– Key Contributors: Amanda Yates (Lead Designer, Brand Experience), April Neal (Designer), Ashley Edelbrock (Architect), Jeff Havlik (Vice President), Josh Rodriguez (Architectural Designer), Teague Peak (Architectural Designer), Tiffany Rawson (Architect)
A few weeks ago, we looked at the operational model for a hypothetical theme park – PGAV Land – and the issues that arise when program capacity is limited by health and safety restrictions and attendance begins to increase. Are the challenges similar for indoor venues with more linear experiences like museums or aquaria? We put it to the test and developed an operational model for an aquarium to investigate how limited capacity holds up against a rising tide of guests.
One More Test Case – PGAV Sea
If you thought PGAV Land was amazing, just wait until you experience PGAV Sea, our awesome hypothetical aquarium! Let’s dive in and examine our new destination through its operating model. (Need a refresher on op models? Click here.) This aquarium is comparable to a regional aquarium in terms of size, demographics, and attraction mix. The program includes some small show components, a collection of tank-based exhibits, a few play/interactive components for younger guests, and supporting culinary and retail venues. The aquarium’s base programmed attendance data is shown in Table 1.
Table 1: PGAV Sea Operational Model (Base Program)
Once the aquarium model was designed, we applied operational reductions to meet the CDC’s social distancing requirements.
- Shows and presentations were reduced to around 25% capacity.
- Capacities of exhibit viewing areas were reduced to around 60% capacity to allow for social distancing between guests. Note that the space efficiency varies depending on the configuration of each viewing area.
Play & Interactives
- All high-touch attractions (free play spaces, interactive elements, etc.) were closed.
- App-based or light-touch interactives were reduced in capacity.
- Dining facilities and seating areas were reduced to around 30% capacity.
- Retail was reduced to 25% capacity.
After reducing operational capacities, we ran three attendance models, looking at 25%, 50%, and 75% of the Design Day attendance. (For reference, Design Day is the highest comfortable attendance day for a destination with all attractions, culinary, and retail venues operating, which usually sets the base program.) In each scenario, we looked at the physical area available for guests and when a program element reached capacity, we shifted the excess guests to other areas within the aquarium. Our reduced capacity and attendance distributions are summarized below in Table 2.
Table 2: Guest Distribution Within PGAV Sea
At 25% attendance, there was enough capacity in all areas for guests. At 50%, everything hit capacity (noted in red) except the exhibits and retail, which had very little capacity remaining. This made the 75% attendance scenario even less feasible. Unlike a theme park, which has outdoor site areas between attractions that can be repurposed to absorb guests, an enclosed building has a fixed space with defined barriers. It became evident that our focus could shift towards a new challenge – how to avoid bottlenecks.
Message in a Bottle(neck)
At PGAV Land, most of the entertainment program relied on ride and show capacity, which were determined by seating capacities and dispatch (or show) times. In the case of the aquarium and any exhibit-driven venue, it became clear that the capacity of exhibits relies on a few key factors.
Are there exhibits that have a low occupancy and a long length of stay? Exhibits with low capacity and long guest dwell time create localized bottlenecks with guests stacking up waiting for their turn.
Are there opportunities to bypass exhibits where guests are backed up? The crowd modeling example above was created to show the impact of social distancing and to study guest movement through a space. But it also highlights how operators may be forced to sacrifice higher exhibit capacity to create a guest bypass lane. You can find out more about this study here!
Is the entire experience linear or is there a central hub with short gallery experiences originating from and returning to it? If the flow from one gallery to the next is linear, bottlenecks become more problematic and the stacking of guests could back-up and crowd the facility’s entry. A central hub design provides that open area for guests to skip crowded galleries.
What to Do?
Whether your venue has a linear flow or is more free-flowing, these are a few ways that bottlenecks can be alleviated:
- Use time-ticketing and batch guests into individual galleries. This is particularly applicable if your local jurisdictions limit the number of guests that can occupy individual spaces.
- Make exhibits guided experiences, as opposed to self-guided. While this is dependent on staff availability, it can help with maintaining a consistent flow through exhibit spaces (and create a more engaging and educational experience).
- Temporarily eliminate viewing windows or displays that have a tight viewing area and a longer length of stay. If the exhibit cannot be removed, conceal the exhibit or obscure views so guests are not encouraged to linger.
- Now’s the time to test out new routes or paths through your exhibits, even if it requires the temporary removal or shifting of specific artifacts.
- Don’t limit or restrict the venue’s exit. If your facility exit passes through Retail, make sure guests have enough room and a clear path to bypass shoppers.
No two museums or aquaria are the same, so it’s important to consider each exhibit’s experience time and potential bypass areas, in addition to guest flow and spacing, before reopening. This will help plan for potential bottlenecks and create solutions ahead of high tide. Guests understand that there will be changes, so this is also an opportunity to try out new ways to experience your exhibits by changing the flow through galleries, opening portions at certain times of the day, or doing themed overlays.
As we wrap up our series on operations, we want to thank all the staff and team members who helped with preparing destinations around the world for guest safety during reopening. We see you, and we know it’s been a constant challenge. If you have any questions or if you feel any of these topics bears more investigation, email us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment on our LinkedIn page.