– By Mike Konzen, principal and chair
“I just don’t get bumper cars.”
This is what my friend Hannah said as we watched guests at Busch Gardens Williamsburg wham into each other on the Der Autobahn Bumper Cars in the Oktoberfest node. It is really pretty silly when you think about it.
I was giving Hannah a tour of Busch Gardens, a park that we had originally designed back in the early 1970s. Since we had also helped to design dozens of expansions at the park since then, I was able to use the park’s evolution to explain to Hannah how the industry had evolved over almost 40 years. The park has many important technological advancements in rides and shows and other elements. As I went on, I expounded on guest research, business strategy, and the evolution of park branding.
In other words, I was laying it on thick.
But the bumper cars have been there since the park opened in 1975. From a technology standpoint, they are among the simplest of rides. If you think about it, millions of people have ridden the bumper cars over the past 39 seasons, happily slamming into each other.
“I just don’t get bumper cars.”
I tried to think of a really intelligent sounding answer. Perhaps they appeal to the guest’s innately competitive nature, making them inherently repeatable. Perhaps they stimulate a small dose of adrenaline in the guest, like many small rides. What else?
As I prepared to deliver my clever explanation, the ride stopped and emptied out. Two guests particularly caught our attention. They appeared to be a father-daughter pair.
They were laughing at each other, no doubt having just slammed into each other several times. They were having a great time. And they were holding hands.
I allowed my mind to imagine stories for them. He appeared to be a middle-class working guy. The daughter appeared to be eight or nine years old. I imagined that he worked hard, and had limited quality time to spend with her as she grew up all too fast. I imagined that this might be a special moment for her, perhaps an important memory of her father that she would carry with her into adulthood. I thought of my own daughter, and got a lump in my throat.
The father-daughter pair had what I like to call a Connecting Moment. These occur when the attraction experience brings loved ones together in a natural, uninhibited way. This is not just about having fun together. They’ve given themselves over to the experience; and in the ensuing fun, found an opportunity to deepen their relationship. Really well-designed experiences create the highest potential for Connecting Moments. Imagine the great value of these Connecting Moments in creating shared memories and a special opportunity to deepen a relationship in the busy lives of our guests.
It is a particular blessing for us that we can enrich people’s lives by creating opportunities for these special moments. But in truth, they create the moment for themselves.
Today we design experiences with tools like virtual reality, digital mapping, and rides that boggle the senses. But we have to always remind ourselves to make room for these Connecting Moments to happen. For all of the creativity we employ in designing state-of-the-art attractions, we are humbled in remembering that the guests create this most important aspect for themselves.
Hannah and I watched the hand-holding father-daughter pair get right back on the ride for another round of silly collisions. And we simultaneously realized the value of the simple bumpers cars to foster a connection between them.
“That’s the point of bumper cars,” I told her.
And I felt proud that PGAV had a role in creating that particular Connecting Moment, and millions more like it.