Can A.I. Improve Your Theme Park Visits?

February 26, 2021, 5:05 PM · Can artificial intelligence help you enjoy a better visit on your next trip to a theme park?

The crew at Thinkwell explored that question in their latest Annual Guest Experience Trend Report, surveying a sample of more than 1,300 respondents about the use of AI in themed entertainment. The report offers "big ideas" for the use of AI: Managing virtual queues to replace all physical queuing, creating responsive automated guides, and providing support for human hosts to enhance guest interactions.

One major park already has eliminated physical queuing - Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay. But Volcano Bay's TapuTapu system still relies on guests taking the initiative to walk to tap points to join virtual queues for the park's water slides. The Thinkwell report envisions recommendation algorithms driving an intelligent virtual queuing system, so that "A.I. can balance each person’s needs to ensure the best possible day for everyone."

The company reported that 85 percent of respondents reacted positively to the idea. However, as the report noted, "no artificial intelligence can solve every challenge of a busy park with only so much capacity."

Furthermore, "reinventing the queuing experience will require reinventing the entire park infrastructure to accommodate all the guests who are no longer waiting in lines, such as by adding significantly more flexible entertainment spaces and lounge areas."

That's part of the reason why 100 percent virtual queuing works at Volcano Bay. As a water park, Volcano Bay offers plentiful beaches and pools to accommodate guests while they await their next water slide ride time. Theme parks don't typically have those type of catch-all areas.

Thinkwell's second prediction aims more at museums, envisioning a digital guide that draws upon everything from visitors' social media to the way they react to exhibits on site to adjust customized recommendations for where to go and what to do next. The company said that 75 percent of respondents felt positively about the idea, with a majority liking the idea of more efficiency on their trip, while the leading objection was a loss of time to wander freely.

The final prediction was connecting all employees to a resort-wide AI network, "allowing them to predict each guest’s needs and make more personalized interactions."

Walt Disney World has taken a step toward this with the My Magic+ system, but Thinkwell notes that this concept has been around for a much longer time, from notes in restaurant reservation systems to guests wearing an "It's My Birthday!" badge. Thinkwell's prediction envisions a supercharged version that allows employees to draw upon the experience of every interaction that the guest has had at the resort so far, instead of having them start from scratch to anticipate a guest's wants and needs.

In other words, let's use an AI system to help more cast members be able to answer correctly "when is the 3:00 parade?" questions.

Seventy percent of respondents responded positively to this idea, with many looking forward to more personalized interactions, while others worried about ensuing social awkwardness or becoming an unwanted center of attention.

Implementing AI within any environment raises concerns about the perpetuation of developers' racial and social biases, which Thinkwell acknowledges. Computing systems cannot yet scale to the levels required to implement all of the uses that the report envisions, but that just provides time for businesses and consumers to refine exactly what they want from AI.

"As the technology evolves in increasingly complex, multifaceted directions worthy of further study and analysis, the same can be said for the ways that people themselves understand, interact with, and form opinions about this technology," the report concludes.

Again, you can read the report on Thinkwell's website.

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Replies (10)

February 26, 2021 at 5:28 PM

No...just no. I much prefer the idea of making the queues part of the experience (HPFJ, Gringotts, Mummy, Pirates, Everest), than doing away with them altogether. You know, the queuing system worked just fine for years until Disney starting messing with it via Fast Pass+...

Seriously, I prefer a day at the park where I'm making the decisions and moving around in a pattern that makes sense to me vs. waiting for some piece of technology to tell me which part of the park I need to rush to next. And I sure as heck don't want park employees trying to anticipate my needs -- if I want help, I'll ask for it. Otherwise, please leave me alone to experience the park in my own way.

February 27, 2021 at 2:42 AM

Agreed Melanie

February 27, 2021 at 5:04 AM

All these algorithms that gives you more of the same doesn't enhances anyone's live. More of the kind of movies, music, books and items you like will narrow your worldview an makes sure you doesn't develop as a person. Imagine that system was in place and I was going to Islands of Adventure. The system knows I don't give a crap about superhero stuff and would steer me away from Spider-man. That would be a shame as it turns out to be my favorite dark-ride ever.
There was a time I didn't like eating fish or salades but I love them now just because I got exposed to it. There was no algorithm pushing me as a consumer around to disable me. I hate these developments with a passion.

February 27, 2021 at 10:56 AM

Pre-COVID-19, I had a one hour commute each way on workdays. Up until about 5 years ago, I would listen to the radio (The Big Show with John Boy and Billy) in the morning and then music or radio or self-improvement tapes in the afternoon. Then I got started on audiobooks downloaded from an electronic subscription at my local library. My initial interests were sci-fi and fantasy. The suggestion algorithm then started throwing in some drama titles and then crime thrillers and spy thrillers. I've even listened to a few Janet Evanovich novels which is something that I would have never done if the suggestion algorithm hadn't added them to the mix.

So a good search and suggestion algorithm can make your life better or it can expand your horizons. You've just got to be willing to look at the offerings it serves up.

Oh, and Melanie, FastPass+ is a godsend. I had almost entirely quit going to Disney parks because they were too crowded and the system catered to rope-droppers. With FP+ I can do my virtual rope drop online and then leisurely explore the park at a relaxed pace. Best $1B Disney ever spent.

February 27, 2021 at 11:35 AM

@Tim, sorry, but I'm never gonna agree with you on that one. I plan events for a living and have to be organized and often have my days planned down to the minute, weeks or months in advance. I do NOT want to think like that when I'm planning a vacation, especially to a theme park. I don't want to have to choose what ride I'm gonna ride and at what time when several months out, or make my dining reservations 6 months in advance for a place I used to be able to walk right into.

I know it works for a lot of people... but since my vacations are the few times in my life where I get to be spontaneous, I'm just not a fan :-)

February 27, 2021 at 7:02 PM

FP+ has kept us away, and it has significantly diminished our enjoyment when there. Having to pre-plan a vacation goes against the very nature of a vacation. Also, the current system makes the waits longer, not shorter at WDW. Not to be the ‘man yelling at clouds’ but Martin Scorsese’s latest article about algorithms mentions how it limits your worldview, and I agree with him. An algorithm would put me on all the thrill rides (which I love), but I would likely miss the wonderful understated exhibits like the Sleeping Beauty Walkthrough. FP+ needs to go. It was a bad idea when they started it, and it remains a bad one now.

February 28, 2021 at 1:54 PM

I think Disneyland's (probably-former) MaxPass is a fantastic middle ground. The only downside is that there are no Magic Bands, and Disneyland's inferior WiFi meant I couldn't add my HyperSpace Mountain on-ride photos do to non-connectivity to Disneyland's WiFi. I had to spend extra time in Photo Supply Co. while a very kind cast member scrolled through a LOT of on-ride photos from the time frame I gave them in order to connect the photo to my account.

If MaxPass, even with the extra charge, were to be connected to Magic Bands, with RFID connected photos automatically, I think we would have a winner.

March 1, 2021 at 6:26 AM

I totally agree about MaxPass. I can accomplish more than double the attractions at DL over MK on capacity days. I also like Magic Bands. They are convenient, and it is nice to leave the wallet and keys at the room when at a pool. Last time I compared the two on capacity days, it was almost 3:1 and I did not make it to DL until noon.

March 2, 2021 at 11:33 AM

Some of this is already in practice. The company TouringPlans uses algorithms to determine the order that a person or family should visit while in the park as well as which FP+ they should attempt to get in the pre-Covid era.

Disney was supposed to release something similar in 2020 as part of their My Magic platform, but I'm sure Covid has delayed that rollout.

Remember when Galaxy's Edge was supposed to have a personalized component? We were told during its construction that castmembers would interact with guests based upon their previous adventures. One example could be Chewbacca would berate a guest for wrecking the Falcon in the Smuggler's Run ride. Of course, that never came to fruition, but it was under consideration at one time several years ago.

I don't have experience with Disneyland's Maxpass, but I have used both the paper fastpasses and FP+ at DisneyWorld. I have been able to use both quite well, being able to visit many more than the first three FP+ each time I visit or multiple paper fastpasses in the old days (including when we actually held TWO sets of pastpasses to ride Soarin' when it first opened at the same time!) But doing so requires planning, bringing me to my final point...

I like the planning. I am a person that enjoys the planning. I honestly would not be surprised if I spent more hours planning a trip to Orlando than I have actually spent in Orlando! The anticipation is exciting, and I know that my family will see more attractions in a day than a family that just shows up one day and stares at a map on Mainstreet, USA, asking each other what they should do.

March 2, 2021 at 5:46 PM

That is just it, you cannot do near as much in a day at WDW than you can at DL with MaxPass (or without MaxPass). It is nice that you like to plan, but the current system at WDW is simply inferior to DL. People that go to WDW say I can always do more than the three attractions. I can too. Most on a capacity day is 10 if I plan like crazy and my family is mad for being a micromanager. I can show up at DL and do 20-25 attractions WITH NO preplanning. FP+ was not made to help people experience more and would never had been approved with past management. I can go across town to Universal and pay $250 less a night and not stand in line at all. Without any preplanning. Granted FP+ is good for some people. Folks that live near and can pop in with a season pass, I am sure it is good. Families that are spending $10,000 with four or five people in the group that have to battle school schedules, it is hell. Absolute hell.

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