Travel TechnologyMerlin Entertainments uses smart tech to upgrade the guest experience around the world.

First comes the theme parks, next comes the smart tech

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Sea Life Aquarium Sydney.
Sea Life Aquarium Sydney. Photo Credit: Merlin Entertainments

Merlin Entertainments, operator of Legoland theme parks, Sea Life aquariums and other attractions, has partnered with Oracle to deploy its point-of-sale and hospitality technology to improve the guest experience throughout Merlin's 130 attractions in 25 countries.

To meet that goal, said Lee Cowie, chief technology officer at Merlin, "we look at each stage of the guest journey." 

"Where do we deploy tech that removes friction for the guests? Does it make it really easy for the guest, the customer, to engage with us, to interact with us? And how do we then make it really simple for that person to enjoy the experience using well-integrated, well-formed technology?" Cowie said.

Cowie called Oracle's technology a "central part" of Merlin's digital guest experience. While the company already employs an in-house technology team and builds its own tech, Oracle's particular solutions, which Cowie described as "turnkey," enable Merlin to focus on bigger-picture projects.

Specifically, Merlin will employ Oracle's Micros Simphony Point of Sale and Hospitality Opera Property Management technology. They will enable guests to do things such as pre-order food at attractions, manage hotel reservations via their mobile phones and seamlessly check in and get a room key.

Cowie said the systems will be integrated in the next few years across Merlin's entire portfolio of attractions, which includes Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers in England and Gardaland Resort in Italy.

According to Cowie, the No. 1 thing its guests want is a "frictionless experience."

"The guests expect riding world-class roller coasters and having a world-class experience in a really immersive environment," he said. "And at a very basic level, technology needs to not get in the way of that ⁠— that's kind of the bare minimum. But technology in our parks is so much more than just getting out of the way."

For instance, Cowie said, guests can already register for an attraction in advance. When they purchase a ticket, they can provide their license plate number and on arrival, gates will automatically open. Theme park purchases can be charged to a guest's hotel room. 

One of Oracle's systems will help at food service locations specifically. The technology helps prioritise orders and get them in guests' hands faster. This addresses what has historically been theme park-goers' chief complaint: waiting in long lines, which is not good for the parks, either. Time spent in line is time that could be spent buying merchandise or food.

Merlin has already been using technology to help solve that issue and lessen wait times. In attraction lines, queue lengths are monitored via sensors to understand load factors. Information is gathered on what areas of the park are busier than others to match staffing patterns.

Bottleneck areas are adjusted to help guests navigate more efficiently. Cowie said that Merlin has been looking to add functionality to its mobile app that will guide guests away from crowded areas by suggesting less busy parts of parks.

While Merlin hopes its Oracle partnership will make its user experience even better, guest-facing and behind-the-scenes technology making attractions more seamless is becoming the norm. 

And Cowie said the entire attractions industry is looking to technology to enhance the immersive physical environments they offer. That future will likely further merge the physical and digital environments.

Augmented reality and virtual reality ⁠— even the metaverse ⁠— are coming into the forefront, Cowie said, and are "the next stage of the digital evolution."

"As they start to come more mainstream and more real," he said, "you see how digital technology will really enhance the physical experience." 

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