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Since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 our lives have been revolutionised by our ability to access people, information and services from wherever we can get online. The World Wide Web has made it possible for us to conduct our lives online, reaching out beyond our friends, family and local commercial environment. The phenomenal increase in internet use over the last 10 years has also fundamentally changed the way we interact both in terms of personal relationships and business transactions.
The table below shows top the 5 countries in terms of internet use as at 30 June 2010 (Source: www.internetworldstats.com):
Whereas the US and Japan show internet penetration of nearly 80% of the population, China, Brazil and India still have enormous potential for growth. In particular China has 21% of the world’s internet users from only 32% of its population. The web is everywhere and businesses need to be able to understand the requirements of online consumers.
Most of us now expect to be able to find out about or buy whatever we want, whenever we want, and the web is the usually the first and only place that we look. Attention spans are short; vendors unable to provide an easily navigable site and buying options will miss out on the sale. Those businesses that can utilise the net to get to know their customers and offer tailored products and services will win a loyal following.
We are currently on the second generation of the internet: Web 2.0. Whereas the initial iteration of the web, Web 1.0, can be thought of as a library, Web 2.0 reflects the way that we now interact across the internet: for example via social networking, or communicating with vendors and other consumers when we share reviews of books on Amazon. Going beyond this we are getting into the realms of Web 3.0, the next evolutionary phase of the internet, where we will be able to search for more complex concepts better explaining what we actually want to find out. When preparing for a night out instead of accessing multiple sites we will be able to ask for “suggestions for a romantic comedy movie and then a skinny latte near here”, and get option that reflects our preferences. No two users would get the same result.
Within the travel industry there are already increasingly sophisticated applications available to users to allow access in real time to suggestions carefully matched to the individual’s preferences. Simple guide book formats accessed from a desktop are looking outdated compared to the option of using, for instance Twitter, to see where people like you would recommend to go for a good Thai meal in Manchester. Going beyond this with SIri (see header image), a website site offering to be your personal assistant with a voice recognition option, you can just ask the site to find you a local taxi or Dim Sum restaurant.
Siri is also available as an app on your mobile, reflecting perhaps the biggest current trend with internet use: m commerce. The Ypartnership report “2010 Portrait of American Travelers” shows that in 2010, nearly two in ten US travellers downloaded a travel-related application to their smartphone, using their phones to access virtual visitor guides, compare and book accommodation, redeem mobile coupons and share information about their experiences. Theme parks are quickly developing mobile applications to enhance the visitor experience: Disneyland Paris launched an iphone app this month and the image on the right shows an application available to help find “hidden mickeys”. The web is on the move.
Blooloop talked to UK-based Oliver Wigdahl, Managing Director of Open Frontiers Ltd and the driving force behind Time Pursuit, the leisure specific booking, ticketing and customer management system, about the application of web based technology for the Attractions Industry, and the implications of the developing technology.
What can the best web based technologies do? Most attractions have websites which also offer ticketing – what’s new and what customer need is it addressing?
Web based technologies, such as Time Pursuit, are extremely agile and flexible. They offer competitive advantage versus traditional locally distributed software systems because their operating platform is the ubiquitous web browser – this makes them highly deployable. Their simplified architecture makes it easy to consolidate systems and processes and being web based, there is great cross-platform compatibility. This in turn delivers significant cost savings and efficiency to the end user.
Having a website and selling tickets and bookings through ecommerce services many purposes; some key points to take note of are:
1. Selling online will expand your attraction’s “shop window” into a seven by 24 by 365 shelf and will catapult your attraction onto the global stage.
2. Online sales are infinitely measurable meaning that an attraction has the tools to “know the customer” throughout the lifecycle of their relationship and maximise opportunities to do business.
3. Selling tickets or activities online, in advance demands a financial commitment and effectively locks customers in.
4. Giving customers the freedom to purchase their own tickets or to book activities in their own time puts them in control and services the increasing expectation of simply being able to transact online. In fact, internet adoption rates and usage patterns have matured to such an extent that an attraction which does not offer online ticketing or bookings will be missing out on valuable revenue opportunities.
5. Most older technology systems have retro-fitted ecommerce onto the side of their on-the-day turnstile admissions ticketing (Two adults; two kids please – who remain anonymous). Modern cloud based systems such as Time Pursuit were designed from the start to manage an integrated ‘customer journey’ from end to end across multiple sales channels. The customer is identified from the outset, and becomes the point of polarity thereafter.
How can this help business?
1. Increase revenues: In our experience, online sales, providing the ecommerce solution is integrated into a broader channel mix, can only benefit an attraction. Over the course of the 2010 season, BeWILDerwood has seen phenomenal growth in their online sales which increased from 0 to 20% with zero price differentials to on-the-day site pricing.
2. Lower operating costs: Go Ape have used their online sales to forecast demand, flex pricing and optimise capacities. Forecasting allows Go Ape to staff-up appropriately, still provide the best operational day possible whilst lowering operating costs.
3. Improve customer service: BeWILDerwood use web technology to manage queues effectively: they employ handheld scanners to scan e-tickets, which are generated from advance online bookings. Queuing times are reduced and the customer experience improved.
4. Provide better management information: FunForest have used Time Pursuit’s extensive reporting tools to maximise their sites’ true capacity. Before using our web based booking software, FunForest’s site capacity stood at 280 participants a day. Using Time Pursuit to flex activity capacity according to demand, they have been able to increase visitor numbers by more than 30% to 370 participants over the course of a day.
What are the pitfalls for operators introducing web based technology?
Whilst having a web presence and being able to sell tickets and bookings online is becoming increasingly important element of an attraction’s distribution strategy, our advice is that it is important to see web contextually as part of an integrated, bigger picture.
Ecommerce should not be relied upon as the “best” way in which to do business and certainly should not be rolled out as a separate or singular solution. The key to deciding how much emphasis to place on web lies with how well you know your customers; customer like choice – they will certainly expect to be able to transact with you online but they most certainly will also expect other options such as discussing a complex booking over the phone or making last minute changes to arrangements when they arrive on site.
What’s in the future?
Attractions should overlook mobile internet at their peril – with the mass adoption of Smart phones, Tablet PCs and location based services, there is a growing trend towards managing leisure time on the move. Attractions should be prepared to service this space appropriately.
Web 3.0 is likely to bring significant change which internet experts liken to having a personal assistant who knows lots about you and will proactively deliver lots of relevant information in answer to any question. Essentially, Web 3.0 is all about knowing the customer so well that their requirements can be serviced proactively and thoroughly. In the context of the leisure market, Web 3.0 will deliver the full lifecycle of a customer visit. A web 3.0 search for a theme park may proactively furnish a wealth of information about an attraction within one return: booking options, good places to eat nearby, other fun activities nearby and travel information to all of the attractions listed.
Given the success of the ‘commoditisation strategy’ which has been the cheap flights revolution of the last decade (Ryanair/easyJet/etc.), we can foresee a time soon where attractions will offer entrance on a cost neutral basis on the assumption that they will be able to cross-sell high value extras to the customer over the course of their pre, during and post visit experience, such as queue hopping passes, food & beverage, merchandise and other value adding ancillary sales.