What can attractions interested in pre-booking learn from theme parks?

A medieval castle. The Tower of London
The Tower of London copyright Themis Chalvantzi-Stringer

Last week I listened to an engaging podcast @skip_the_queue. Jon Young of BVA BDRC explained the results of a recent survey of attractions using pre-booking. The podcast was of particular interest to me as I wrote my MA dissertation on World Heritage Studies on “Issues of Overcrowding at World Heritage Sites and technology-based solutions”. I used as a case study the Tower of London, a very popular world heritage site, and the particular hotspot at the site, the Crown Jewels exhibition. Analysis of TripAdvisor reviews revealed queueing times to be one of the few causes of complaint from visitors.

In my thesis, I looked into the introduction of a virtual queueing system at the Tower. Virtual queueing is already widely used in call centres, and more importantly in theme park management for attractions such as DisneyWorld and Universal City Studios [Maeda et al., Laval and Hale]. There are also studies recommending virtual queueing for restaurants, and other hospitality and service organisations [Dickson et al.]. Virtual queues can cut down waiting times and reduce demand at peak periods, distributing people in an optimal way.

There are several methods and systems for implementing a virtual queue. For example, in their patent, Maeda et al. describe a ticketing system from Omron Corporation, which allows customers to reserve an admission time for entry and not be affected by cancellations. The Laval and Hale patent for Disney Enterprises allows visitors to choose between waiting in the queue for an attraction or reserving a spot for a later time without waiting.

The virtual queueing system I suggested for the Tower works as follows:

· The electronic queueing system offers visitors who buy their tickets online the opportunity to participate in the virtual queue.

· The system provides a time window during which the ticket holder must arrive at the Tower entrance and go through security.

· It calculates the time that visitors will need to go through security and estimates their time of arrival at the Crown Jewels exhibition.

· An SMS notification alerts visitors of their turn, giving them freedom to visit other parts of the Tower or facilities (shops, toilets, café etc).

· Upon arrival at the exhibition, participating visitors enter via a designated entry point, which could be an alternative entrance or alternative barrier system outside the main entrance.

· Visitors not participating in the system enter via a non-participant queue, allowing step-ins and impulse visits.

· The virtual queueing system can offer updated information to the ticket desks improving waiting times and easing the visitor — attraction interaction.

A virtual queueing system could be cost-effective, as it will be using resources already available, such as e-ticketing; use of existing entry points; no need for rebuilding or remodelling access. In addition, virtual queueing, by freeing up time, could boost revenue through merchandise, food, and beverage sales. In the aftermath of Covid-19 closures and the reduction in visitor numbers all attractions will have to increase secondary income to partially cover losses in revenue from the decrease in ticket sales.

Using a virtual queueing system will offer a hybrid approach that would not only improve the experience of visitors but would also address social-distancing concerns. The experience of Covid-19 provides attractions with a good reason to examine the use of virtual queueing. The technology is there — it is up to us to use it.


Dickson, D., Ford, R., and Laval, B. (2005) “Managing real and virtual waits in hospitality and services organizations”, Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 46 (1), pp.52–68.

Laval, B. C., and Hale, G. B. (2001) USA Patent No US 6,173,209. Available at: https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/dd/32/94/ea2597a1b31fcc/US6173209.pdf

Maeda, T., Yoshikawa. T. and Tasaka, Y., (1999), USA Patent No 5,987,420. Available at: https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/f8/2f/bd/5bde92f136bb9e/US5987420.pdf