What Works: The Science of Wait Times
Everyone encounters waits, whether it is to purchase groceries, ride public transportation, or secure a table at a restaurant. Exercising patience is also an inevitable part of visiting an attraction.
Terms such as single rider line, multiphase, line jumper, and serpentine line have become part of our vocabulary, and the attempt to reduce waits for guests can involve complicated equations. While mathematical approaches to queue management can be effective in optimizing guest flow, math does not consider negative emotions such as frustration, boredom, or anxiety caused by long wait times. These feelings can affect the way guests perceive and remember their visit.
Science Behind the Lines
The study of how neuroscience affects an individuals’ perception and how this knowledge can be used to provide better service has gained significant attention in recent years. Research shows the brain is more likely to perceive time as passing more slowly when humans are bored or unengaged. The psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance occurs when an individual experiences a discrepancy between their beliefs. This can lead to negative feelings that impact satisfaction. Cognitive dissonance can occur when a guest wants to experience a particular ride, but once they see a long queue, their desire begins to wane. Another example is when a guest believes going on a particular ride is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and therefore, worth a long wait. But, at the same time, they begin to believe their time is more valuable doing something else.
Solutions that Enhance the Experience
The first strategy to make waiting more bearable is to keep a visitor’s mind occupied so that they are not aware of the passage of time. Screens with content and videos, signage with facts and trivia, and exhibits with props throughout the queue can prevent cognitive dissonance.
Next, reengineering queues to reduce stress by adding seating, shade structures, misting devices, and embedding food and beverage carts can reduce discomfort (as well as drive revenue).
Plus, providing accurate wait times can help guests better manage their expectations. I’ve found overestimating a wait time is important. When the actual wait is less than the posted time, the guest receives a gratifying surprise.
In addition, many parks have developed mobile apps that guests can use to plan their day, check wait times, and even reserve a spot in line. Some theme parks have implemented line management systems that use cameras, sensors, and other technologies to monitor guest flow and adjust staffing placement in real time.
The Role of Psychology in Satisfaction
By understanding how the brain processes sensory information, emotions, and memories, theme park operators can design attractions and experiences that are more rewarding. Incorporating elements of surprise and novelty can trigger the brain’s reward system and increase enjoyment. This can help to build a strong positive reputation where satisfied guests are more likely to return and recommend the park to others, which directly leads to increased loyalty and profitability.
Rafael Penna, ICAE, is an amusement park and attractions consultant and executive based in Brazil. He is currently the COO at Acqualinda Water Park and is a member of the IAAPA Latin America Advisory Committee. He previously held roles at Farah Experiences in Abu Dhabi, Wet ‘n Wild Brazil, and Hopi Hari.