– Key Contributors: Ashley Edelbrock (Architect), April Neal (Designer), Jeff Havlik (Vice President), Josh Rodriguez (Architectural Designer), Teague Peak (Architectural Designer), Tiffany Rawson (Architect)
Destinations are slowly opening their doors, most under capacity restrictions from local jurisdictions. While these restrictions dictate the number of guests who can pass through the front gate, they don’t determine how guests are managed once on property. So how does reduced attendance correlate with a destination that will also have reduced program capacities (attractions, culinary, and retail) due to social distancing and enhanced sanitizing protocols? What does the guest experience look like? Is the critical Entertainment Factor (measuring the number of attractions a guest can experience per hour) reduced below the threshold of a great experience, leaving guests on pathways with nothing to do? We decided to do some digging to see what we could find out.
Our Test Case – PGAV Land
To study the effects of reduced destination attendance and program capacity, we designed a program and operational model for a theme park we called PGAV Land. Our park is comparable to a regional theme park in terms of size, family demographics and program mix which includes shows, dry rides, play attractions, dining, retail, and guest service facilities. The original programmed attendance and operational statistics for PGAV Land are summarized as follows.
Table 1: Attendance and Operational Parameters (original)
Once we created the operational model for PGAV Land, we reduced attraction capacity to meet the CDC’s social distancing requirements.
- Show venues (indoor & outdoor) reduced to at least 25% capacity
- Parades, outdoor spectaculars, and street entertainment operated at reduced attendance and in less structured formats
- Ride hourly capacity reduced by at least 50% allowing for social distancing of riders on-board
- Queue capacity limited to provide distance between groups of riders
Play & Interactives
- All high-touch attractions (free play spaces, interactive elements, etc.) are closed
- “Touchless” walkthrough attractions remained open at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing
- Indoor dining / serving facilities and seating areas reduced to 25% capacity
- Carts and kiosks remained at 100% capacity with queueing for ordering managed along paths and within plazas
- Instantaneous capacity reduced to 25%
After reducing the operational capacities for attractions, dining, and retail, we then ran three different attendance scenarios, reducing the park attendance to 25%, 50%, and 75%. For each scenario, we analyzed how guests are distributed on property, paying close attention to the reduced capacity limits for each program element. When maximum capacity was reached for an attraction or facility, excess guests were moved to the park common areas (pathways and plazas).
What Did We Find?
When comparing how reduced operational capacity impacts guest experience for each of the attendance scenarios, we first examined the Instantaneous Distribution to see where guests are distributed around the park during the peak hour of operations.
Figure 1: PGAV Land Instantaneous Distribution with Reduced Operations
Not surprising, there is plenty of attraction capacity, even with social distancing measures, to accommodate 25% park attendance. In fact, we found that there was opportunity for an exceptional guest experience as the Entertainment Factor (attractions / hour / guest) increased to 3.0 as noted below in Figure 2. While fewer crowds and the opportunity to experience more attractions in less time sounds amazing for guests, destination owners and staff are working harder than ever with less revenue to deliver these magical moments.
Figure 2: PGAV Land Entertainment Factor with reduced operations
At 50% attendance, attractions, dining, and retail reach maximum capacity. A larger percentage of guests are shifted to park common areas (pathways and plazas); but compared to the original program, these areas are designed to handle the load. The real problem is highlighted in the 75% attendance model where the number of guests displaced is almost 350% greater than the originally planned capacity.
Table 2: PGAV Land Guests Displaced with Reduced Operations
Assuming your facility can physically accommodate the additional guests located in your common areas, you now must address the fact that almost half of your guests could be standing around with nothing to do when your attendance is only at 75% capacity. Compounded with an Entertainment Factor of 1.0 attraction / hour / guest (similar to a pre-COVID peak day), the 75% attendance model highlights the possibility of a poor guest experience unless the program is augmented with additional attractions and entertainment activities.
As destinations plan to ramp up attendance, they may discover new operational issues in managing people on-property and providing exceptional guest experiences. In our current scenario, we only reduced operational capacities to provide social distancing between groups of guests. Dwell times, reducing turns and throughput to implement additional sanitizing procedures, and the popular use of virtual queueing and mobile ordering could compound the problem even more – moving more guests onto pathways and reducing the number of attractions guests get to experience while at your destination.