Virtual Queuing in the UK
Around the world, us Brits have a bit of a reputation for loving to queue. But ask most people to name what they dislike most about theme parks & attractions and chances are it will be the long queues. Wouldnâ€™t it be great if there was a way to beat these sometimes mind-numbing queues? There is, and itâ€™s called Virtual Queuing.
Although some forms of pre-booking tickets for rides have been around for longer, the modern style of virtual queuing first arrived in the late 1990s. It was in 1999 that both the Walt Disney Company and Alton Towers unveiled new initiatives to help the guests spend more of the day on their rides rather than in their queues.
The Disney system is still in operation today at all of their parks across the world, it is called Fastpass, and is a free service available to all park guests. At the entrance to each of the Fastpass equipped attractions there are machines that guests can insert their park ticket into, they will then receive a printed Fastpass ticket stating a time when they can return and join a much shorter queue for this ride. Other Fastpasses will then be available to these guests either 2 hours later or after the start time on their current Fastpass.
The original Alton Towers system was very similar in concept, and was later trialled at Thorpe Park in 2002 where the free Virtual Q system was available for their new Rollercoaster, Colossus. In 2003, new Fastrack machines were installed at the entrances to Colossus, Nemesis Inferno, Tidal Wave and Loggers Leap. This system was also free, using the guestâ€™s park ticket to generate a timed Fastrack ticket for the ride, meaning guests could only have one Fastrack ticket for a ride at any time.
In 2005, Thorpe Parkâ€™s Fastrack machines were turned off and closed.
The parkÂ then started selling Â£4 tickets at admissions that allowed one ride on each of the following rides: Colossus, Nemesis Inferno, X:\ No Way Out and Tidal Wave or Loggers Leap.
By the 2006 season Fastrack had become quite popular, so the more expensive version we know today was founded. From then onwards, Thorpe Park would sell a range of Fastrack packages ranging from a ticket for a single ride on Stealth for Â£4.50, right up to Â£66 per person on top of the entrance fee for their â€˜Ultimate Fastrackâ€™ package that allows unlimited use on all Fastrack rides, all day.
Similar Fastrack systems to this now operate at both Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures.
One of the newest technologies in virtual queuing is the Q-bot system, designed by UK based company Lo-Q .
This system is possibly the truest form of virtual queuing around today, it involves the guests hiring and carrying around a small handheld device (similar in size to a Tamagotchi) called a Q-bot. These Q-bots allow guests to register their place in a rides queue line from anywhere in the park all from the device itself. Once they have selected a ride they are then shown a time to arrive at the queue. This allows them to spend the time in between in shops and on other rides in the park. When it is time for them to ride, the Q-bot will beep and vibrate to inform them.
An early version of Lo-Qâ€™s system was first trialled at Thorpe Park in the late 90s and was even featured on BBCâ€™s Tomorrowâ€™s World.
A cheaper Lo-Q system for smaller parks is Q-txt which allows park guests to reserve their place in line via SMS text message. This system however, heavily relies on the parks being able to supply very good phone signal for all the major networks, whilst also proving very expensive for foreign guests due to the extra network charges involved.
UK Parks with Q-bot and Q-txt systems include LEGOLAND Windsor and Flamingo Land. Early in the 2011 season Pleasure Beach Blackpool installed a version of the Q-bot system they call Speedy Pass.
LEGOLAND Windsor asks for an additional returnable deposit of around Â£50 per Q-bot device, on top of their service charge, this is to help guarantee a safe return of the device at the end of the visit.
The Controversy about Virtual Queuing
The paper ticket style Virtual Queuing systems such as Merlinâ€™s Fastrack, are seen by many Theme Park fans and guests to be a form of paid queue jumping. This is because guests with these passes can often join very short queues that merge with the main ride queue at the front, sometimes almost walking straight on to rides that otherwise have 30-40 minute long queues.
Some of the larger parks also have a bit of a reputation for â€˜over sellingâ€™ these passes, making them less of a privilege for those paying extra for them. This can also lead to a bigger knock on effect in the main queue lines where operators do not always manage the flow of Fastrack guests as effectively as they could do, making normal queuing times even longer. These factors can at times combine to anger some guests in the parks.
Lo-Qâ€™s systems seem to be a lot less controversial as even when park guests are using their systems they still have to wait the same amount of time to get onto the rides but they are able to spend that waiting time elsewhere in the park rather than in the main queue line. This is great for paying guests as they no longer need to spend all that time in the physical queue, it is good for the park as guests who are not stuck in queues are more likely to spend their time & money in shops and restaurants, and it is also less annoying for other park guests as they know that the users have still had to wait as long as them to ride.
Recently Lo-Q have unveiled a new product that will only help spread the benefits of virtual queuing to more attractions around the world. Their new Q-band system is a waterproof wristband that will allow users to register their places in queues at water parks and other similar attractions. This wristband also has the added benefit that it can be used for cashless vending and for locker access.
With the use of Virtual Queuing systems becoming more popular than ever in the UK, it is clear to see that this form of queuing will still be with us for a few years yet, even with the possibility of parks increasing the prices for some of these services.