Helen Fletcher takes a look at some of the initiatives on offer to keep guests happy and maximise the time spent during their stay…

There are plenty of things to do and see at amusement parks but, if the truth be told, the main reason we hand over our hard earned cash is so we can experience the hair-raising, stomach churning and generally terrifying thrill rides on offer.

Any ride goer will tell you there is no better feeling than the adrenaline rush you get as the ride reaches its highest point before hurtling round and round and upside down back to earth. Those 90 seconds of pleasure do sometimes, however, come with a price – enduring as much as a two-hour queue beforehand.

Long queue lines have always been a big problem for amusement parks, especially at peak times, and they have become such a reoccurrence that many customers now accept it as part and parcel of their day out, albeit begrudgingly.

So how can parks keep hundreds of people, who have been stood in line for a pretty lengthy amount of time, happy?

Entertainers who work the queues can be particularly effective in parks where there are a lot of young children. Rainbow Productions, based in the UK, is one company that has had a lot of involvement in providing such a service. The company holds exclusive licences for the meet and greet appearances of over 90 famous cartoon characters including Bart Simpson, Wallace and Gromit and Barney the Bear.

It also creates bespoke brand characters, which embody the values of a leisure attraction or ride.

The company recently created Spinny, a mascot for the UK’s tallest visitor attraction, the Spinnaker Tower. Heather Deeley, marketing manager at the Spinnaker Tower, told InterPark: “Our mascot, Spinny, has been a huge hit with visitors since his launch earlier in the year and he now regularly works the queues interacting with our visitors to entertain them as they wait to visit the 170m tall viewing tower.

“Spinny will become a key element in our ongoing marketing strategies over the coming years and will be involved in a variety of events and stunts to help further raise the profile of the tower.”

Another example of Rainbow Productions’ characters working to keep queues of children – and arguably their parents – from throwing a tantrum on the floor is Captain Rageman at Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea, UK.

The character was created to help promote a new ride at the amusement park by helping to entertain people in the queue plus meet and greet as he wanders around the park.

Queue technology

Recognisable characters and mascots are all well and good when you are dealing with children under the age of 10, but go beyond that and you are going to struggle to entertain hundreds of teenagers and adults stood waiting patiently yet frustrated in a snake-like queue for two hours.

Luckily there are companies out there with other ideas up their sleeves when it comes to entertaining queues and one company that has taken it to another level with its interactive projection technology – Living Image – is Arcstream AV based in the UK. The system offers a wide variety of information and entertainment shown in an unusual and exciting way.

According to the company, the visual surprise effects draw the visitor into the scene and the event and, through its movement, enlivens and animates the projection step-by-step.

The technology is an ideal way of entertaining queues of people because it can be projected on to the floor and programmed so that as guests move forward the entertainment changes and moves with them.

Not only can Living Image be used to keep guests entertained as they wait for a ride or show, but it has the added advantage that advertising messages can be integrated and displayed, meaning parks can advertise show times, restaurants and shops that the guest might not have considered otherwise.

On another note, this type of technology can also be used on a much larger scale to keep guests in the park until the end of the day, in the form of outdoor multimedia spectacular shows.

But how about getting rid of the queues altogether; surely, as one of the biggest visitor gripes, this should be a priority for parks and, arguably, the ultimate goal? Banishing queues would surely bring any operation closer to ensuring complete customer satisfaction.

Many parks do attempt to make the queues shorter and guests who stay at, for example, a Universal resort, can bypass long lines or day guests can pay extra for the privilege. It may be an unpopular move with the masses but it is not a privilege expected to disappear any time soon.

Room with a queue

Another trend at some of the bigger parks is to let guests staying at the resort into the park before it opens and after it closes to the general public. There are ways, however, in which parks can give day guests the illusion of jumping the queue – by placing them in a virtual line.

For over five years Lo-Q, based in the UK, has operated a virtual queuing system in a number of Six Flags parks and at Dollywood in the US.

The VQ2020 system from Lo-Q allows guests to reserve rides using buttons on a Q-bot – the system also displays the wait time for each of the rides to help the guest make their choice.

Leonard Sim from Lo-Q, said: “VQ2020 uses innovative radio techniques to reduce the fixed equipment required for operation so more parks will be able to introduce the system because of the resulting lower installation cost.”

The queuing system also has no theoretical limit to the number of guests that can use it and provides a completely accurate system for parks.

Pete Owens, public relations manager at Dollywood, US, added: “Nine of our rides are currently on the Q2Q system (Dollywood’s personalised name for the system) as well as shows in our three main theatres. The system allows our guests to explore other parts of the park rather than standing in queues.

“The families with the Qbot are still technically waiting as long as everyone else for the ride but instead of waiting in line they can shop, eat or ride other rides.”

Another company that has taken the idea of virtual queuing but developed it in a different way by using mobile phones is CellQ, also based in the UK.

Installed in Flamingo Land in the north of England, which has an annual attendance of around 1.5 million, the company’s system is run on seven of the parks busiest rides and enables visitors to ride them all day long, as often as they like without having to queue.

A visitor’s mobile phone automatically calls them to the ride when they reach the head of the queue meaning there is no need for secondary queuing for timeslot tickets or pagers.

Colin Nunn from CellQ told InterPark: “At the heart of CellQ there is a powerful relational database holding detailed information on mobile phone numbers, queue lengths, language choice, visit dates, ride selections, ride history and any other data entered before or after the park visit, such as email or mailing address.”

The great advantage of both these systems is that they allow visitors to experience so much more that the facility has to offer rather than, say, just four or five rides, resulting in a more pleasant experience for the customer and potentially increased per cap spending. A win-win situation whichever way you look at it.

Thinking inside the box

The smart operator will be one who consistently thinks of ways to keep customers entertained, while simultaneously maximising revenue streams. Even when visitors have been on a ride – whether they have stood in an actual queue or benefited from a virtual system – there is perhaps nothing better than a photograph souvenir as something to remember the experience.

Image+ Digital of the Netherlands is one such company that provides this service and its ride photography system is suitable for all types of amusement ride. The company can also provide an after-park visit service, allowing customers to buy their souvenir photos from a secure website once they get home.

So whether it is entertaining the masses waiting in line, providing a system to get customers out of a queue and spending money around the park, or even providing a souvenir to buy as they leave a ride, there are plenty of companies out there with products and services to keep both customers and operators happy.

And in a world where even the youngest of visitor is demanding in what they expect from their entertainment, there is no doubt that parks have to be ever changing. They need to be more interactive, more diverse and ultimately more sensitive to guests’ demands by introducing such customer satisfaction features throughout their parks.