How to Engage Guests When the Gates Are Closed
While attractions around the globe temporarily shutter in the wake of COVID-19, many have found creative ways to stay connected with guests. Using social media, blogs, and e-mail, attractions around the world have provided activities for parents trying to entertain and educate their children while practicing social distancing due to the spread of the coronavirus.
“Our zoo naturalists continue to provide the animals with love and expert care throughout this global health situation, so these virtual visits allow them to ‘bring the zoo’ to our fans from everywhere,” says Quinn Bryner, director of public relations strategy, Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company, home to ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania. For 15 minutes each day, ZooAmerica invites parents and their children to watch a live video feed that is later archived on the zoo’s Facebook page. Since beginning the live looks behind the gates, viewers have learned about reptiles, Canada lynx, and a skunk who led children in a finger-painting exercise.
From creating videos to designing coloring books, here are five tips from attractions generating increased engagement with content even while they’re closed:
- Stay True to Your Brand
Sharing a ride with family and friends is at the heart of the Quassy Amusement and Waterpark experience in Middlebury, Connecticut. While the park navigates COVID-19, Quassy created a coloring book using its popular rides.
“I put the book together in two to three hours at the most,” says Ron Gustafson, director of marketing and public relations. His secret? Gustafson took existing photos of park attractions and used a free, online software program named Rapid Resizer to turn the images into line art—perfect for coloring. The finished product was mailed as a pdf file to members of the park’s kids club.
A new series named “Keep Kids Smart with Art” was designed by the Boca Raton Museum of Art to help parents who now find themselves homeschooling. “While the museum is temporarily closed, we will continue to give back to the community. Being inspired and creative have not been canceled,” says Irvin Lippman, the executive director of the museum. Art educators plan to use their expertise to develop online resources for parents—and seniors who are keeping a social distance and may feel isolated. The resources will be posted on the museum's COVID-19 resource page.
- Ask for Input
The Houston Zoo took to their social media channels and asked followers what animals were the most important to them when gauging who to feature in Facebook live events. With that list, the Houston Zoo began to share information about the animals in their care—and how the community can help save threatened animals in the wild.
“Being able to connect with our community through the web during this unprecedented time means that we can continue to be in their hearts and minds,” says Jackie Wallace, senior director of public relations at the Houston Zoo. “We have been fortunate to have an incredible fan base who are eager to participate in our live events. They are so engaging, and we love hearing from our littlest viewers.”
- Show You Care and Stay Optimistic
Friends of Fun Land of Fredericksburg in Virginia received an e-mail with suggestions of reading a new book, taking a virtual museum tour, and having a living room picnic. What was missing in Fun Land’s email? Any kind advertising for the park.
“There is a time and place for sales messages,” says Levi Hanson, events and marketing manager of Fun Land of Fredericksburg, adding attractions should “remember that a lot of people will be struggling financially from this. When businesses are not doing well, neither are their people.” Hanson says the park’s messaging had to take into consideration how many customers need affordable things to do to stay occupied, and children who are not yet old enough to understand COVID-19.
“Overall, we know our customers want to come back and support us when we are open again,” Hanson says.
- Prepare for Engagement
In order to successfully produce their live looks on Facebook, ZooAmerica added extra staff resources to support their social media team—and the viral videos are resonating with viewers. Bryner with ZooAmerica says their social engagement has increased by 900%. The increased traffic comes from two tactics.
“We used the Facebook Event feature so our guests can get a reminder when we go live,” Bryner says. “For additional reach, we are downloading the videos to share across other platforms.” Portions of each video are also shared on Instagram.
- Have Fun
The Plopsa Group, operator of seven parks across Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and Poland, plans to host a virtual dance party on Facebook, complete with a deejay. The Saturday night party is designed for families to turn up the volume on their computer and dance.
“You may not be able to ride any coasters in park at the moment, but why let that stop you from having some fun?” asks the Wonderland blog of Canada’s Wonderland outside Toronto. The park produced a look at children “riding” the park’s collection of roller coasters by sitting in their own living room. Point-of-view videos of the coasters, along with coloring pages, and instructions to “make your own ride” are on the park’s website.