, etc. But there haven’t been many discussions about a phased pricing reopening strategy.

Operators should lead with their best-bundled packages, their best added bonuses and their best price points first, just to get people in the door. Then slowly pull back on the perks as we slide into later weeks and months. This helps protect revenue and helps prevent resorting to discounting.

Focus on top sellers, but in a different way

Typhoon Texas Waterpark was closed but it had a wildly popular barbecue restaurant. So even when the waterpark wasn’t operating, it had the restaurant open as a to-go eatery to generate revenue.

Harkins Theatres in Arizona opens every Friday and Saturday from 5 – 7 pm to sell its wildly popular movie theatre style popcorn out of their parking lot. Families drive up, pick up a bucket, and have a more authentic movie watching experience back on the couch.

popcorn and cinema tickets - will COVID-19 see the end of the movie theatre

Sylvia Matiko, co-founder at A Different View, also spoke on the webinar. She brought the example of an escape room she had read about. It is offering free downloads of an escape room activity that guests can do themselves. They can even play virtual escape rooms online.

Every attraction has a popular product or experience. We just need to think creatively about how to deliver this experience when the ‘main’ attraction isn’t open.

Leverage the space you have, but differently

Most of us have heard about the zoos that are reopening as drive-thru experiences, provided their facilities can manage this. We’ve heard of many attractions leveraging their enormous parking lots for drive-in movies. Put up a screen and charge per car, with social distancing built right into the experience.

A laser tag venue split their floor into separate zones, and players can only play in each zone for 2-3 minutes. This helps maintain social distancing but also helps move more players through the experience. The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is leasing some of its unused space to the Brooklyn Library. And the children’s museum in Pittsburgh is leasing some of its space to a school.

outside the box revenue generation gateway

Space is one of the strongest assets an attraction has, and the sky is the limit when it comes to creatively leveraging it when closed.

A very special guest panellist

During the discussion on leveraging spaces, a surprise panellist joined on the webinar: Fiona the Hippo! Fiona is the world-famous hippopotamus from the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

For fifteen minutes, Fiona, her mother Bibi, and their keeper made an appearance, while attendees learned about Fiona and how she is handling quarantine. But the cameo wasn’t just a publicity stunt. It was the topic of the webinar in action.

Fiona the hippo cincinnati zoo

Fiona the hippo

Like the Elmwood Park Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo has made some of its animals available for cameos on personal or professional video conferences; they’re called Cincinnati ZOOm calls. It’s a creative way to generate revenue and keep the public engaged while it is closed.

Other Webinar Wednesdays wonderings

  • How can you use changes made for ‘negative’ reasons to your advantage? MGM Resorts in Las Vegas announced it won’t be charging for parking. There could be a COVID related reason why it has done this. Perhaps it wants to eliminate the use of high touch-point pay stations. Maybe it has decided not to staff the parking lot. But it has turned the change into positive promotion.
  • Willey showed webinar attendees the Social Distancing Skunk Ape from Gatorland. This attraction created a ridiculous mascot to help reinforce the rules. Even though things may not seem so FUN right now, it’s important to remember what our industry is best at.
  • Matiko provided a very valuable caveat to all of this: a lot of her clients have all these amazing ideas. But typically those ideas are much more than what they can handle. So attractions should focus on the activities that are ‘must-haves’, drive high revenue, and have low expenses.
  • When attractions reopen, the vast majority of guests will be local (if they’re not already). There are probably resident offers that operators may have done at a different time of the year – they could consider shifting these and offering them right now
  • And Matiko asked one final, very provocative question: “Are we planning for the next pandemic? What are we doing right now out of necessity, that we should roll into our permanent operations? And what else should we be doing?”

Social distancing skunk ape

You can watch the full recording of the webinar right here. Additionally, we are transitioning from holding Webinar Wednesdays weekly, to now biweekly. Keep an eye on this page for updates about our upcoming webinars.