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Value, volume or guest experience: has COVID forged a new revenue model?

Ellen Wilkinson of Attractions.io explores the topic of capacity in the wake of the pandemic

Opinion
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Over the past two years, many of us experienced something a little… unusual. OK, the past two years have been a whole heap of unusual. But for visitors, a surprising silver lining emerged as a consequence of the pandemic.

We no longer jostled with crowds to glimpse popular museum exhibits or spent an hour queuing for rides at our favourite theme parks. Instead, we hopped from attraction to attraction, packing more ‘experiences’ into our visits than ever before. And no surprise – we loved it!

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Overall guests’ satisfaction with their experience at attractions increased during the pandemic. This can be attributed, in part, to how capacity constraints reduced previous sources of friction in the guest journey like queuing to enter an attraction or only making it onto a handful of rides during the day.

So with a new season upon us, could reducing capacity prove a successful long term strategy – or do old habits really die-hard?

Value or volume?

Attractions have three revenue levers to pull: volume, value and visitor experience. You can focus on getting as many visitors through the turnstiles as possible, maintaining the same amount of visitors but encouraging them to spend more or making the visitor experience more immersive and personalised to the guest. 

Operators can successfully push one or two of these levers. But to successfully target all three is next to impossible.

The old way

Up to now, volume has been the preferred lever for busy operators with ambitious revenue targets. Why? It’s predictable, measurable and easy to influence.

From email marketing, social media campaigns and re-targeting ads to TV advertisements, attraction marketing teams know how to drive guest volume and get a measurable return that demonstrates the ROI of their efforts to the wider business. In contrast, the actions of guests on-park have proved harder to monitor and influence. Few parks have established scalable methods of increasing guest yield or spend per guest.

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But driving volume isn’t entirely foolproof. If you’re expected to deliver year on year growth, with volume as your key driver, overcrowding quickly becomes an issue. And it’s guests that feel the impact. 47% already say that long waits are the worst thing about theme parks.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to attractions. Research suggests that high levels of perceived crowding significantly decrease experience and pleasure in a number of daily activities, such as shopping and eating out. Crowding was found to reduce enjoyment, duration of visit and exploration time in one study. Meanwhile, another study found a crowd can also negatively affect the valuations of products, where shoppers are less willing to pay for products in crowded situations.

Guest experience aside, volume also poses another challenge. Your success can be affected by external factors outside of your control, like bad weather, partner performance and wildcards (like a pandemic!) which makes hitting targets even trickier.

The new way

So if volume isn’t the answer, what is? At Attractions.io, we spent the latter part of 2021 interviewing marketers from attractions around the UK and overseas. We found that on average admissions account for around 55% of an attraction’s revenue. The remaining 45% is derived largely from secondary spending during the visit.

Bear in mind that’s 45% with most marketers telling us their KPIs are based on growing volume. Imagine what’s possible when you actively start driving value through the entire guest experience!

Secondary spending refers to any purchases made during or in the run-up to the visit. In other words, spend beyond the ticket price, on areas like:

  • Fast passes
  • Food and beverage
  • Premium experiences
  • Retail purchases
  • Live shows and activities
  • Photos and memorabilia

Over the past year, we’ve started to see attractions making the leap to a value-based revenue model that focuses on delivering growth through these areas.

Last month, Disney’s CFO, Christine McCarthy announced there will be a re-evaluation of what full capacity should be at Disney. She said it would not mean a return to parks ‘bursting at the seams’ as they were pre-pandemic. Instead, Disney is focusing on increasing guest yield, with McCarthy highlighting that guest satisfaction and spending have increased across Disney parks as a result of reduced capacity over the past two years.

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In the UK, attractions like Chatsworth House and Longleat Safari Park are following suit. They are launching additional premium experiences, like luxury lodge accommodation and exclusive themed events. These are designed to offset the reduction in capacity, and maximise guest satisfaction.

The perfect time to pivot

There’s never been a better time to pivot to a value-based approach. The pandemic, combined with changing guest expectations and increases in disposable income, has produced the perfect climate for a new focus on creating authentic, immersive experiences that promote value-added spending.

Here’s why:

1. The pandemic permanently changed guests’ expectations of your attraction

Much like the great remote working experiment, the pandemic gave both guests and operators the opportunity to experience an alternative status quo, and it was a resounding success. Guests got used to having more space, and evidence suggests we’re reluctant to go back to the old way. PGAV Destination’s annual voice of the visitor survey found that 45% of visitors still want to see capacity limitations in force this year.

2. Today’s guests are prepared to spend more on experiences

After two years of disruption, visitors are excited to return to attractions. Research shows that when they do, they’re spending more money than in years past. Visitor expenditure per capita increased across the board in 2021. Attractions like Disney reported double-digit growth in spite of volume losses. Overall, 30% of visitors reported that they spent more on attraction visits last year.

Even better: 64% of those who spent more on attraction visits in 2021 have indicated they plan to do the same this year as they look to treat themselves and their families or create special memories with loved ones.

This increased willingness to spend is bolstered by an increase in household savings accumulated during the pandemic and overall economic optimism. 53% of respondents to the Voice of the Visitor Report said they were feeling optimistic about the state of the economy in 2022. 

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3. Happy guests spend more

If crowding has a negative impact on the guest experience, reducing capacity has the opposite effect.

Disney has already made this link. Guest spending increased during the pandemic, as visitors could freely peruse the parks’ retail outlets and relax in eateries without fear of missing precious spots in the line for their next ride.

McCarthy explained:  “If you’re having a good time, you’re probably inclined to spend more money, which has been the results we have had to date.”

This correlates with independent research from PWC’s customer experience survey. This found that 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better experience.

How to make the switch

Switching from volume-based KPIs to a combined revenue target or value focus requires two things:

  1. Deep knowledge of how your guests behave whilst on-park
  2. A reliable way of communicating with guests across their entire journey

Focusing on the guest experience requires you to have touchpoints in place that reach and engage guests in a meaningful way. Digital touchpoints like your website and warm-up email campaigns will help with the pre-visit experience. But to reach guests on-site, you’ll need to communicate in real-time. And that’s where having a guest experience platform or mobile app comes in.

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Mobile solutions are the only channel that spans the entire guest journey. Because of this, they enable you to build up a full picture of your guests. By leveraging insights from the majority of your visitors (mobile app reach at attractions regularly exceeds 90% of guests), your marketing team can discover what really makes them tick. They can then adapt accordingly with experiences, offers and activity plans that are built around guests’ behaviours and needs.

Better still, experience platforms like Attractions.io offer user segmentation, meaning guests can be grouped according to shared interests or behaviours. The benefit? You can tailor your messaging and offers to the needs of each group. This is more effective than relying on a one-size-fits-all marketing campaign that only appeals to a specific visitor type.

The guest experience & the future of revenue growth

To learn more about value-based revenue growth and how you can influence the end-to-end guest journey to increase commercial yields, download the Theme Park’s Guide to Revenue Growth, developed by Attractions.io.

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Ellen Wilkinson

Ellen is an experienced writer specialising in the tech industry. She manages the Marketing Department at Attractions.io, showing attractions how to use mobile technology to unlock powerful guest insights that enrich the on-site experience and increase revenue.

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