Walt Disney World re-emerged from the pandemic as a different place. You can’t enter the turnstiles without advance reservations made online. Hungry for lunch? You can pull out your phone and order so you can supposedly skip the line at the food counter.
The technology, which is intended to make theme parks easier and safer to navigate, will likely stick around, but there’s certainly room for improvement, industry experts said during a recent virtual roundtable discussion about the future of the parks. The talk was sponsored by Omnico Group, an Atlanta-based business with an office in Orlando that works with companies to offer a platform for selling tickets and other customer-related services.
“There’s no more new normal, I think it’s now just normal,” as restaurants, theme parks, hotels, casinos, and other industries turn to contactless devices, said Keith Dunphy, Omnico’s chief revenue officer.
“You’re starting to see people leverage technology a lot more to say, ‘How do I make this touchless and contactless? How do I not have to use a paper menu? How do I order online? If I’m going to use a kiosk, how do I make sure it’s sanitized and clean?” Dunphy said.
What the pandemic did was accelerate the industry’s technology needs, he said.
“You see a leveraging of technology and an expectation of safety practices, and I don’t think they go back,” Dunphy said.
Contactless security and check-ins, as well as mobile ordering for theme park food, are likely to exist well after the pandemic is over, said Carissa Baker, a University of Central Florida assistant professor who studies theme parks.
“Those are the things that are probably going to last beyond our pandemic normal because some guests have just found these things to be much easier than before,” Baker said.
But the technology isn’t perfect. What’s supposed to make things easier for tourists can also be something new to frustrate them.
Dunphy tried mobile ordering at a theme park. (He didn’t say which one.) Forty-five minutes of waiting in line, his food still hadn’t arrived yet. He eventually gave up and canceled his order. “It was not a great experience,” he said.
Dunphy isn’t alone. On social media, it isn’t uncommon to see people complaining about the slow wait for mobile ordering at the parks.
Even with the new technology, the attractions industry can’t lose sight of the importance of human interaction because some visitors going to the parks still want to interact with employees, Baker said.
“It’s all about balance,” she said. “We can’t forget that the core of the service industry is people.”
Both Baker and Dunphy said they noticed theme parks’ safety messages getting louder during the pandemic as the attractions tried to reassure their guests and attempt to rebuild consumer confidence.
“It moved from being implied to being very explicit,” Dunphy said. “It moved to a promotional point that says, ‘Look at all the things we were doing. Sanitation stations and masks and policies and touchless.’ It became something that the parks were putting on a show a little bit to try to help build the consumer confidence back up … The more you put safety practices on display, the higher you’re going to build consumer confidence. And I think people are kind of getting used to it.”