A cascade of “game-changer” technologies appears at the start of every year promising big gains for park and leisure destination operators. We take a closer look at some theme park digital technology predictions for 2020.
By Mel Taylor, Omnico
One strong theme emerging this year when making theme park digital technology predictions is the integration of different technologies and the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT).
These integrations anticipate the arrival of high-capacity 5G mobile networks, capable of carrying substantial volumes of data at high speeds. The GSMA, the worldwide mobile operators’ organisation, believes 5G could generate $2.2 trillion globally over the next 15 years. And there is every reason to believe the theme park sector will be part of this.
Once internet-connected devices and sensors communicate with one another in near-real-time, a new level of efficiency is possible across a park or resort.
In its many guises, artificial intelligence (AI) underpins many of these integrations. It has the ability to learn from masses of data and make autonomous decisions. AI is a set of technologies that will open new opportunities and deliver new gains. However, not always in ways you would expect.
2020 theme park digital technology predictions
Here’s a list of seven areas where 2020 should see progress:
1. IoT will continue to transform the experience
Norton, the security specialists, estimate 11.6 billion devices will communicate with one another over the internet by the end of next year. The IoT will transform maintenance in parks and venues when sensors transmit data to automated control systems. This enables interventions before hardware malfunctions or reaches the end of its useful life.
It won’t just be a case of predicting the problem but of diagnosing the solution. This will go beyond rides to cover stock-monitoring and real-time visitor flow. For example, managers will know the amount of Harry Potter “butterbeer” that guests are quaffing right now and when a new supply needs to be delivered.
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The development of this IoT infrastructure will continue to improve the visitor experience. Automated stock and point-of-sale monitoring means T-shirts or burgers in high demand should never run out. In addition, information about queues for rides, restaurants, spa treatments or shows is accurate to the second and fully accessible from a kiosk or phone.
2. Virtual assistants and video
Also high on the list of theme park digital technology predictions is the use of virtual assistants and video. The IoT-connected smart speaker/virtual-assistant revolution will sweep through the theme park and attractions sector. As the year progresses, parks will install smart speakers. This will enable guests to order ahead what they want to eat and drink, find out ticket prices for add-on experiences or hotel rooms and book rides and tables.
As prices drop, technology research company Forrester predicts demand for smart speakers with video display will boom. It’s almost certain parks will experiment with commercial equivalents of Google Nest Hub and Amazon Echo Show 8. This technology will make it incredibly easy for guests to find out exactly what they want.
Virtual assistants will use phone wi-fi, or wearable devices worn by visitors to identify who is in front of them. The result is that guests will get instant access to information and offers relevant to them.
3. Artificial intelligence and facial recognition
More than two years ago, research by Omnico revealed how 85 per cent of global theme park visitors wanted artificial intelligence systems for ID verification. Chinese guests were especially keen. No surprise then that Universal’s Beijing resort will reportedly use the technology for access and payment when it opens in 2021.
We will hear more about facial recognition enabling gateless entry points. However, whether guests are entirely at ease with hotel rooms operating on this technology is still debatable.
Further ahead, beyond 2020, there is an obvious synergy between facial recognition and virtual assistants. Alexa or its equivalent will instantly recognise the visitor’s face and greet them by name. It will be fully aware of everything the guest has planned for the day, ready to guide, offer help and take orders and bookings. What do we call that? – ah yes, a robot.
4. Wearable devices
Every set of theme park digital technology predictions includes wearables. The MagicBand, for example, has been a big success and will stimulate further developments. Google’s acquisition of Fitbit towards the end of 2019 is likely to be significant, the internet behemoth having previously had a poor experience with Google Glass and its Android Wear operating system.
But if wearables are to take off in parks it will require some creativity. For example, Nike has woven a positive-feeling narrative around its wearables. 2020 is likely to see park operators using their story-telling, myth-making, excitement-generating talents to inject new electricity into wearables.
Wearables can make visits even more enjoyable, generate heaps of valuable engagement data and increase per capita spend.
5. Mixed reality
Pursuing our theme of technology overlap, we are likely to see mixed reality (MR) glasses make a comeback with integrated voice interfaces. Clearly, parks will not be doing the development on this. But there is a good chance that an interface with Amazon Alexa and the rumoured entry of Apple into this field will spark operators’ interest.
A walk in the park will be a very different experience with easy-to-use smart glasses. These can offer overlaid augmented reality, or the chance to order ahead or get answers to questions about rides, prices, table-availability or merchandise outlets while on the move.
Given their ability to mix dramatic visual trickery with information, MR applications will surely attract the attention of big park operators in 2020. If they can turn wearables into desirables, then they surely can work their magic on MR.
6. Mobile apps
One key feature on this list of theme park digital technology predictions is mobile apps. Statista estimates mobile apps will generate worldwide revenues of $582 billion in 2020. This is set to rise rapidly to $935 billion in 2023. Theme parks and destinations are certain to plough even more resources into this vital customer-facing technology. They won’t really have any choice. The tide of app-development will be unstoppable.
Dedicated park apps are already a key feature of visits, enabling operators to engage and retain visitors through cleverly-designed loyalty and engagement solutions. This is a pre-existing trend that will gather pace through 2020.
Operators use applications to deepen, extend, enrich, streamline, gamify, and personalise the theme park experience. That’s a hell of a lot from one small application, which is why apps are such a focus of attention.
Personalisation has been a buzzword ever since the world went digital. Every destination has made it a priority. In 2019 McKinsey found personalisation increases revenues by up to 15 per cent while providing even bigger percentage efficiency gains in marketing.
Throughout 2020 the theme park sector will be working hard to increase the effectiveness and personalisation of prompts and triggers sent to guests through apps, SMS and wearable devices.
Much of the focus will be on improving the correlation of data so that personalisation is based on the individual’s most recent activity within the park, their social media profiles, supplied details and other current information, rather relying on what they spent last year or crude demographic data.
Again, the growing cross-over of technology will allow facial recognition and AI to make personalisation faster and almost effortless.