Genting SkyWorlds partners Alibaba Cloud to deliver an AI powered rich user experience
By Karamjit Singh July 1, 2022
- User experience is how ROI will be measured from use of AI
- Once mature, system will improve efficiency of running park
The days of going into theme parks ‘blind’ and praying that you have picked a day with less crowds that shorten your wait time for rides may be finally coming to an end.
Thanks to an AI powered Virtual Queue (VQ) solution introduced in Nov 2021 by Genting SkyWorlds, in partnership with Alibaba Cloud, visitors can now pre-book the rides they wish to go for, and even restaurant bookings, and in the process eliminate the top kill joy factor that theme park visitors, especially those who have young kids in tow, and yes, those adults young at heart too, have had to endure.
Fed with real-time data, VQ is integrated into SkyWorld’s existing mobile app (which only has a 2.5 rating on the App Store), to better allow the park to control crowd distribution and optimise ride capacity. The goal is to deliver more engaging visitor experiences and, during peak periods, allow the theme park to handle a higher volume of crowd without compromising on that user experience.
Claiming it to be the first AI powered theme park queue solution in Southeast Asia, Greg Pearn (pic), Vice President, Head of Theme Park Operations, Resorts World Genting, says the partnership with Alibaba Cloud was key.
“They came in with an open mind and went out of their way to understand the customer experience we wanted to create.”
Alibaba was grateful for the opportunity as well. This was its first solution targeted at the theme park market. With over 4 million customers for its cloud business that was launched in 2009 and has subsequently grown to be a key part of the Alibaba Group, “We are the backbone of the group as all the businesses in the group run on Alibaba Cloud,” says Kun Huang, General Manager of Malaysia, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
With cloud adoption soaring since the pandemic, Alibaba Cloud, ranked the third most adopted cloud service globally by Forrester Research, after Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, has been aggressively growing its global market share.
Launching in Malaysia in 2017, it already has a long relationship with Genting Group Malaysia, which Kun Huang (pic) describes as a pioneer customer.
Still that didn’t make them a shoo-in to win the job from Genting SkyWorlds when Greg came into his role in 2018. Looking at what he had to work with, he realised he had a problem. “We have a relatively small area at 26 acres and will have 90 rides when fully operational. We need to ensure that we can offer guests the best experience possible while maximising efficiency for us.”
A veteran of the theme park sector, Greg knew he had to rely on technology for the answer. “The vast majority of theme parks are still very traditional in how they operate and manage visitors,” he said. That wasn’t going to be good enough for him.
The search for a partner eventually came down to an established UK listed provider of theme park solutions and Alibaba Cloud. But the theme park solution provider was offering what they already had while Alibaba Cloud, eager to get into a new niche was willing to be a genuine partner. “They didn’t come in with any arrogance and say these are the solutions we think you need to be using,” said Greg.
Work on the project started in mid 2019 with only a small team of six on Skyworlds side. Surprisingly there were no techies, who only came into the picture on the Genting Malaysia side when the solution was ready to be integrated to the SkyWorlds app.
The project team was all business people who knew the industry well and were familiar with other theme parks which had implemented similar systems. “We shared detailed requirements and our expectations of what we wanted to achieve with Alibaba Cloud, and how our guests should experience our park,” said Greg. A lot of time was invested in sharing and communication this and the Alibaba Cloud team was up to the challenge, said Greg, who declined to share how much it cost but added, “It cost us a nice bit on money but our key focus on measuring the RIO from this investment is all about customer satisfaction.”
With survey after survey showing queue times to be the biggest factor that influences theme park experience, it was key for SkyWorlds to have real time visibility of how long the wait times are for all their rides, and using this key data to then, match it with itineraries in the VQ and let Alibaba Cloud’s AI engine make real time adjustments to a visitor’s itinerary by sending guests to other rides that are not so busy.
“Using both historical and real time data of each of the rides, the AI will be able to determine which rides have available capacity at any given time, and use another module called Itinerary Planner to help distribute the crowd to different rides, which will then improve their user experience,” said Lin En Shu, head of solutions architect, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Malaysia.
The end result has been the Nov 2021 soft launch of not just VQ but an Itinerary Planner as well which serves as guests’ personal intelligent assistant creating a personalised agenda for the park visit and offering rewards. Whether visitors make their rides and restaurants reservations in advance or purchase tickets offline and download the app upon arrival, guests will be able to enjoy a similar experience of having their visit to SkyWorlds planned by an AI engine.
As with any AI application, recommendations made will only get better with time as the AI learns from more data generated from user behaviour. “We are still in UAT mode and will be so for at least a year,” said Greg referring to user acceptance test (UAT) where software is used by actual customers and feedback elicited. IT typically takes newly opened theme parks a year to work out not just software but hardware issues and overall visitor management processes as well.
While the end goal is to have all of SkyWorld’s 90 rides to be available on VQ, is this early stage 30 rides have been enabled with a lot of effort spent on educating the public about the availability of the feature that will eventually be a chargeable service as how all parks which have a fast track option, implement today. Genting SkyWorlds believes there is no reason why customers won’t pay for a much more efficient fast track service that sits conveniently in their app.
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