Most parks' apps provide a lot of useful information for visitors. You can see where you are on an interactive park map, look at current wait times for rides and see the day's schedule for shows and other in-park entertainment. The better apps also work as park tickets and might even allow you to manage any reservations you have in the park.
But theme parks could learn a few things from other app developers, too. What if official theme park apps provided more than an interactive guidemap and maybe a ticket? What if they became virtual tour guides, encouraging visitors' movement around the parks? That's the question I ask in my Orange County Register column this week, How about virtual online prize games while visiting theme parks?
"Gamified" apps might make a visit to a theme park even more entertaining for fans who are used to collecting badges and other virtual rewards from the apps they use. But the potential benefit is even bigger for the parks themselves. As I mention in my column, one of the big reasons why Disney invested so much in building Fastpass+ was to create a system that better distributed guests throughout its theme parks. By encouraging guests to schedule more of their day — instead of just wandering into the nearest queues all day long — parks can use schedule availability to make sure that one part of the park isn't getting overloaded while another stands relatively empty.
But schedules and Fastpass+ return times aren't the only ways to get people to move around in a park. The effective use of rewards and targeted messaging can encourage people to bail from one place and try another in the park, too. And seeing what rewards people choose to pursue — and ignore — gives parks even more information about the individual preferences of their visitors.
Yet parks haven't done much yet to take advantage of these opportunities. Cedar Point introduced an interactive game on its app last summer that encouraged visitors to go to various sites around the park. But that's been about it for major parks in the United States. Walt Disney World has created multiple game experiences within its parks, such as Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, but it hasn't enable gameplay through its app.
As parks continue to look for ways to make more money from their visitors, it seems to me that developing an app that could both steer some people around the park while helping them to better enjoy their visit could be done for a lot less money than building a new ride to achieve the same redistribution and guest satisfaction. So it surprises me a little that we haven't seen parks do more to get this type of value out of their apps.
Yes, parks should keep building new rides and creating fresh shows. Fans want well-themed restaurants and shopping when they visit, too. But if apps can add some additional entertainment for the people who use them — and give the parks another tool for better crowd control — why not?
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