Pre COVID-19 many visitor attractions had not previously had to think about capacity restrictions or time based ticketing, they simply allowed visitors to turn up on their desired day, at their desired time and buy a ticket on the door. COVID-19 has meant a rise in online ticket bookings this helps many parks and operators manage capacity, with timed entry they can manage hygiene and cleaning regulations easier. But are these online booking systems here to stay?
Last summer many visitor attractions quickly signed up to online ticketing systems to help them manage the numbers in their attraction. You had to book a date and time and that was the only way you could actually gain entry into that park or attraction. Now many families who may have been ‘staycationing’ in the UK last year may not have had any problems with this, in fact it may have been a great help in planning their families days out. Knowing that you have guaranteed entry at a guaranteed time and you wont spend all morning stuck waiting in a queue to get into an attraction is appealing. For the attractions and park owners it also meant they we’re able to plan cleaning schedules, staffing numbers and anticipate numbers for tings like food or catering outlets. If they could have a maximum of 5000 people in their park on any one day, they can plan out exactly how many staff members they would need across the park, in outlets and their numbers for catering would be more predictable than say pre COVID where one day you could have 3000 and the next 10,000. This degree of certainty is definitely appealing and can help a park to save costs, but at what cost to visitors experience? These online booking systems could sometimes be off putting to either local visitors or day visitors that have not known their plans until a few days before. Are you alienating a whole potential visitor group because they cannot finalise plans until the day or just before?
We spoke to NFAN (National Farm Attractions Network) some of their members found that they lost out last year as many of their visitors would be from the local area and prefer to just turn up if it’s nice weather on the day and have a family walk and picnic. With the online booking system, people were put off being able to turn up and instead some of their most loyal visitors found it difficult to adjust to the online solution. There also may be a generational gap here, young families might enjoy the online ticket booking solution as it allows them the guarantee that the day is planned out, whereas the older generation, might not be a tech savvy and therefore struggle to use the online booking systems. If the online booking system for tickets is visitor attraction’s only means of welcoming visitors, then there’s definitely a concern about cutting off potential visitors who prefer to pay on the day.
So what is the solution? Will online ticket booking systems be the future for attractions? The answer is, it depends on the attraction and the attraction owner. If you run your park more efficiently, cost effectivity by having a purely online ticketing solution and this works for not just you but your customers that’s great. You can use your online ticket booking system to manage ticketing for your attraction in the future. But using a purely online ticketing solution means you could potentially be putting off a whole group of visitors that prefer to buy on the day, at the door. Presuming that the UK is back to some new normal in the coming months, reduced capacity and social distancing may no longer be an issue and therefore capacity limiting solutions may not be essential. It may work nicely for your attraction to offer a time entry booking solutions for guaranteed entry (maybe a slightly reduced cost to entice online bookings) and offer an on the door price, much like many events and concerts do. That way you can welcome a range of visitor who like to book ahead and also welcome those additional on the day visitors, keeping your attraction busy and thriving in the summer months.