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Digital Tech at Theme Parks: What's Ahead for 2020

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When it comes to digital tech and theme parks, game changers are already underway for guests. From IoT to wearable devices that make interaction the key to guest experiences, technology is becoming a vastly bigger part of theme parks nationwide.

IoT is already improving efficiency and communications in theme parks, and with the capability for nearly 12 billion devices to communicate over the internet, this tech will be both ideal and seamless for improving service to guests. Interventions to prevent as well as fix hardware malfunctions, problem predictions, and diagnoses will cover ride operation and visitor flow in real time. It also will offer predictive capabilities such as the amount of food necessary to be delivered to the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge cantina, based on the amount consumed at the moment in real time. The goal of IoT is to improve park operations and thus visitor experience by monitoring the need for food items or souvenirs, and providing information about ride line queues.

Tying into an improvement in guest satisfaction is the use of virtual assistants and video which should be made operational through IoT this year. As theme parks install smart speakers with video display, guests can order food and beverages ahead of when they want to receive them, inquire about and book add-on experiences and other features. These virtual assistants will utilize either phone Wi-fi, or wearable devices that visitors wear to identify them and provide access to the most relevant information.

With identification in mind, artificial intelligence and facial recognition will be used to access technology for payment as well as hotel room access and the like. It will also allow virtual assistants using smart speakers to recognize visitors, greet them, and offer to guide them and help them throughout the day.

As noted, wearable devices for guests will most likely be a part of this virtual guidance process. Universal's soon-to-arrive Super Nintendo World coming to theme parks globally starting in 2020 makes use of this type of device for interactive play and experience. Interjecting theme park story telling into wearables and making them part of the entertainment experience overall will be both part of the appeal and add to the ease of using virtual assistants. Theme park operators will need to make the value of wearables known to guests through these experiences. They will also provide plenty of data for theme park operators to utilize in terms of spending and engagement by guests in the park.
One way to generate that interest is through the use of mixed reality combined with integrated voice interface. If such a technology is developed and made easily available to parks, they can greatly enhance a theme park experience, potentially offering augmented reality experiences that create an entirely new dimension for park visitors. Additionally, this type of device could offer another way to access information about pricing, merchandise, and food/drink as well as answering questions about rides – all while the guest is moving around the park or while in a queue line. To make this type of system accessible and efficient of course, it would need to be lightweight and convenient for guests to use. Park operators might find the devices can provide seasonal looks to theme parks or add additional sensory experiences for guests; and provide parks with additional data for their own information base as well. However, guests may very well have to be convinced that these wearables are something they desire to use.

Mobile apps are clearly already here and used all the time on smart phones. Mobile apps for and by theme parks are coming, again with a dual purpose. They will provide enhanced ease and an enhanced experience for guests in the park; and they will supply parks with coveted data. Already, dedicated apps for parks are an intrinsic part of most visitors' experience, something that is still fairly new but not only growing in acceptance and application, but something that many guests require for a smooth visit. Parks themselves can and do utilize these apps for visitor loyalty programs and to better understand guest engagement, as well as finding solutions to retain more guests.

Personalizing the visitor experience through these operations, which include options to the enhance park experience with add-ons or allow guests to interact with the park and its characters with games and other interactive activities is one aspect of app use. The other is information for the parks as to what guests are doing and how often they engage with certain elements of the park.

Personalization studies over the past year have indicated that parks which focus on this capability increase their revenues overall – by as much as 15%. Perhaps even better: parks can work on the efficacy and efficiency in their marketing, and discover what areas of each park draw which guest demographics. As with wearable devices, the use of apps allows for notifications, knowledge dissemination, and an enhanced, engaged experience. Correlating data with a guest's recent activities in the park is helpful to suggest other add-on experiences. Social media profiles and supplied personal details can further enhance guest experiences as well as provide parks with much-coveted user data.

Whether through facial recognition or phone apps, the end goal is this: to use the growing revolution in digital technology to create new, involving experiences for guests, smoother, more expansive park experiences ; and allow parks to both increase profitability, and effortlessly personalize marketing.
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