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Our Deep Dive explores one topic in more depth. This week, it's about the serious walk of social distancing.

We’ve been practicing this new walk for weeks now, but as municipalities and local attractions slowly begin to reopen their doors, social distancing is about to get more social. The idea is simple—leave room between yourself and others to minimize the spread of germs. Not too hard to do sprinting solo through the grocery store, but what happens when we start to dip our toes into the realm of family outings?
 
For some, personal space is not a new concept. Those struggling with immunocompromising diseases or treatments, debilitating fears of large crowds, or even the potty-training parent ready to make a sudden mad dash are already seeking extra space for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. But the rules of social distancing are not just about providing space between groups. We have to find that extra space, and when we can’t, reduce the number of visitors and manage queue areas. It also means retraining staff, since interactions with employees is a concern among travelers
 
As we do with all of these hot-button topics in our Deep Dives—what are the opportunities? Following the guest journey at a destination, we can easily identify planning modifications needed to create room for social distancing. Yet in all of this, how do we make these necessary improvements reassuring and meaningful?
 
Follow along below, but please maintain your six foot distance.

Avoiding Crowds, Not Avoiding People

Architect and coulda-turned-pro-baseballer Jedd Pellerin describes his personal experiences of practicing social distancing and navigating crowded areas. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus, an autoimmune disorder that makes him more susceptible to viruses and environmental stresses. Some strategies he shares for COVID-19 recovery include expanded operational hours with targeted guest experiences and ideas for utilizing outdoor areas. 

Model Citizens

As destinations are quickly working to draft new operational plans, many are trying to understand the impacts of social distancing on capacity and guest experience. Some governments are capping guest numbers during the initial reopening phases, but operators are still trying to imagine what this means for queue lines or individual attraction capacities.

Here comes some math, y'all. Before COVID-19, areas of five, seven, and 15 square feet per person were the norms for calculating capacity. These bubbles of personal space will look much differently in the near future. Based on the CDC’s recommended six foot separation distance, we started looking at the resulting effect of this enlarged personal space on overall capacity for different group compositions. In summary, the new areas per person could grow as follows:

Group Composition            Total Group Area (sf)            Area per Person (sf)
Individual (1)                                                     72.5 sf                                       72.5 sf
Couple (2)                                                             97 sf                                       48.5 sf
Group (4)                                                            144 sf                                          36 sf

Using crowd modeling software, we can understand how these groups of people are moving through attraction spaces, identify pinch points, and test different solutions. In the simulations below, the model on the left shows groups moving with the recommended six foot separation distance while the model on the right shows visitor patterns pre-COVID-19. It’s interesting to see how social distancing impacts circulation—transitioning circulation corridors into queue lines.
Looking at those numbers, what will it mean for your destination? Knowing your visitor demographics, how many guests will comfortably fit in your spaces? Do free-flow experiences now become linear? Will you need "buffer zones" or unused areas to facilitate proper movement? Could those zones and barriers become an opportunity to communicate an engaging story or add “touchless” points to enhance the visitor experience?

New Opportunities for Old Solutions 

Many destinations are planning to rely heavily on the use of technology to expedite transactions and manage capacities. Some of those, like the St. Louis Aquarium, will require all admission tickets to be purchased online in advance. This helps manage both arrival patterns and attraction capacities, and could be an opportunity to introduce dynamic pricing models. The Aquarium also plans to expedite annual pass purchases with the launch of a new app, allowing visitors to process required information and ID photos from home.
The use of floor markers to note where guests should be standing to socially distance themselves is nothing new. We’ve been slowly conditioned by the floor tape in the check-out lines at our local grocery stores. But just look at all this empty space that's now completely capturing the attention of our guests! This is the opportunity to explore the floor as an experiential surface. Whether it’s the use of static interpretive graphics to convey interesting facts, Trompe L’oeil art for cool photo ops, or a projected floor—how can we use this tool both operationally and as a moment of enrichment?
 
Additional or repurposed staff and training required to manage these new challenges is also top of mind for operators. Is there a full-time attendant staffed at each restroom to clean surfaces and manage the number of people entering and exiting? (Yay for the return of restroom attendants!) Will your virtual require additional staff members to check in guests at each individual attraction? Remember, "avoid crowds, not people"—these new employee positions can offer more personal interactions while also performing a service. 

Moment of Sunshine

A family in Michigan designated a stretch of sidewalk outside their house for "silly walks only." The results do not disappoint. 

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