Online bookings for attractions, from theme parks and museums to zoos and aquariums, have risen dramatically since the start of 2020. This was one of the key trends that we saw in the wake of the global pandemic, which accelerated the adoption of digital technology within the visitor attraction industry.
Amidst the months of uncertainty that followed the COVID crisis, guests soon realised the benefits of being able to reserve a slot at their favourite attraction, safe in the knowledge that the visitor numbers were being kept to a safe level. When they arrived at the attraction, the benefits continued: they could enjoy getting into the venue quickly without the need to queue at a ticket kiosk and often could enter through contactless turnstiles, by simply scanning their barcode or QR code.
Yet, as things start to return to normal, many attractions are removing the need to pre-book, and the number of visitors purchasing their tickets online is starting to drop. Blooloop spoke to Convious, the company behind a leading eCommerce platform for the leisure industry, to find out why online booking has a huge number of benefits for both the guest and the operator. The company also gave some tips on how to encourage visitors to keep the habit.
In many countries, COVID restrictions have now been relaxed or removed altogether, meaning that capacity limits are a thing of the past. As a result, at quite a few attractions, it is no longer mandatory to book online or reserve tickets in advance. This is one of the key causes of this drop in online sales, but it is not the only factor, as Floor Rameckers, Convious’ country director for the Benelux region, explains:
“When we look at the other reasons why people are not wanting to prebook, one thing is that there are fewer staycations, in general, this summer.”
After the post-COVID boom in domestic holidays, many are now able to travel abroad for the first time. So, they are spending their money on vacations, rather than finding nearby attractions to visit and ways to keep their families happy during the holidays.
That’s one of the reasons why there was a drop in sales in this industry. Furthermore, particularly in Europe, there are external factors such as the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis.
“People are having to make smarter decisions on where they are going to spend their money,” adds Rameckers. “The trend for online bookings is definitely going down compared to the last two years.”
The benefits of online booking
However, returning to the previous way of doing things would be a backwards step for the attractions industry. This is because online booking brings a whole host of benefits, for both the visitor and the attraction itself.
The key benefit for guests, and one that is particularly relevant given the cost-of-living concerns mentioned above, is that booking online is usually the best way of getting the most attractive price.
“There’s often a better price compared to when you buy tickets on location,” says Rameckers. “You can also shop around; you can do a little bit of research. That’s why you want to book your tickets online.”
The process is also a lot easier and more convenient. For instance, visitors can often book in their own language, with their preferred payment method. Then, there is also the certainty that the attraction is not sold out, and that you will be guaranteed entry within this timeslot.
When purchasing their tickets through the website, visitors will also have all the relevant information at their fingertips, from opening times and maps to parking details. Plus, the process leads them to share contact information with the venue. This means that they can receive emails with advance information and special offers, to make the visit run smoothly. Finally, the e-ticket will allow them to breeze through the entry process without needing to queue at a kiosk.
Happier guests, more streamlined operations
All this will, of course, lead to happier guests, which is the number one benefit for operators. But that is just scratching the surface of what online booking can unlock for visitor attractions:
“If I, as a visitor, go to the box office and buy tickets, the park doesn’t know who I am,” says Rameckers. “They don’t have any information; they don’t know where I come from. All the operator knows is that they sold two or three tickets, there is no data around me.”
However, if the customer buys a ticket online, the form will ask for key data, such as their email address. Some demographic information is also gathered through the visitor’s IP address.
“This is so valuable. That way, you can cross-sell and upsell to me – you can make me a fan. You can include me in your email list for next year for season passes. You can track how many times I’ve visited before and what times of year, so that you can better target your advertising towards me and my profile.
“Data around your visitors is lacking if you do not push your customers to buy via your online channel.”
Gaining valuable data through online booking
For the marketing teams, this data is gold, particularly knowing where these visitors have clicked on their website from. When they have specific campaigns running, they can track the conversion of those specific campaigns. For instance, they can measure conversions from Facebook campaigns, Instagram or resellers.
“If you cannot measure it, you have no idea whether what you are doing is successful.”
This goes for the post-visit experience as well. With all this valuable data, it is easy for operators to send feedback requests to their visitors, therefore boosting their online review scores – another win for marketing departments.
In addition, there are more overheads when it comes to sales at the door versus online sales, adds Rameckers:
“You need to have someone staffing the kiosk, maybe someone else scanning. You can cut so many personnel costs by capturing that revenue online. Plus, you can then cross-sell and upsell much easier as well.”
Knowing in advance how many visitors will be coming on each day also helps to cut overheads within the park too. For example, a theme park can plan how many staff they will need to operate safely with that number of guests and can predict the levels of inventory that they may need for those dates much more easily as well.
Timeslot or no timeslot?
While some attractions are now moving away from the pre-booked timeslot model, instead allowing guests to buy tickets online for open dates, Rameckers says that this too has many benefits:
“From the visitor experience point of view, it means that if you go to say, the Rijksmuseum, you know it isn’t going to be too crowded. So, you can actually see the paintings that you’re excited about. And from the operator point of view, they can plan staffing etc. accordingly too.”
It’s about finding a balance. Spreading your visitors makes the experience better for everyone – it’s no longer about trying to sell as many tickets as possible because this simply isn’t sustainable. Visitors may be worried that they won’t have the time to enjoy everything if they have a limited amount of time in the venue. However, this gives them more time to enjoy their day out, since they are wasting less time in queues.
Happier visitors will come back and they will share positive feelings about the visit with others. This will boost revenue in the long term. On the other hand, cramming in as many guests as possible to maximise ticket sales will lead to negative experiences, thus impacting future revenue.
How to encourage online booking
Taking all this into account, what are some ways that operators can encourage their guests to book online, rather than purchasing their tickets at the entrance?
Firstly, price can be a key motivator:
“You don’t necessarily have to lower your online sales; you can simply increase your offline sales. For instance, just top up your box office rates by two euros.”
This ensures that there is a clear price advantage to booking online. Operators can also offer exclusive products to those buying through their website, such as ticket and meal bundles, or ticket and parking bundles.
Promotion is also important; operators need to make the benefits of buying online clear. For example, letting their guests know that this method will mean less queuing to get in, guaranteed entry, and a more stress-free day out.
Convious’ dynamic pricing solution is an ideal way of using ticket prices to incentivise guests to prebook. The company’s algorithms bring together different factors, such as time of the season, historical data, and customer-centric data, to determine the best possible price for each day or timeslot. For visitors, this means that they can get a cheaper ticket if they opt for less busy times. Meanwhile, for operators, it means they can spread out demand, which helps them to manage their resources and operations better.
The whole guest experience, from pre-visit to post-visit
Essentially, viewing the guest experience as a whole is key, from pre-visit, through their time on-site, and then afterwards as well. Visitors are spending their money on a day out, and it is important that they have a good time; it should be an occasion. Starting the journey online can help to build excitement and anticipation.
“It’s like when you go on holiday,” says Rameckers. “The enjoyment and the excitement about the fact that you’re going there is part of the fun. Imagine how excited your kids are when you tell them you’re going to a theme park, for instance.”
Anything that adds friction to the visitor journey at this point will dampen that excitement, adding some negativity to that pre-visit experience.
“That’s why we always say there should be no barriers in the online ticket shop whatsoever. So that’s why we always ask first, when do you want to go, how many people are visiting. Then you pay, and that’s when we capture the other data, such as postcode, email address etc.”
This data can be used both to build anticipation and to make things easier on arrival. For example, with online booking, guests can pre-pay for their parking and choose their meals in advance. This saves time and effort on the day. The venue can also feed them exciting information, such as news about activities and events taking place during their visit:
“The operator can send emails saying, for instance, a new elephant was born. Or the feeding time for the monkeys is at this time. And, if you want lunch, we have this special menu, and you can already order now with a discount. It’s all about maximising that experience.”
Attractions can also push people to download their app ahead of time, where they can see the park map etc. This means they can share it with their kids and plan what rides they are looking forward to, or what animals they want to see.
This streamlined experience leads to a better day out and happier guests.
“So, when you get a message afterwards saying: ‘Thank you so much for your visit, we hope you enjoyed it, and please leave a review’, they are more likely to rate it positively.”
Consumers are very used to receiving feedback requests from companies now, be it post-hotel visit or after purchasing products online. In some ways, the leisure industry is lagging behind in this area.
Creating loyal visitors
Post-visit, operators can also reach out with offers on future visits and news on special events, perhaps offering discounts in order to entice the guest to return again and again.
“If I had an amazing experience and I’d like to go again, the marketing team can come up with all kinds of incentives. For example, discounted tickets or offers on season passes. Or, if I’m local, information about seasonal events. Plus, I’ll tell my friends that I had a good time; word of mouth is so valuable as well.”
This shows how using the right technological solutions and paying attention to all stages of the visitor experience will help to make loyal, lifelong fans. Online booking is an important part of this.
Data is key, summarises Rameckers:
“While online booking does mean that you collect more revenue and there are fewer staff overheads, the most important thing is that it allows you to know who your visitors are.”
In the age of personalisation and the experience economy, this enables operators to form a longer-lasting and more meaningful connection with their guests. It’s a win-win.