Once there are medically-proven vaccines readily available and it becomes reasonably safe to mingle and assemble among strangers outside our social “bubbles” we will finally be able to return to the heady days of going to concerts, sporting events, and enjoying a beer at the bar without fear of catching more than a buzz. However, when that day comes (hopefully in time to save football this fall – GO BILLS!!) we will be entering a new reality for experience design driven by societal echoes of this pandemic and the behavioral scar it has created that will last for at least a generation. Here are a few ways I can easily envision, if not confidently forecast, the impact of COVID-19 on designing entertainment and learning experiences for destinations in the immediate future.
Digital touchscreens are everywhere. Hands-on activities are their analog antidote. Both require people to touch them. Ensuring proper hand hygiene will force staff to wipe down equipment, screens, and interfaces or guests to continuously apply hand sanitizer, neither are helpful in maintaining the willing suspension of disbelief or the wondrous joy of discovery to deliver delight. Look for engagement, activation, and interaction to be channeled through apps on mobile devices as a way to bypass the need for physical contact. Getting someone to download a destination’s app has always been the holy grail for establishing a brand relationship umbilical with audiences post-visit, but in a post-CV19 world, the modality shift that audiences will need YOUR app on THEIR devices so THEY can control, trigger, and interface with YOUR fun things to do will be a game changer.
We’ve all seen the stickers on the floor, if not strips of duct tape, indicating where to stand and how far to maintain proper social distancing. While absolutely necessary, they visually intrude upon any semblance of a design aesthetic – let alone creating a fanciful sense of place that aligns with the story driving the overall experience. When COVID-19 is long gone, the notion of social distancing will still be with us in terms of an operational response to preventing transmission of a contagion – be it the next super virus or next season’s flu strain. So look for carpeting, tile/wood flooring, hardscape pavers, and brick/stonework designs to incorporate geometric elements or artistic flair about every 6 feet or so to provide a subliminal reference for social distancing cues. This will eliminate tape, sticker, and stanchion intrusion while maintaining the intended design aesthetic and support the desired guest experience for that destination.
Guest capacity and flow/dwell time through attractions, museums, ride systems, destinations, venues, transportation, and shows is the operational cipher for predicting believable revenue and financial success. However, with capacity restrictions hampering so many industries during the pandemic, new operating procedures will need to deliver fiscal results while still embracing reduced capacity requirements when necessary in order to remain open for business. Enter the realm of premium (increased price) experiences that give guests exclusive (minimally enhanced) access to incredibly immersive (smaller audience) experiences. Cruise lines have been doing it for years (Carnival vs. Silversea), so we know people will pay more to wait in shorter lines with fewer people to be able to do more things and feel better about themselves. But now we also know that many people will be seeking out these “premium” caliber experiences as a non-negotiable starting point based on their desire to protect themselves and their family when out having a memorable good time.
There are plenty more where these came from, such as advance health screening requirements, self-quarantine pamper packages, and staff isolation teams ready to step in where and whenever needed. So, envisioning what things might be like in the years to come after CV-19 gives you a head start on developing them into viable and flexible solutions.