The future of experiences… in the visitor attraction industry

This is based on a very good report by Blooloop, one of the world's leading lights on the visitor attraction industry.

What's driving these trends?

Blooloop begins the report explaining why visitor attractions are changing.

  1. Technology — Visitor attractions trying to keep up
  2. Higher expectations — Increasingly demanding customers. 
  3. Connected culture — we're now connected 24/7 to friends, entertainment and information
  4. Experientialism — "there is now a demand for experiences, which must be high quality, personalised, new, and of course shareable" 

Trend 1 — Virtual Reality

As the quality of VR improves, theme parks are adopting it.

  • It began with Alpine Express VR by Mack at Europa Park just before the International Association of
    Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) event in 2015
  • Now all theme parks wants VR…
  • Alton Towers's Air re-vamp with space-themed VR Galactica
  • Museums too…
  • The British Museum used VR to allow guests to explore a virtual Bronze Age Roundhouse, whilst visitors to London’s Natural History Museum can explore an underwater environment at the dawn of Life on Earth. The technology is versatile, allowing infinite possibilities for use in the attractions industry. 
  • Note VR is a cheap solution. It "can revitalise an old ride with significantly less investment than building a brand new one". Because VR is digital, it's "software", the media for VR can be changed easily, creating different experiences for the same physical ride. 

(A question: why bother adding VR to roller coasters? Isn't it better to create a ride that gives the impression of the G-forces? The roller coaster looks like an expensive addition.)

Trend 2 — AR

Trend 3 — Gamification

Gamification is the addition of an element of competition and interaction to almost anything to increase engagement.  This is being done with increasing sophistication to meet the expectations of visitors.

  • Minecraft at the Museum
    The Tate has recreated some of its famous artworks in the hugely popular Minecraft game to encourage children to explore the paintings in greater detail.  You don't need to even visit the gallery itself to enter Tate Worlds online. 
    • In Tate Worlds: Soul of the Soulless City children can explore London and learn about the importance of colour pigments in this Fauvist piece.  They can take that Minecraft staple, a rollercoaster, around New York.
    • "It's easy to try to tap into the popularity of Minecraft with an exhibition.  What the Tate have done so brilliantly is to understand the opportunities within the game itself and develop something that will be truly appealing to their target audience, at the same time incorporating information in a fun and engaging way."
    • Note: this example is from 2014.
  • Gaming at a waterpark
    WhiteWater West’s SlideBoarding is a great example of gamification that can be added to existing slides to rejuvenate it or in a brand new slide.
    • This idea brings a "Guitar Hero style game format to a waterslide", guests play a game as they travel down the slide on an adapted mat.  
    • Scores can be viewed on a leader table allowing competition and social sharing. 

Trend 4 — Mobile Technology

Attractions are making the most of the fact that everyone has a smartphone. Here's some examples:

  • Talking Statues
    • The Talking Statues initiative around London, Manchester and Chicago aims to connect people with statues that they see around their cities but never really notice.  
      • Passers who swipe their mobile on an NFC tag on the statue will receive a phone call from the character of the statue voiced by a celebrity.  Queen Victoria, Peter Pan and even Sherlock Holmes are all available to give guests a call! 
      • Note: this example is from 2014.
  • Beware spending on hardware! The great $1 billion example: Disney World Magic Bands
    • RDIF Technology for Tickets Fastpasses and Charging to Disney’s Magic Bands were a huge $1 billion investment for the company. They planned to start the same year the first iPhone came out.
    • Mobile technology adoption has developed at such a pace that the bands no longer seem quite such a revolutionary solution. 
    • So now, the new Shanghai Disney Resort is opting instead to solely use mobile technology for ticketing and resort services. 

Trend 5 — Customised Experiences

Technology — hi tech and low tech — is helping to deliver unique experiences attractions.

  • High tech customisation at MONA
    • Mobile makes personalistion possible.
    • The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania has no labels on the art.
    • Instead, it invites guests to use the "O" app on their smartphones to tour the galleries.  
    • The tour is recorded for guests to refer to later.  
    • Visitors are asked to vote "LOVE" or "HATE" for each piece
    • They can define the amount of information they want depending on what type of visitor they feel themselves to be: "summary", "ideas" and even "Art Wank"! 
  • Magic benefits — everyone wins!
    • The guest gets only the information they are interested in (+ option to explore further)
    • The museum gets valuable feedback on popularity of artefacts


The Shrek Adventure in London’s Southbank uses interactors — and they make the visitors the stars of the show

The Shrek Adventure in London’s Southbank uses interactors — and they make the visitors the stars of the show

  • Low tech: the rise of "interactors"
    • Interactors - actors who talk and engage with the audience to further the story, but more importantly create an experience which will never be the same twice.  
    • Employing actors in attractions is not new, but Blooloop says there's an "upsurge in the use of this technique to engage guests" 
      • The Shrek Adventure in London’s Southbank uses interactors, playing a variety of characters who make the visitors the stars of the show
      • The Dr Who Experience in Cardiff uses interactors as guides, cleverly keeping an eye on the more nervous guests and drawing the group into the adventure. 
      • at the Natural History Museum, an actor playing Charles Dickens shows guests a tray of insects he collected

Trend 6 — DIY Experiences

Not just customised, many are now letting guests create their own experiences.

Lady Chastity's Reserve game in London

Lady Chastity's Reserve game in London

  • Escape rooms
    • Where 2-6 people are locked in a room for an hour and have to get themselves out through solving brain teasers, puzzles and challenges. 
    • There are currently escape room games operating in 63 countries, 616 cities, 1381 sites, with 3159 rooms, according to the Escape Room Directory
    • Each is themed with a particular story, eg:
      • Budapest Express at Escapology Orlando
      • Lady Chastity's Reserve in London
      • Tick Tock Unlock in the North West of the UK (which keeps the focus on puzzles and logic)
    • Note also: Rage Rooms in Japan, Canada, US, UK, where people pay an hourly rate to completely destroy a room with weapons. A sort of Fight Club idea?

    • Blooloop believes (and we agree that) these rooms have increased in popularity due to their lack of technology, because:
      • for 60 minutes no-one has their phone in their hand checking notifications
      • Escape rooms encourage conversations and communication - a real escape from our 24/7 connected lives.
  • DIY museums
    • Championed by Nina Simone at the Santa Cruz Museum
    • Visitors bring in their own objects around a central theme to create the collection.
    • At the Pop Up Museum in Santa Cruz, guests write a label for their object and share their stories with each other, bringing people together and stimulating conversation.
    • Pop Up Museums can be held in any community in any venue and are completely created by the audience themselves.
    • (Note: this example is from 2014.)

Trend 7 — Retailtainment 

With the rise in internet shopping, many shopping centres and malls are trying to add value by becoming an ‘experience’. This trend is not new, but it's becoming the norm. Some interesting developments:

Surfing in a shopping mall… Oasis Surf in Montreal

Surfing in a shopping mall… Oasis Surf in Montreal

  • Kidzania
    • Leading the way is edutainment attraction Kidzania which allows children to take on roles and jobs in a child-size world, whilst the parents carry on shopping.
    • Brands are heavily integrated into the experience, for example in the recently opened London attraction children can learn to fly with British Airways, make chocolate with Cadburys and go green at H&M's Fashion Recycling Centre.
  • Surf's Up
    • Artificial surf parks are this decade's artificial ski slopes.
      • Oasis Surf in Montreal, an indoor 150-seat beach-themed restaurant and bar, surrounds a 350,000-litre surf pool that generates real-size authentic surfing waves
        • opened in 2014
        • the owners considering expansion and further sites.
  • Exit through the pub
    • At the London Dungeons, instead of 'exit through the gift shop', people exit through a Victorian themed pub… and a themed soft drink or beer
    • The merchandise has been reduced and reworked to around ten themed product lines
    • Interactors: 
      • play a round of cards
      • lead a song around the piano

Trend 8 — Seniors 

To reflect ageing demographics… attractions are adapting experiences for the older visitor. 

Discover Your Story tours at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Discover Your Story tours at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

  • Sensory tours for awaking memories … for people with memory loss
    • The number of Americans with Alzheimer's is likely to increase by 40% by 2025
    • The Discover Your Story tours at the The Minneapolis Institute of Art is designed for elderly patients with memory loss.
    • It's a partnership program between the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota
    • The visitor views just three or four works.
    • Instead of the usual detailed commentary, the guides passes around sensory items
      • a rug to feel whilst looking at a tapestry
      • a pine candle to smell whilst viewing a tree
    • Then, the guide asks
      • "What does this remind you of?
      • How do you feel about what you are seeing?"  
    • These adapted tours try to spark recollections through awakening the sense and tapping into feelings inspired by the pieces. 
  • Oldie video games
    • Do todays 70/80 year-olds really want tea dances?  
    • Gaming arcades in Japan have become a popular hang out for the elderly
    • Arcades are making the experience more sociable for senior gamers: 
      • installing bench seating for weary spectators
      • prizes now include cooking oil and sweet potatoes!  
    • "I’m usually here on days when I don’t have to go to hospital.  I enjoy giving out the prizes I win to my neighbours.”—Kazuko Matsuo, 84
  • You don't have to be old to play here…
    • Finnish play equipment manufacturers Lappset is creating play parks specifically aimed at seniors. 
    • Successful in Spain — where Lappset has created nearly 1000 senior parks in Catalonia alone — perhaps because:
      • a favourable climate
      • forward thinking health care prioritising positive action to keep the elderly fit and healthy
      • Lappset has provided on-site physiotherapists after the equipment is installed to run training sessions.

Click here to read the full report 9 Trends to Watch in the Visitor Attractions Industry.

(Note the original report included a trend on "branded attractions". We didn't find this very interesting. Just some examples of media brands extending the brand into attractions. But doesn't strike us as very new. Remember Walt Disney & Mickey Mouse.)