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Changing the game: How innovative design and technology is disrupting the leisure industry

by Sarah-Anne Forteith on 10-Oct-2017 10:34:09

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One of our favourite sectors to work in has got to be the leisure industry. Over the years, thanks to our proven track record, we have worked with a fair few leisure clients and we’d like to think we’ve become experts in this field too.

Recently, a few members of our leadership team spent time attending the IAAPA Euro attractions show in Berlin where many of the world’s leaders in the entertainment and leisure industry meet to showcase their innovation and ideas.

Which got us thinking.. what innovation is changing the leisure and entertainment industry? And what role does design play in keeping the leisure industry fresh and exciting? Here we take a deep dive into the design and technology disrupting the leisure industry.

From Lines to lounges...

Wait spaces designed with guests in mind

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Ask anyone what their least favourite part of their day is at a leisure park and it will almost inevitably 'be the queues'. For years, long wait times and queueing dissatisfaction has been an increasing problem as ticket sales numbers rise; it’s just part of the experience, right?

Well not for much longer! Many premier leisure brands are heavily investing their creative energy into producing entertaining and engaging spaces to beat the queueing blues. Many leisure parks are currently trialling alternatives to the chained off ’serpentine’ queue systems of old, and replacing them with specially designed spaces, themed environments and providing interactive entertainment for customers to enjoy.

Disney's Star Tours

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Let’s take a look at Disney’s Star Tours attraction in Orlando, arguably one of the most engaging examples of in-line entertainment. Before embarking on the ride that will transport you across galaxies, the waiting experience fully immerses its guests into the Star Wars universe.

Park guests take on the role of space travellers and amble through a busy spaceport terminal, complete with screens showing flight information, baggage scans and galactic weather forecasts. During their journey, guests will also encounter animatronics of the beloved droid characters C-3PO and R2-D2, as well as many other artefacts, set pieces and even a few Easter eggs from the franchise.

This themed and interactive space is an invaluable part of the ride’s overall experience and is consistently increasing guest satisfaction.

Universal's Jimmy Fallon

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Not to be outdone, Universal’s recently opened attraction “Race through New York starring Jimmy Fallon” is also at the forefront of innovative in-line entertainment. Here, standing in line has been replaced with the ability to explore a replica of the famous NBC studios, examine memorabilia from the Tonight Show’s golden era, and relax in a lounge while enjoying live music from a barbershop quartet.

Ride time call outs have been streamlined and integrated into the immersive experience too, as guests are called by a change of colour in the overhead lighting that corresponds with a coloured ticket they are handed upon entry.

These considered, user experience driven spaces are transforming the landscape of many leisure parks and blurring the lines of traditional entertainment.

Wearable technology...

Creating seamless experiences

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A trip to a theme park is supposed to be a break away from the outside world and all its responsibilities, however, it can be a real annoyance having to constantly keep track of tickets, passes, tokens and your spending money.

Tokens can get lost, fumbling for tickets can cause delays and keeping spending money dry and easily accessible at facilities like a water park, is a consistent guest issue. Luckily many leader brands are embracing the latest wearable technology to streamline a guest’s entire visit, creating a seamless entertainment experience and often eliminating physical queuing entirely.

Some leisure brands have successfully introduced optional wearables into their offerings, such as Disney’s innovative Magic Band, which acts as a park pass, a room key and contactless payment device. However these have some limitations as not every guest has such an item and the technology is somewhat constrained by the park's’ existing, traditional design and layout. Other leisure brands have taken a different approach; enter Volcano Bay water park’s wearable TapuTapu!

Volcano Bay's TapuTapu

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Volcano Bay was designed entirely around this little waterproof and shock-proof device meaning that guests can spend their day completely immersed in the park’s attractions without worry or distraction.

No more fumbling for passes, tickets or cash, instead a bracelet that has been personally coded to each individual and their account is provided to each guest upon entry. This colourful bracelet can then be used for everything from paying for refreshments, collecting and viewing ride photos and even reserving your place in a virtual line.This ride reservation system is where the TapuTapu wearable comes into its own.

Where traditional leisure facilities may be able to offer curated spaces and in-line entertainment, water parks such as Volcano Bay often don’t have this luxury as many of their ride queues involve outdoor staircases where space is at a premium. Volcano Bay’s answer was designing their wearable tech to have the ability to reserve a place in a virtual line, giving guests the freedom to explore the park’s other entertainment while they wait.

When it’s their turn to ride, guest’s are simply notified with a buzz and a message from their bracelet. With wearable tech like TapuTapu, everything in the park is simply a tap away for guests, helping to alleviate time anxiety and create a leisure landscape where entertainment experiences are truly seamless for the user.

Virtual reality...

Multisensory, immersive storytelling

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The leisure industry has been integrating 3D visuals into its offerings for many years with great success. However, with today's technological advances many leisure brands are taking things to the next level with attractions completely designed around 360 virtual experiences.

These virtual technologies are opening up a whole world of creative opportunities for the leisure industry. The result? Utterly immersive storytelling experiences that guests can’t get enough of. Take the Midland’s own innovative offering; Alton Towers' Galactica.

Alton Towers' Galactica

The ride proudly claims to be the world’s first fully VR (virtual reality) rollercoaster experience and has been designed, from the bottom up, around the use of Samsung Gear VR headsets. The thrilling 3D visuals shown through these headsets have been created to match every twist, turn and spin of the ride, fully surrounding the rider with the excitement of space travel as well as the physical sensations of the white-knuckle ride.

Some attractions have taken this technology and completely run with it; such as the “hyper-reality” experiences of The Void. This American based start up company is well and truly disrupting the leisure industry with its groundbreaking use of virtual reality in its themed experiences, such as Ghostbusters: Dimension.

The VOID's Ghostbusters

Through the use of a VR headset, a computer contained within a backpack and a tactile haptic vest, guests are transported into a completely virtual world where they can explore their environment, shoot proton packs and even be ‘touched’ by ghosts. This integration of multi-sensory experiences is truly changing the face of leisure entertainment. 

There is also the opportunity to use virtual reality technology to help keep leisure parks and facilities fresh. One thing that attractions such as theme parks struggle with is change. New rides are incredibly expensive to produce and often take years to complete, which can lead to a slump in repeat visits while things are in development simply because guests feel they’ve already seen it all.

By integrating VR, an attraction can receive a relatively low-cost facelift or a complete theme change. Rather than being a one-off gimmick feature, virtual reality may, in fact, be the key to encouraging guests to return again and again.

Thomas Cook's 360 VR preview


However, it’s not just the white-knuckle rides and theme parks that are embracing VR technology!

Brands like Thomas Cook has been utilising VR as an inspiring sales tool. Rather than relying on traditional tactics, such as brochures and store front advertising, Thomas Cook is actively trying to inspire wanderlust through cutting-edge techniques.

Their “Try before you Fly” campaign placed a relatively inexpensive Google cardboard headset in selected holiday destination brochures. After downloading the free app on to their mobile devices, potential customers were able to view a 360 virtual reality ‘preview’ of their potential destinations.

Not stopping there, Thomas Cook have also implemented the roll out of several concept stores where VR and multi-sensory elements such as sound and scent, take centre stage. This innovative use of technology is now a vital part of the brand’s strategy for the future.

Augmented reality...

It's reality, but better

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One of the most exciting technology innovations that are poised to take the leisure industry by storm is the use of AR (augmented reality). According to the rumour mill, and the U.S patent office, major theme parks such as Universal Studios and Disney are currently working on bringing an array of exciting augmented reality features into their parks.

The full plans and designs are top secret for now, but we can’t wait! But it’s not just the theme parks getting in on the augmented reality game! AR can and has been tested and implemented throughout many different levels of the leisure sector.

Furthering Thomas Cook’s virtual reality brochures, tourist information and travel agencies such as St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida have started to harness the power of augmented reality to enhance a customer's booking experience.

The ‘Two Treasure’s 3D Tour” enabled customers to enter a completely interactive, 3D virtual tour of the area and hold all the key information in their hands when their promotional leaflet was viewed through their webcam. This technology could easily become a valuable staple of the leisure industry's advertising and marketing arsenal; allowing guests to tour their hotel, their rooms and even preview attractions before they book. 

Digital binocular station


Beyond just booking, augmented reality is also being creatively utilised by attractions such as Canterbury Museum in New Zealand. Thanks to their “digital binocular station” AR can inspire visitors and bring exhibits to life.

Canterbury Museum has managed to evolve a traditionally static environment into a dynamic learning experience as guests are invited to view 3D characters interact with the artefacts, and other educational content. All that’s missing is Ben Stiller and a capuchin monkey and it could be “Night at the Museum” in real life!

Gatwick Airport's app

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Augmented reality is also being utilised to dramatically improve user experience in many other sectors out of the leisure and entertainment industry such as Gatwick Airport’s new indoor navigation system.The first of its kind ever to be launched, the live navigation app aids travellers to navigate to various destinations within the airport via the 2000 beacons installed within the complex.

Simply select your chosen destination, whether that’s your flight gate or the nearest coffee shop, and follow the AR line that appears on your phone’s live view. Such a simple solution for today's tech-savvy travellers.

So what does it all mean?

The driving force behind many leisure industry innovations is the need to give its customers something that they cannot experience at home. As a generation of digital natives who have come to expect a lot more from their leisure time begin to show their buying power, brands risk being left behind if they’re not open to pushing their technological boundaries.

Which is why it’s fantastic to see so many brands fully embracing the future, their creativity and heavily investing into providing incredible and seamless experiences for their guests.

I’m personally most excited to see what augmented reality can bring to the leisure landscape in the future. Its applications seem to be endless. Imagine a leisure experience where digital and physical elements seamlessly combine; from an enhanced booking experience to live wayfinder navigation and instant translation?

Last but not least is AR’s potential entertainment and educational value. Interactive treasure hunts, enhanced attractions, and countless creative photo and video opportunities perfect for sharing. Multi sensory, blended experiences and social sharing are becoming increasingly important to consumers who are expecting more interconnectivity from their leisure time.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the leisure industry and we can’t wait to get stuck into these creative uses of tech and to see what else is just round the corner.

Katapult leisure industrycase study packPhoto credits: DisneyTouristBlog.comeasywdw.comattractionsmagazine.comniversalorlando.co.ukwareable.comfoxnews.comgalacticatours.comThe Voiduploadvr.comvisualise.comMindSpaceSolutionsTechCrunch

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This post was written by Sarah-Anne Forteith

Sarah-Anne is a Graphic Designer at Katapult and passionate about creativity.

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