Re-opening Attractions: Changes, Temporary and Permanent

re-opening attractions tram

Orlando,FL/USA-3/21/20: The tram in the Orlando International Airport is almost empty due to panic over COVID-19

As I write this, attractions around the world remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have furloughed or laid off large proportions of their staffs. Yet it’s a very busy time for leaders and administrators of attractions, as they work to solve the operational challenges surrounding their eventual re-openings. Attractions not only need to comply with new government rules and restrictions; they also need to convince guests that it is safe to return, that appropriate precautions are being taken to ensure their well-being. Some of the steps being widely considered include things like:

  • Installing hand sanitizing stations
  • Introducing social distancing in queues
  • Checking temperatures at entrance, with denial of entry to persons with fever
  • Creating more outdoor activities or moving indoor activities outdoors
  • Requiring masks for employees and/or visitors
  • Increasing frequency and intensity of cleanings

But one particular response to COVID-19 seems universally assumed to be necessary: reducing crowding by limiting attendance. Some attractions were already doing this before the pandemic, constraining the number of guests admitted at a time by requiring selection of a particular date and time when purchasing tickets, and capping the number of tickets available for any given entry time. That strategy is now being adopted by just about every attraction we’ve talked to, including those that formerly sold only “good anytime” tickets. Timed-entry ticketing has a couple of specific benefits during the age of the coronavirus:

  • Controlling the number of guests admitted during certain times can keep crowds below government-mandated maximum numbers, and can space out visitation throughout the day for easier social distancing within the attraction.
  • The requirement to select date and time of visit strongly incentivizes advance purchases online, which contributes to social distancing—no need to stand in a queue or interact with a box office employee.

For many attractions, timed-entry ticketing will be a temporary measure until “normalcy,” or something like it, returns with the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine and widespread immunity. But there’s one very good reason for attractions to make date-specific or time-specific ticketing a permanent feature: revenue optimization. Treating each day or time slot as a unique product is a first step towards being able to give each day or time slot a unique price, as in dynamic pricing. Once guests are conditioned to buy date- or time-specific tickets in advance, it’s only a short leap to charging different prices based on date and time, and allowing prices to move in response to changing conditions in the market. And dynamic pricing can even be used to help manage limited capacity, by providing guests with a price incentive to choose less busy days or times to attend.

Attractions suffering from the absence of weeks or months of admission revenue during the coronavirus lockdown will be looking for creative ways to make up for their losses. Dynamic pricing is a proven revenue management strategy that visitors will be primed to understand and accept after an attraction has started treating days and timeslots as distinct products.