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In fact, it’s possible the pace of innovation in leisure experiences actually accelerated. Integrators were forced to find innovative approaches to keeping people safe once it was safe to return to in-person experiences, and visitor expectations for end-to-end experiences are now such that only truly immersive and awe-inspiring theme parks and experiences will do.
So, what’s the current state of technology and innovation in the location-based entertainment industry? How have leisure experiences evolved to cater to a new class of consumer?
Host Daniel Litwin was joined by Blooloop award winner Paul Kent and Jeroen Verrezen, Experiential Marketing Consultant. On this episode of the Fusion podcast to answer those questions and more with a deep dive into the evolving technology environment guiding today’s theme parks, rides and attraction installations.
As guests get back to in-person experiences, the themed entertainment and leisure industry needs to provide moments that inspire and satisfy more than a year’s worth of pent-up demand.
“Many people have been sitting too long at home and want to have shared experiences again,” Verrezen said. “I think the industry will come out of this strongly.”
Kent said the industry has engineered a variety of advances that will help it achieve that goal.
“A lot of the technology that is arriving now has actually been accelerated by the past year, because people have been focused,” he said. “We’ve seen it a lot. We’ve been installing attractions remotely and remotely operating tech and remotely programming…
“It’s helped people get together through remote offerings.”
That collaboration and focus has spurred unprecedented speed to market, even among some of the technologies that were considered far over the horizon before the pandemic, at least in terms of widespread adoption.
One of the reasons the use of technology is so critical to the execution of theme park or leisure experiences is that it can deliver the escape from reality guests are looking for when they venture out to visit these locations.
As Kent put it, there’s little reason to worry about “sensory overload.”
“I would say ‘sensory overload’ is one of the reasons we go to a park or to an immersive experience,” he said. “We want to lift ourselves out of our normal environment. … What’s happening now is that overload isn’t as predictable as it used to be. Because of the changes in technologies we’re being able to implement now, storytelling is not so much a start, a middle and an end.”
These advances include “pick-your-own-outcome” experiences, interaction, gamification and more, and they’re becoming much more commonplace. This allows guests to have an experience they craft and cater to their specific desires for that experience.
Further, today’s digital-native guests can pick up on new technologies faster than ever before, meaning the learning curve has become miniscule – and the potential enormous.
“Since we are using technology so much in our daily lives, some of that comes automatically,” Verrezen said. “We walk in with our personal devices, and these personal devices can be used to improve the personal experience.”
Those devices can be leveraged for both logistical purposes, such as queueing and searching for food, etc. and for immersive reasons as part of the experiences, themselves.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are perhaps two of the most impressive examples of this accelerated technological innovation. As Kent said, they’ve gone from a long way off to very real and very necessary to impactful experiences around the globe.
“About 18 months ago, virtual reality and augmented reality were still a way away,” he said. “The exponential growth in one-to-one, remote sessions has really brought that forward, and I think the big thing we’re going to see now, and are starting to see, is real-time technology in rides and attractions.”
The potential for real-time experiences is shaping Electrosonic’s current projects, and guests will begin experiencing this technological leap forward in the next year or two.
“Some of it has resulted in ‘out-of-theme park’ theme park experiences,” Kent said. “The whole spring-up in the last six months, really, of projected environments that you walk into and spend your whole time in has become … this alternate reality, almost, that you walk into.
“It’s pushing technology, and technology has responded.”
In addition, they’ll be joined, Verrezen said, by existing technologies that finally received a much-needed facelift as they became more of a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, crowd management and visitor access were always critical to theme park operation, but these areas have taken on more significance as the world reopens and have attracted powerful innovation in the approaches of even the world’s largest parks and experiences.
Immersion and agency over guests’ own experiences and that positive, seamless “sensory overload” where technology empowers the experience but doesn’t become the story, itself are going to drive incredibly memorable moments.
However, in addition to those highlight-reel moments, theme parks and other leisure experiences also need to respect a new desire for end-to-end experiences among guests. These guests exhibit the same attitudes as consumers in the post-pandemic world, we’re always-on connectivity and holistic experiences rule the day.
“It’s not just the rides. It’s owning and running restaurants, developing the whole park, operating hotels… All these technology solutions accelerate in different ways,” Verrezen said. “To build a park today, at its core, it’s still the same as it [always has been]. But the tools the technology allows park operators to implement when they are realizing their vision are really interesting.
“Also, the different guests experiences they have to take into account when they develop the guest journey can be defined much better in advance.”
Alexander Hann, Communications Specialist, understands the challenges that clients face when they are making decisions about technology. He uses his extensive experience of communicating complex concepts to write about the latest developments in technology in a way that clearly explains benefits for business and technical decision-makers.