RESPONDING TO COVID
Operators within the attractions industry have taken creative initiatives to leverage premium offerings in response to the pandemic. The traditional model of most attraction types of driving up attendance and per capita spending was challenged when new limitations were put in place, specifically regarding reduced capacity and physical distancing requirements. This required operators to ask, “How can serve fewer guests, generate the same or more revenue, and create a unique and exclusive experience?”
Putting these barriers up that were not previously present led to the creation of new premium options that were never previously considered. For example, an airboat tour operator in South Florida that charges $25 per person for a 30-minute airboat ride offered a private experience for $165 for up to 4 people. The “one family at a time” approach was completely counterintuitive to their old operating model, yet they saw a massive demand in groups of people who would eagerly pay the exclusivity. This type of offering also helps to align marketing efforts as it provides a narrower guest demographic, compared to casting a wide net.
There has historically been an untapped opportunity for premium experiences that lead to greater comfort and enjoyability of the venue; many attraction operators have incorporated these elements in recent years. A portion of premium amenities are offered complimentary, such a Wi-Fi connectivity and more comfortable seating, yet attractions are also coming up with enhanced ways to reward their most loyal guests, highest spenders, and those who are regularly seeking to enhance their experience.
When Cedar Point in Ohio launched its 150th-anniversary celebration, the newly created parade lent itself to the introduction of premium seating and VIP areas. These areas were shaded from the sun and protected from the elements, and equipped with comfortable couches, chairs, fans, televisions, and a private bar, that provided the opposite of the typically hectic amusement park experience. The offering appealed to a wide variety of demographics, including parents with strollers who needed a respite from the midway (and probably a nap), to the guests who already purchased a front of the line pass and had more time to relax since they weren’t waiting in as long of queues. Then, at parade time, these VIP guests had access to the grandstands with unobstructed views of the floats as they went by.
Premium guests, including members and passholders, want to be recognized for their loyalty and appreciated as a result. Attractions of all scopes and sizes, from theme parks to zoos, museums, and aquariums, have taken this to heart by incorporating valuable benefits that resonate with premium audiences.
By looking at common friction points in the experience, such as waiting in line, buying food, seeing shows, or having up-close encounters, attractions are offering a way to bypass these friction points at an upcharge, which ultimately leads to a superior experience. Data collected from guest feedback and online reviews indicates that people are willing to pay for a premium experience provided that you deliver premium value. In fact, when measuring value perception compared to price sensitivity, those who are more likely to complain about prices being too expensive or “not worth it” are oftentimes those who bought the most basic option and therefore spent the least.
On the flipside, guests who purchase the most premium packages and experiences are more likely to praise the value of the experience, when they are the ones who spent the most. Offering a premium option that genuinely delivers value by removing friction and providing an experience they would otherwise have is the desired point of guest satisfaction and revenue optimization. The best thing your guests can say is, “It was expensive, but it was worth it.”
From a technology standpoint, there have been several advances in the way that these services are offered and packaged. Annual passes and memberships have historically been a one-time payment at the initial purchase point and then annually upon renewal, whereas now there is a greater focus on spreading the payments out over time. Even trampoline parks are now offering memberships for as little as $20/month that enable year-round access.
Services like Affirm and Afterpay allow more seamless access to premium packages and experiences when they can spread the payment out over time without putting the entire purchase on a high-interest credit card. These newer ways of presenting the offerings helps to democratize the ability to be a premium guest. This is a huge benefit to the guest who can now partake in something they’ve always aspired toward, as well as to the business who can now present higher tiered packages to a wider demographic.