The rapid development of mobile phone technology is changing the way guests interact with visitor attractions. How are theme parks, zoos, aquariums, museums and other attractions adapting to this sea change in the way their visitors behave and how can they both monetize this new technology and enhance the guest experience?
Blooloop's Chad Emerson caught up with TJ Christensen (left), Director of Business Development at accesso to discuss why attractions should "stay ahead of the curve".
Related: Gamepocalypse or Gametopia : What Can Gamification Offer Theme Parks And Attractions? / How biometrics became part of theme park ticketing: interview with accesso's Janel Pisorchik / Theme Parks - From E commerce to M commerce / The Truth about Theme Park Ticketing: Interview with Steven K. Brown of accesso / Mark Fisher at Merlin Entertainments: Rocking around the World
Chad Emerson: Share with us how you got started in the amusement industry and some of the key positions that you’ve held:
TJ Christensen: I got started in the industry in the same way many of us did, by accident. While I was a sophomore at University of Delaware I wanted to escape the winter weather, and I had the opportunity to participate in the Walt Disney World College Program and jumped on it. After graduation, I was accepted to the College program again, but this time made the move permanent.
While at Disney I spent several years helping develop programs to market WDW ticket product within the Central Florida Tourist Market. From there I moved over to Wyndham Vacation Ownership as a Director of Marketing. At Wyndham, I was responsible for implementing initiatives to increase sales and marketing programs through Local Marketing and Welcome Center operations for all Wyndham Sales Centers in the Mid-South, Mid-Atlantic, and South East Regions.
Emerson: Smart phones and other handheld devices are exploding in popularity. How is this affecting theme parks and other amusement facilities?
Christensen: We are starting to see a shift in how guests of all ages engage and interact with attractions before, during, and after their visit. It’s predicted that the number of people accessing the internet from mobile devices will outpace the PC in five years. Some attractions are already seeing approximately 10 percent of their overall web traffic coming from mobile devices.
For theme park and attractions, it’s important that they start learning about how they can most effectively leverage mobile to deliver both the content the guest demands, and find ways to monetize this emerging technology. By investing now, attractions can stay ahead of the curve, rather than in a few years when the majority of internet traffic will be coming from mobile devices.
Emerson: What segments of the amusement and out-of-home entertainment industry are best situated to realize the benefit of using handheld devices to enhance the guest experience and why?
Christensen: Every segment of the attraction industry can benefit from leveraging mobile to enhance the guest experience. In the world of the Web 2.0, the theme seems to be, deliver content when and where the guest demands it.
That being said, with the capabilities of mobile devices today, attractions can start as simply as providing a mobile optimized website to provide hours and basic park information for guests on the go. Downloadable native apps on an iPhone or Android device, for example, allow attractions to provide rich media content to further engage guests, allowing them to schedule their day prior to arriving, purchase tickets, or learn more about featured rides and events. With functionality like GPS mapping, guest can more easily navigate a large theme park or receive special offers based on their proximity to the closest merchandise shop or concession stand.
Emerson: I was recently in a theme park and noticed a family of four where the mom, dad, and oldest child all had their faces planted in a handheld device. What’s the risk that these devices end up taking away from the overall theme park experience by distracting guests from their surroundings?
Christensen: We are all learning that there is a fine balance between being connected and enjoying the sights and sounds around you. With everything it’s all about moderation and our mobile devices should simply compliment our lives not run them.
Emerson: How is accesso situating itself for this growth in handheld devices in amusement facility settings?
Christensen: We’ve been following the emerging mobile trends for the last several years and this fall accesso partnered with AVAI Mobile Solutions to deliver the attraction industry’s most comprehensive mobile platform. accesso MOBILE allows attractions to combine robust mobile content with mobile ticketing, finally offering attractions a way to monetize their mobile strategy.
Since our product launch this fall we have had an overwhelming response and are very excited about going live with our first client, the Columbus Zoo, in early 2011 (see also: Ticketing Systems - The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium: A Bottom-Line Focus on Guest Experience with accesso)
Emerson: Last question. It’s a perfect winter evening in Central Florida. Your handheld device is not working. Share with us what your ideal theme park experience in that scenario would involve?
Christensen: Since it’s the holidays I’d head over to Epcot with family and friends for dinner at the Coral Reef Restaurant, then make our way over to the Candle Light Processional at American Adventure, and finally top off the evening of with Illuminations Reflections of Earth.
Images: TJ Christensen courtesy accesso, phones courtesy sharelink.ru