Virtual Queues and More with accesso CEO Steve Brown
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is leaving no part of the theme park experience unchanged. As theme parks begin to reopen, their standard operating procedures are drastically different with new safety protocols and other operational changes in place.
In addition to encouraging standard hand-washing and other personal hygiene practices, park operators are encouraging social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes limiting park and attraction capacities, requiring advanced reservations and implementing virtual queue technology.
Enter accesso®, the inventor of virtual queue technology; the tech company has served as the premier technology solutions provider for theme parks, attractions and other entertainment venues worldwide for 20 years. Currently serving over 1,000 venues in 30 countries around the globe, accesso’s patented and award-winning technology helps drive increased revenue for attraction operators while reducing the time guests spend waiting in line, therefore improving their overall experience.
I recently spoke with accesso’s chief executive officer, Steve Brown, about how the company is leveraging its technology to help parks adapt to this unprecedented event.
C101: What is your role at accesso? And how did your career begin at or lead to the company?
Steve: I am proud to serve as the chief executive officer at accesso. My career has deep roots in the theme park and attractions business – I started out as an hourly employee at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. Following completion of my academic studies – earning my undergraduate business degree from the University of South Florida and my MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory University – I once again returned to Disney to serve in a variety of roles, largely focused on ticketing and pricing, including the development of new ticket strategies and pricing to support the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
In 2003, I moved to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, to serve as the company’s vice president of revenue management and product development. Prior to my work with accesso, I also served as the corporate vice president of ticket strategy and sales for Six Flags.
In 2008, I founded what is now accesso’s primary eCommerce technology, which in 2012 became part of what is now accesso Technology Group PLC.
Can you tell me a little bit about accesso’s background and how it created virtual queue technology?
Our company began as Lo-Q in 1999, when a bad guest experience spurred our founder to invent our very first virtual queuing technology. The company holds a variety of patents related to virtual queuing and we are proud to have been the true inventor of the technology.
Our accesso LoQueueSM virtual queuing solutions have empowered tens of millions of guests to wait less and enjoy more, while also giving operators the tools they need to redefine the guest experience and increase revenue.
The earliest iterations of this technology really paved the way for the virtual queuing you see in parks today, and our solutions have evolved to help our partners meet and exceed growing guest expectations over the decades.
While our technology operates through a guest’s smartphone, in some environments a smartphone is not conducive. In 2018, our company unveiled accesso PrismSM, a next-generation, wearable device for use at theme parks, water parks and other attractions. Durable, waterproof and equipped with a range of advanced technology, Prism allows for a fully integrated “smart park” – creating a more engaging and seamless guest experience. From front gate entry to facilitating cashless purchases to virtual queuing or delivering timely messaging based on guest location, Prism sets a new standard for the theme park and attractions industry.
Last year alone, accesso’s virtual queuing technology empowered 38 million guests to step out of lines, and we expect that is only going to grow as more theme parks and attractions have an increased focus on physical distancing and improving the guest experience.
What unique features does accesso LoQueue virtual queuing offer park operators and guests?
Virtual queuing technology has become much more than an industry trend – it’s defined the industry standard for operators seeking to revolutionize the guest experience. From an operator’s perspective, the power our solutions hold is virtually limitless. Virtual queuing is a sure-fire revenue booster; the less time guests spend in lines, the more time they can spend elsewhere on-site, exploring other offerings like (food and beverage) and retail shops, leading to an increase in in-park spend.
As we look at the new state of the theme park and attractions industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our accesso LoQueue smartphone-based solution, QsmartSM, has the power to enable industry operators to safely welcome back their guests. Unlike more simple ride reservation systems, virtual queuing is dynamic, with the ability to adjust on the fly to account for the many unpredictable variables that come into play in a park – such as weather impacts, ride load times, adding or removing ride cars from a track and more. While other solutions bill themselves as virtual queuing or virtual lines, they are generally simple reservation or time-slot based and do not have the flexibility to adapt to the actual conditions at the park. Our accesso LoQueue solution offers a truly dynamic virtual queue that adjusts the guest’s return time based upon operating conditions, weather and other behavior to keep things on track while also providing real-time updates to the guest.
How is accesso adapting to the rapidly changing COVID-19 pandemic?
While we have served the theme park and attractions industry for decades with our award-winning technology, this unusual circumstance has allowed us to adapt our offerings to be used in new ways and provide much-needed solutions to our partners across the globe.
accesso is offering tech-driven solutions that directly address many of our client-operators’ biggest concerns that have arisen due to COVID-19 – physical distancing, contactless payment, capacity management and much more.
Now more than ever, it’s our mission to support our partners in their time of need by presenting innovative solutions that not only keep their guests and employees safe, but also offer an enhanced guest experience that overcomes the challenges presented by this new world in which we live.
Have you released any new features since the pandemic began that can help parks with their increased health and safety measures?
Since the start of this pandemic, our team has worked diligently to help our partners adapt their existing use of our solutions to meet the needs of their staff and guests.
The most recent evolution of accesso’s virtual queuing technology is the roll-out of our “100% Virtual Queuing” initiative, which was designed to address operator uncertainty and guest concern as the tourism economy begins to reopen. This solution, already adopted by Walibi Holland in the Netherlands and Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Indiana, allows operators to make contactless virtual queuing technology available to all of their guests. The platform is easy for operators to implement and equally easy for the end user: the solution is accessed from a guest’s smartphone by logging into a webpage (no mobile app download required). By offering virtual queuing and eliminating the risk of guests gathering in long physical lines, operators can address social distancing concerns for potentially hesitant travelers.
What does a park guest need to do to start using the platform? Is there an app or registration process required or is this dictated by the park?
The beauty of the accesso LoQueue virtual queuing system lies in its simplicity. Through the Qsmart virtual queuing platform, guests can utilize their smartphones to place themselves in virtual lines and seamlessly redeem their spot at the end of their wait-time countdown by presenting a unique QR code for validation by a ride attendant. Of course, operators can also offer other alternatives for guests in need of a smartphone device. Walibi Holland, for instance, offers an on-site mobile phone rental option for guests who may need to borrow a device for the day.
Can parks integrate the accesso LoQueue technology into their existing apps?
Yes, the accesso LoQueue solution can be integrated with a theme park or attraction’s existing app for a more seamless guest experience. In addition, our accesso client support team is there every step of the way to ensure our partner venues have all the help they need to maximize their solutions.
How long does the accesso LoQueue implementation process typically take?
The implementation process is relatively straightforward and can be accomplished in most cases in about two weeks. The primary setup effort is to configure the system to operate based upon the client’s specific business rules, as well as loading attraction photos and ride descriptions.
How much hands-on management does the system require on a day-to-day basis? Is there a virtual control system of sorts that the park needs to manage?
The accesso LoQueue virtual queuing system is managed on one, easy-to-use, cloud-hosted platform, accessible to operational staff through a web-based control panel. Throughout every step of the integration process, our team works together with staff to manage all necessary details and education, leaving theme park and attractions operators with a turn-key product ready for end-user implementation.
Our client support team operates as partners throughout the process, standing by each client’s side to provide any needed assistance, 24/7, 365 days a year. Many of our team members come from operational backgrounds in the industries we serve, so our team is uniquely equipped with the knowledge of what it takes to manage complex theme park operations on a day-to-day basis.
Can the system automatically take into account factors that aren’t directly related to the number of people in the virtual line, such as the attraction’s location in the park, nearby shows or parades, weather, etc.?
Absolutely. With our virtual queuing solutions, operators can send out messages to guests about upcoming in-park experiences they might enjoy, send out safety messages in the case of inclement weather or deliver reminders of guidelines for physical distancing.
To reduce crowding at the turnstiles, some parks are requiring that guests make advanced reservations to visit a park on a specific day. Can this be integrated into the accesso LoQueue system?
Our online ticketing solutions, such as accesso Passport®, can certainly enable operators to implement date- and time-specific ticketing to manage capacity while helping guests more easily adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Many of our customers, including Six Flags, are utilizing our accesso Passport ticketing solution to facilitate their reservation process.
As with all of our technology, accesso’s online ticketing solution can be integrated with the accesso LoQueue virtual queuing system to help guests make the most of their experience.
What are some of the hidden or unexpected advantages that park operators may experience after implementing accesso LoQueue?
Beyond the incredible enhancement of the guest experience, operators can tap into unrealized sources of revenue by bridging the gap between the physical and digital realms throughout every step of the guest journey.
For example, a water park operator using our Prism wearable could easily send a personalized push notification to a select group of guests, notifying them that a cabana is available for half-day rental. Or, in the setting of a theme park or attraction, guests could be notified of a nearby ride with no wait time to board. That type of messaging would not be possible without insight into a guest’s real-time location.
Beyond the obvious decreased time spent in lines, what are some of the advantages or perks that guests might experience by using accesso LoQueue?
The beauty of spending less time in line is that guests have more time and freedom to enjoy all that a theme park or attraction has to offer.
With the use of virtual queuing technology like accesso LoQueue, operators can place guests in the driver’s seat of their own experiences while serving as their guests’ guide by way of personalized communication, unique promotional offerings and more.
This technology provides a benefit for operators and guests alike, maximizing the guest’s on-site experience while providing additional revenue-driving opportunities.
Are parks that use LoQueue still able to offer guests skip- or shorten-the-line upgrades?
Yes, accesso partners certainly have the option of offering 100% virtual queuing to all guests while also providing more premium virtual queueing offers. Walibi Holland, for instance, offers a “Fast Lane Gold” upgrade, which allows guests to skip the virtual wait and get straight on the ride. Guests without this upgrade still have the 100% virtual queuing model available to them at no additional charge.
Some parks require all loose articles to be stored in a locker or left with a non-rider. How have they accommodated the use of accesso LoQueue?
Yes, the park does need to consider this. The system requires that the guest scans their smartphone as they enter the attraction entrance, but they can leave their phone at a storage area thereafter within the ride entrance. Most rides have a designated area where guests can leave their belongings before they load onto the ride (for handbags, phones, loose items, etc.) so this is the natural area to do so.
Should a guest not be able to take their phone on the ride at all (at some water parks for example) then the solution also offers the ability for the guest to ‘pair’ their phone reservation with an RFID wristband, which is then scanned when they enter the attraction and the phone can be left in a locker or with a family member.
What happens if a guest is unable to retrieve their reservation due to a dead battery, poor reception or some other unforeseen circumstance?
The beauty of our Qsmart virtual queuing solution is that it is web-based, so the guest is just logging into a webpage to use the system. If the phone being used to manage a group’s spot in the queue runs out of battery, users can access the session from any other smartphone in the party simply by logging in.
How do you think virtual queue technology will change theme parks in the long run after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended?
Virtual queuing has always been the future of the theme park and attractions industry, but we’re seeing more widespread use ushered in more quickly than expected due to the pandemic. Although current implementations focus on the safety of guests and employees, the use of this technology will forever change the guest experience for the better.
This technology will allow guests to enjoy more of a venue during their visit, which in turn provides a better guest experience, as well as the potential for increased in-park spend.
What advice do you have for students or young professionals who are interested in helping a company like accesso develop technology for the theme park industry?
I think the most important part of helping solve any problem is really gaining understanding and insight. For the theme park and attractions industry, having the background knowledge of both operator- and consumer-facing issues is highly beneficial. Like so many others on our team, I got my start working on the front lines at a theme park. The knowledge and insights gleaned from those experiences guide my decisions for our company to this day.
Regardless of desired industry, students and young professionals should always do their homework, seeking opportunities to immerse themselves in and learn more about the industries in which they one day want to serve. At the end of the day, it’s all about thinking one step ahead.
One of our core values at accesso is innovation, and we try to continually set new standards for ourselves and our industry by always keeping the horizon in sight. Incredible things can happen when you refuse to settle for “the way it’s always been.”
We’d like to thank Steve for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk about accesso’s innovative technology.
To learn more about accesso and how it’s changing the theme park experience, visit the company’s website.
Have you visited a park that has implemented a virtual queue system? Share your thoughts about the experience in the comments section below.