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What visitors want

How are today’s visitors reshaping the attractions industry? New research by IAAPA and LaneTerralever throws up some intriguing findings, say Nick Dan-Bergman and Lauren Hillery

Young families value experiences with an educational component Photo: Shutterstock/Elizaveta Galitckaia
Visitors plan to visit attractions more in 2024 than they have previously Photo: Shutterstock/ABWitzPix089
It’s important for operators to focus their messaging on the value of their offer Photo: Shutterstock/PeopleImages.com - Yuri A

What are today’s visitors really looking for when it comes to location-based attractions and experiences? What makes them return, and what keeps them away?

In order to better understand what drives visitors, IAAPA partnered with marketing and digital experience agency LaneTerralever to carry out a national research study in the US.

The team carried out a study of 1,497 US participants ages 18 to 70 (split equally between local attractions visitors and destination attractions visitors) and interviewed key industry executives to get a picture of the market. So what did they find?

What were the top-line consumer findings from this report?
Consumer sentiment/outlook in 2024 is still strong. The research showed that a huge 93 per cent of visitors plan to visit attractions the same amount or more in 2024 compared to 2023. Fifty per cent of Gen Z and affluent visitors plan to visit attractions more in 2024, compared to 2023.

People are drawn to unique entertainment offerings, with 67 per cent of Millennials willing to pay incrementally for unique experiences, compared to 36 per cent of Boomers and 49 per cent of Gen X.

We also found that visitors’ digital experience is a key catalyst for visits, and it’s vital to get this right – 50 per cent of destination visitors surveyed said they won’t attend a particular attraction because of perceived difficulties navigating the digital experience. YouTube emerged as a critical marketing medium to reach affluent and Millennial visitors.

Finally, we found that the vast majority of visitors will pay more for less time in line – 75 per cent of destination visitors are willing to pay more to spend less time queueing, and 4 out of 5 of the top words used to describe ‘skip-the-line passes’ had a positive sentiment.

What are the main trends impacting visitor behaviours and expectations?
Anything that expedites the guest experience is of significant value to visitors of all ages, affluence, and ethnicities.

Interactive and pop-up/traveling experiences captivate the attention and share of wallet of attraction visitors, which tells us the fear of missing out makes them more willing to prioritise their budget on fleeting experiences.

The infusion of sustainability and ‘edutainment’ into the positioning and messaging of attractions and entertainment brands opens the doors for long-lasting guest relationships and starts a loyalty conversation with visitors from the first interaction with the brand.

What are the main areas of good news for attractions operators in the report?
People plan to visit more in the coming year than they did in the past. In addition, the spending power of older generations on entertainment, in particular, makes this visitor group an often-overlooked target for attractions and entertainment brands. However, younger generations, particularly younger Millennials, frequent attractions and entertainment venues as much as 3x more than Boomers.

And what are the biggest challenges?
Staffing will continue to be challenging for attractions and entertainment brands. These challenges affect the quality of experience your team members are able to deliver, which matters significantly for guest satisfaction and loyalty. The report found that 87 per cent of all visitors are willing to give an attraction one chance to make things right after an undesirable experience with your brand. However, only 30 per cent of Boomers will give you multiple chances to make up for a bad guest experience.

Four main customer groups were identified in the research. How should operators cater to each group?
The Attraction Affluent: Provide unique and convenient experiences in packages for which this group is likely to pay a premium.

The Raving Fans: Incentivise them to recommend their experience to drive loyalty.

The Smart & Sustainable Seekers: Ensure your values come through in your brand marketing, particularly when targeting younger generations.

The Socialisers: Make it easy for them to plan and experience your offerings in groups and highlight the aspects of your attraction that are social in nature.

Are there any pitfalls to watch out for when targeting particular groups?
Attractions and entertainment marketing over-invests in showing young people, however, the largest share of wallet is the older generations. Older generations need to see themselves in marketing to be comfortable with the experience of your offering.

What are the main elements of an attraction that could deter visitors?
The main deterrent to visiting an attraction is still cost. Although memberships and subscriptions are still highly relevant, focusing messaging on the value will help convert the largest segment of the visiting population — the budget shopper.

What were the most significant findings in relation to sustainability?
Eight per cent of visitors say they’re more likely to be loyal to an attraction brand whose purpose or mission is aligned with their values. It’s important to note that it’s most often seen as a contributing factor in why someone selects a particular brand but is still not the key driver like the price might be.

Were there any other significant findings?
The number of young people and the affluent who are willing to pay incrementally to save time and experience something unique blew us away. 67 per cent of Millennials are willing to pay incrementally for unique experiences, and 65 per cent of affluent Americans are willing to pay at least 10 per cent or more for expedited entry.

African-American visitation overindexes by 50 per cent at destination attractions when compared to all other attractions visitors – the only demographic that showed such a huge increase in attendance.

It’s hard to know exactly why, but this presents an opportunity for operators to invest in marketing that feels authentic and speaks to the diversity within that audience.

Four main customer groups were revealed in the research:
• The Attraction Affluent

This group has the spending power to visit both local and destination attractions. With household incomes >$100K, they should be encouraged to incorporate attractions into their travel planning and be incentivised with unique experiences.

• The Raving Fans

Although they cut across all age segments, these consumers include Gen Z and Millennials seeking unique experiences and quickly sharing their recommendations across social media. Tapping into this market can help grow your visitor base and positive word-of-mouth.

• The Smart & Sustainable Seekers

Young families value edutainment (experiences that contain an educational component). As awareness of planet-friendly practices grows, these visitors are also doing research into the waste reducing practices of attractions and may factor that into their decision-making.

• The Socialisers

These visitors seek out experiences to be enjoyed with friends. While this segment cuts across all genders and ages, it is primarily comprised of Gen Z women who have the time and interest in exploring fun moments. Group packages can help draw them in.

Read the full report here.

Originally published in Attractions Management 2024 issue 1
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