How technology can improve theme park resorts

Large theme park resorts are often quick to boast about expensive new attractions that pack-in a host of unique and advanced technology. Yet their customers experience whilst visiting the parks and staying in on-site hotels is often made less enjoyable by reluctance from the resorts to move in to the 21st century.

To be fair to many resorts, including Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, they have made huge leaps online in order to ensure every part of booking your trip is quick and easy. Guests can now book their tickets, hotel and transportation all in one place and, in some resorts, make all their dining reservations for the trip from the comfort of their own home.

But once the resorts have your money the technology-based offerings seem to come to an end, leaving guests stressed on a trip which they planned on taking in order to get some rest and relaxation.

Disneyland Paris is notorious for this. As soon as guests get to the check-in desk they are bombarded with an abundance of leaflets, tickets and key cards which allow them to take advantage of a number of services offered around the resort.

At an ideal resort the majority of this should be condensed into one key card. The technology is available to put a guest’s room key and park tickets all on one key-card, yet many resorts seem reluctant to roll out a system which would make life infinitely easier for its customers.

Many places also allow you to charge purchases to your room on the very same key-card, a godsend for visitors looking to take a trip on a water ride, yet some resorts still fail to offer this service which forces guests to either take cash or a credit card, something which may force guests to bring along a wallet or purse when they don’t really need to.

Combining all these features in to one card may come at a cost for the resorts, but it will no doubt make a guest’s trip more enjoyable and may lead to repeat visits as well as visitors spreading a positive image of the resort to friends and family – in essence free advertising.

Speaking of free advertising, social media is another thing many resorts fail to utilise, despite the fact it’s a direct route straight to the computers and mobile devices of their target market.

Most if not all theme park resorts have some kind of social media account. Walt Disney World has a Facebook page, Twitter account and shares the Disney Parks Blog with Disneyland Resort over on the West Coast.

For the most part Walt Disney World often uses its social media accounts in order to promote new attractions, link to news articles on its main website or offer helpful tips to the people who read the various accounts.

Whilst this is all well and good potential customers now expect more of large organisations on social media sites. The key word is social and theme park resorts should be ready to interact with their visitors and potential customers rather than just offering a one-way communication system as so many resorts currently do.

Answering reasonable questions from guests via services such as Twitter is a great way in which to do this. By answering specific questions a theme park resort will create an image that they care about their visitors and want to help them, an image which may persuade a consumer to chose that resort as opposed to a competitor.

Sea World Parks and Entertainment have been particularly successful in this area with their @Shamu Twitter account, which offers a host of free giveaways and interacts with followers in a non-serious manner – giving the potential customers an idea of just how fun the parks will be.

Guests should also expect a similar level of interaction once they get to the resort. A Twitter account for wait time information would be a godsend at many resorts, replacing the increasingly outdated tip boards which force guests to walk in the opposite direction from where they want to go simply in order to check the wait time at an attraction.

It may seem like a service that would be hard to keep up with but it is certainly possible, as proven by London Heathrow Airport, whose Twitter account will quickly answer any questions which one of its 66 million passengers over the course of a year may ask.

Even better would be if the parks offered a wait times application for their parks in a similar style to Lines by Touring Plans, which offers incredibly accurate wait times, park hours and other useful information directly to your mobile device.

Of course checking park hours online can be a problem if you don’t have access to the internet at your hotel, a service which is becoming increasingly common at hotels around the world but many theme park resorts have yet to catch up with their counterparts.

Many guests now carry electronic devices on vacation with them, whether that be a laptop, mobile phone or another system which has internet connectivity. Anyone who caries such a devices will tell you how much they appreciate free or cheap Wi-Fi and how tempted they will be to return to the resort if such a service is offered.

There are many more features which could be added to resorts which would make guests trip much easier, but these are some of the more basic things which guests would enjoy and, if theme park resorts value their customers, should start looking into in the near-future.


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Toy Story Playland opens at Disneyland Paris with no news on Ratatouille dark ride

Toy Story Playland, the new section of Walt Disney Studios Park, was opened to the public yesterday, featuring three new attractions in a detailed themed environment.

(Photo provided by Parc d’Attraction)

The all-new area, opened to coincide with the resorts ‘New Generation Festival’, is reported to have cost in the region of €70 million and is intended to make guests feel as though they have been shrunk down and placed in a garden with characters from the hit movie series.

The area plays host to three new attractions, a half pipe coaster themed around RC Racer, a spinning ride based on Slinky-Dog and a parachute drop featuring the Green Army Men.

One section of the new land features an archway leading to an area themed around the hit Pixar movie Ratatouille, including benches featuring the movies main character Remy.

There has long been speculation Disney are considering an attraction based around the movie and the latest additions make the attraction look a more likely prospect.

Before the opening of Toy Story Playland a sculpture of Ratatouille character Gusteau on an archway leading to the potential attraction site was covered over, an action taken in order to ensure focus was totally on TSP rather than the forthcoming new addition, Theme Park Daily understands.

Reports have suggested the potential Ratatouille attraction could feature a trackless ride system and cost in the region of $150 million.

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Universal attempt to profit from Disney’s neglect of its golden rules

Walt Disney once talked about the importance of Disneyland appealing to all ages rather than just children. It seems now, 55 years after the opening of the Anaheim resort, that officials at Walt Disney World are forgetting about what Walt said, and rivals Universal are set to profit.

(Photo provided by Sam Howzit)

Take a trip to Downtown Disney and you’ll see the sorry-looking remains of what used to be Pleasure Island – Disney’s one stop destination for nightclubs and bars aimed at adults looking to have a good time after a long day at the parks.

Disney are hoping to turn the area into something more orientated towards families, a demographic which is already well catered for in Downtown Disney and Walt Disney World on the whole.

This has left a lot of die hard Disney fans feeling slightly left out when visiting the Resort, meaning many are looking elsewhere for their night time entertainment options, including Universal CityWalk.

As a part of their Labor Day celebrations Universal are set to add a techno music offering to their already considerable collection of night entertainment destinations based in the CityWalk area, which acts as a hub for the two parks as well as the hotels on site.

Universal CityWalk is incredibly popular, especially on nights when special concerts and events are held at the Resort. Proof their is a market for adult-orientated night time entertainment in the main Orlando tourist areas.

Officials at Walt Disney World need to realise that, whilst their trying to make attractions which can please everyone in one place, they are also making even the most staunch Disney visitors look elsewhere to spend their money of an evening and unless something is developed to meet the needs of these customers they will walk away.

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Walt Disney World to extend Main Street Electrical Parade stay at the Magic Kingdom

The popular Main Street Electrical Parade is set to continue pleasing guests at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The parade originally returned to the Magic Kingdom as a part of Walt Disney World’s Summer Nightastic celebrations but the official Disney Parks Blog today informed readers that the event will continue running after the event with no set end date.

More to follow.

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Orlando hotels witness increase in occupancy

Hotel industry figures collected for June 2010 have shown that occupancy in the Orlando-area has increased by 4.2% compared to the same month last year.

(Photo provided by DB King)

The figures, collected by Smith Travel Research, showed that hotel occupancy stood at 66.1% in June, rising from 63.4% in the same month last year.

Average daily room rates have also risen by 2.1% over the same period, increasing from $89.20 to $91.07.

Another major indicator of industry health – revenue per available room – has also risen by 6.4%, from$ 56.59 to $60.22.

The first six months of 2010 saw a 3% increase in hotel occupancy from the same period last year, though the average room rate dropped by 5.9%, decreasing from $101.62 in 2009 to $95.59 in 2009.

Revenue per available room also dropped over the comparable periods by 3.1%, from $64.25 in 2009 to $62.23 in 2010.

The increase in occupancy in June, considered to be a busy month in Orlando, will provided a much needed boost the Orlando hoteliers who have suffered a torrid time since the economic crisis hit the tourism industry.

The drop in performance between the comparable six month periods of January to June can be partly attributed to the large number of incentives offered during 2009 in order to attract guests o book stays and extend already planned trips in the Orlando area.

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Thorpe Park and Alton Towers set for exciting new additions

British theme park fans will be thrilled with recent news that both Thorpe Park and Alton Towers are set for major developments over the course of the next six years.

Both parks, which are owned and operated by Merlin Entertainment, are set to add a host of new attractions to their line-ups over the course of the next six years, including three new roller coasters.

Alton Towers, Britain’s most popular theme park, is set to add another major attraction to its collection as soon as 2013 in a project dubbed “SW7” or “Secret Weapon 7”, a project title the park has used for a number of major attractions over the years.

Coaster designer John Wardley broke the news at an event discussing various aspects of the park and said the new attraction would primarily be aimed at thrill-seekers as opposed to the more family-orientated Thirteen, which debuted earlier this year.

Meanwhile Thorpe Park has released plans for two new roller coasters which, if they obtain planning permission, will be built in 2012 and 2015.

Although there is little detail of what types of roller coaster will be added it has been revealed that the 2012 and 2015 additions will have maximum heights of 164 feet and 131 feet respectively.

According to reports from Theme Park Tourist the park expects the additions to cost £22.3 million and will result in an increase in attendance of around 3%.

Along with the new roller coaster Thorpe Park also plans to add five new flat rides to its attraction list as a part of its “medium-term development plan” which will also see a significant increase in the number of buildings on site, with planning permission suggesting the park want to add up to 5,000 square meters of addition floor space.

The new flat rides will be no taller than 25 meters in height and will cover no more than 750 square meters of floor space.

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Theme park spending increases among the “ultra-affluent”

Despite a turbulent economic downturn and the threat of a double-dip recession spending at theme parks has risen, at least with some guests.

(photo provided by Steev)

A report compiled by American Express Business Insights shows a 32% rise in spending inside theme parks by its “ultra-affluent” cardholders, considerably more than the tiny 1% increase among the rest of its customers over the course of the last year.

Abe Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s College of Hospitality and Management, gave the Orlando Sentinel an insight into why spending among the super-rich has increased.

“I think these people didn’t spend a lot before not because they couldn’t afford to, but because it was not socially acceptable,” Pizam said. “Now it is not so shameful as it was.”

The news comes shortly after Disney began pre-sales for homes inside their Golden Oak residential development, a collection of properties inside Walt Disney World which will be aimed at the super-wealthy and will cost a minimum of $1.5 million and a maximum of $8 million.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment have also been preparing for a similar shift in the market, announcing the expansion of its Discovery Cove Park in Orlando, where packages cost around $199 per person.

With the travel and tourism industry still facing troubles despite the improvement in the economy over the past year it’s likely other such plans may be put into action by major organisations in the theme park industry.

Disney and, to a lesser extent, Universal frequently use hard-ticket events surrounding major holidays in order to gain additional revenue outside of standard park operating hours.

Should both operators see it as profitable then hard-ticket events may become more common place over the course of the operational calendar, with increased numbers of exclusive events where ticket prices far exceed the standard park entrance fee.

On the West Coast Disney has long profited from it’s ultra-exclusive Club 33 in Disneyland and the data provided by the report will be incredibly positive for senior management over at Disneyland Resort.

Should spending by the ultra-affluent continue to rise within theme parks Disney, and other operators, may consider adding similar hospitality areas to their parks and resorts, aiming memberships at rich individuals as opposed to business clients and commercial partners.

With decreased revenues from sponsorships (see Test Track and GM) hitting park operators hard the increased spending by the rich may be seen as a potential new revenue stream for theme parks, with increasing products and services provided at a premium price.

Whatever the result of the findings it’s certainly good news for the theme park industry, now all park operators need is for all tourists to follow in the footsteps of those on high-incomes.

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