Long queue? There’s an app for that

Theme parks are trialling smartphone technology that could prove the end of the line for waiting

Rain or shine, long snaking queues have been a familiar sight at British theme parks since they were first introduced over a hundred years ago.

Yet this time next summer, waiting in line could be over for good, as a British firm has successfully trialled a no-queue system for every theme-park visitor.

Tom Burnet, the chief executive of the queue-jumping technology firm accesso, whose products are used at Legoland and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, said that thanks to smartphone technology, queues may become a thing of the past.

“The technology exists and it works. We’ve trialled it in Europe with the assumption that every single visitor can use this,” Mr Burnet said. Visitors download an app which allows them to book a time slot for a ride and queue “virtually” while doing other things.

“For the first time the mathematics work – they didn’t before when queue-jumping technology was introduced in the 1990s,” said Mr Burnet. “The amount of visitors who now have smartphones means that they can use those to queue jump – it has been the great enabler. Consumers now have the ability to queue jump in their pockets.”

The parks have been accused of creating a “rich man/poor man” divide by introducing queue-jumping tickets that cost more than twice the price of a standard ticket. It costs almost £220 for a family of five to visit Legoland, or more than £150 if booked in advance, but forking out for a “Q-Bot Ultimate” at £70 per person can take the bill to more than £500. The Legoland Q-Bot, essentially an egg-shaped pager, works by listing the rides available. The £15 Regular gives you the same waiting times as the actual queue, the £30 Express reduces the time by half and the Ultimate gives instant access.

Alton Towers and Chessington, both owned by Merlin, offer a limited alternative to the virtual queue with their Fastrack wristbands allowing wearers into a separate, shorter queue. On top of the entry fees, they cost between £12 for a handful of rides to £92 per person for Alton Towers’s Fastrack platinum, which gives unlimited access to its 19 premium attractions.

The Ride Rater website said in a recent editorial: “It is hard to imagine that the income generated from Fastracks, Speedy Passes, Q-Bots and premium car parking is integral to the attractions’ futures. Unfortunately the class-war concept of people being able to ‘enhance’ their day at the direct expense of other guests leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

“What’s hard to accept is when a day out, of escapism from the realities of life, features stark reminders of how the privileged in society can step over those less fortunate.”

Mr Burnet believes all the Fastrack system does is create a more expensive way of queuing, and said accesso is in ongoing discussions with Merlin to introduce his virtual queuing system at their parks. Thorpe Park is already trialling its own queuing technology with its “Reserve N’ Ride” – a free system on smartphones that allows you to book a time slot on their five biggest rollercoasters.

Mr Burnet, a 46-year-old former soldier, said his firm’s vision was in line with that of Leonard Sim, the British engineer credited with introducing queue-jumping technology. Mr Sim set up Lo-Q in the 1990s after a family holiday to Orlando. Mr Burnet took over in 2010, by which time the firm was renamed accesso.

He said: “That was Leonard’s original vision: no one would have to wait in a queue, and everyone could get that buzz of anticipation and be on the rollercoaster in minutes. It won’t be until next year before anything significant happens, though.”

The remaining question is whether introducing queue-free theme parks will push up ticket prices dramatically for everyone. “I don’t set the price points with this technology,” Mr Burnet said. “The theme parks do that, but they are very sensitive to pricing – their whole ethos is about people having a great experience and they are always looking for new ways to improve that.”

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