People having fun in a red and circling roller coaster in a sunny day

How technological transformation can enhance theme park experiences

As audiences return to theme parks, innovative tech and advanced strategies can help parks meet evolving customer expectations.

In brief
  • Theme parks can craft personalized guest experiences through technology transformation involving technologies like Generative AI.
  • Embracing strategies like personalization, loyalty programs, gamification and real-time notifications can drive audience engagement.
  • Technology transformation frameworks can drive park operational efficiency, reduce costs, improve revenue generation and enhance operational performance.

Theme parks in the US have enjoyed a remarkable post-COVID-19 recovery. Theme park attendance is projected to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2026, thanks to the steps parks have undertaken to improve guest and employee experiences, including digital enhancements, omni-channel optimization, crowd management, new attractions, and enhanced health and safety.

Digital adoption and implementation of new information technology and operational technology approaches have been key enablers for advancing guest experiences. But legacy technology infrastructure is often fragile, with high coupling between systems and limited ability to scale. As a result, the parks supported by outdated systems face obstacles to keep pace with technology transformation and meet the market demands. In these cases, there should be a balance between upgrading park operations infrastructure with advancing digital adoption and innovation.

In an industry driven by immersive experiences and evolving customer expectations, staying at the forefront of technological advancements is critical. With a consistent and evolving technology foundation, clients can anticipate and pre-empt guest expectations, adapt to changing market and regulatory demands and deliver exceptional guests experiences.

EY professionals have identified several key capabilities that theme park companies should incorporate into enablement strategies:

Activate theme park loyalty and customer engagement

Crafting meaningful moments and delivering engaging interactions throughout the customer lifecycle can drive greater loyalty, long-term engagement and increase lifetime value. Loyalty deepens the relationship with customers which leads to increased conversion and higher sales. Loyalty strategies can include tactics like customized itineraries, unlocking a perk after a ride or attraction, or exclusive access to events. Through personalized interactions, unique access, rewards and perks, theme park companies can encourage guests to engage in specific behaviors, spend more time on-site and become brand advocates. A personalized and segmented approach is ideal, as some customer groups (like Gen Z) have differing behaviors when it comes to loyalty.

Enhancing customer experience with hyper-personalization

By adding a layer of advanced data analytics to derive actionable insights for identify management, revenue optimization and improved guest experiences, theme park companies can strategically deliver hyper-personalized experiences to guests. This goes beyond personalizing with names or within generalized segments. Through studying insights drawn from guest behaviors and interactions, propensity for future actions and decisions, parks can use zero-, first- and third-party data to create complete customer profiles and personalities. The recommendations, offers and preferences provided by hyper-personalization make truly unique experiences possible. Since hyper-personalization isn’t appropriate for every experience, companies need to build strategies for incorporating it effectively.

Technology transformation driven by Generative AI (Gen AI)

Integrating GenAI into theme park operations can help craft unparalleled, custom-tailored guest experiences. Strategically engaging guests with GenAI-powered, personalized narratives and attractions add an element of magic while potentially predicting and meeting individual preferences. A coherent Gen-AI strategy (based on proper identity management and personalization strategies) can improve crowd management and customer satisfaction and become a core part of delivering exceptional, immersive customer experiences.

Unified Identity for theme park attendees

Creating a single, unified view of prospects and customers based on traits and behaviors can establish a consistent experience across channels and power a truly omnichannel strategy. By integrating operational and digital systems, companies can provide seamless and frictionless guest experiences for planning trips, navigating attractions, making purchases and engaging with personalized offerings. Identity management is key to understanding consumer behavior and customer demand, and it should be the foundation of tech-enabled interactions for individuals, groups and families.

Real-time notifications

Real-time interactions enhance personalized experiences by making them relevant. Information about wait times, suggestions for rides to try next, encouraging alternatives rides or experiences, providing mobile order updates or time-limited offers, real-time notifications keep guests informed and engaged. Theme park companies can use mobile applications, location-based services, proximity sensors and advance recommendations to deliver timely and relevant information to the customer. Embracing these technologies lets companies meet customers where they are, with the right message at the right time.

Gamification of theme park customer experience

Incorporating gamification into experiences can significantly enhance guest engagement and drive higher retention and overall satisfaction. Theme park companies can engage guests in gamification before and during park visits by using advanced insights to align customer behavior and drivers with business goals. In addition to incorporating an element of fun and excitement, gamification can encourage exploration of different areas of the park, participation in interactive attractions and competitions for rewards, leading to better crowd management, increased visits and improved customer experiences.

Technology transformation enablement: Strategic frameworks

Technology enablement has become a key pillar for creating captivating customer experiences and can provide a competitive advantage to theme park operators.

In partnership with the EY Tourism and Hospitality Center of Excellence, we have distilled our decades of experience collaborating with some of the world’s largest theme park operators to produce two foundational and complementary frameworks designed for enabling strategic technology transformations. The first framework helps clients assess and define their technology transformation roadmaps. The second helps drive the evolution of legacy platforms in an intentional and consistent manner to achieve their customer experience objectives.

CTP core process

The customer lifecycle spotlights where the end-to-end journey changes from a transactional to a constant engagement model.

The employee lifecycle highlights experiences that drive guest satisfaction and reduce turnover.

The experience pillars showcase key aspects of creating and delivering well-designed digital experiences and which ones apply to the entire customer and employee lifecycles through technology enablement.

The modular approach allows clients to adopt the Guest and Employee Journey framework’s core functionalities in a quick and scalable way. This framework can drive operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness and can lead to improved revenue generation, enhanced operational performance and higher profitability, as well as speed to market.

Digital Core Framework: an integrated solution

Digital core framework

Built to provide an open and extensible platform, these frameworks can be game-changing tools for integrating and utilizing advanced IT technologies (i.e., D&A, RPA, AI, IOT, etc.). The customizable park management platform can be tailored to address key competitive factors and improve the user experience through automation and consistency. It can be applied in a configurable and modular manner so clients can leverage aspects of their operations as needed to their digital experiences, such as commerce, marketing and payments. The platform can also accelerate standing up new parks or attractions without being tied to the limitations of legacy systems.

By leveraging our capabilities, frameworks and partner solutions, we can help our theme park customers innovate and leverage the latest technologies to achieve their business objectives, such as:

  • Develop and refine guest and employee journeys (test and learn cycles) in the field
  • Rapidly make specific new capabilities alongside legacy technology and platforms
  • Improve efficiency and effectiveness of organization across all areas
  • Create a differential and personalized UX that can be deployed digitally quickly

From extensive work with theme park clients, EY professionals understand the requirements and challenges unique to this industry. Through accelerated tech transformation, EY teams can help clients thrive in this highly competitive and technology-driven landscape. Our collaborative approach accelerates innovation, enables leading-in-class experiences and — ultimately — drives long-term success for our clients.

The following Ernst & Young LLP professionals contributed to this report: Raj Mirchandani, Brigid Tabour, Xavier Trias Arraut, Afzaal Akhtar, Giri Durbhakula, Dan Altin, Joseph Appley-Epstein, Cecilie Burleson, Archana Raj, Amy Kochan and Sherline Ko.


As theme parks return to pre-pandemic attendance, audience expectations of park experiences continue to evolve. The EY team has identified key strategies for theme park operators seeking to meet changing customer needs, including crafting experiences with GenAI, establishing a consistent omnichannel experience, delivering unique experiences, rewarding loyalty and using gamification to increase engagement. Strategic technology frameworks can optimize theme park operations and accelerate tech transformation, supporting long-term success.

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