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Indianapolis Colts At Jacksonville Jaguars – Were Conditions Safe for Spectators?

Indianapolis Colts At Jacksonville Jaguars – Were Conditions Safe for Spectators?

by Ben Dubiel and Alexis Fiore, Industrial Engineers at Integrated Insight

Published September 14, 2020

It’s early September, the weather is starting to cool, and our team couldn’t shake the desire to go out and watch a football game.  While we are in the middle of an active pandemic, many attractions and other activities have shown they can safely open with good planning and limited capacity.  This was put to the test with the Jacksonville Jaguars being one of two teams in the NFL that allowed fans in the stadium this weekend.

Tickets on the secondary market were a good value, with lower bowl seats going for $65 and upper deck available for $23. Our count of occupied seats identified an attendance of approximately 15-18% of capacity with large sections of available seats completely empty. The upper deck was sparsely populated, with some sections having less than 4% of seats filled.

This game was not an outlier for low attendance. The Kansas City Chiefs did not sell out their limited capacity for their season opener despite last year’s Super Bowl win. This could be a sign that fans aren’t yet ready to return to large scale events as some have speculated.

Given the general absence of sports content over the past 6 months, we figured we would replicate a common trope in sports journalism – the grading column.

Arrival: A-

The entry experience was very pleasant, even while we arrived at what was expected to be the peak, 20 minutes prior to game time.  Parking was straight forward and the walk to the stadium was encouraging.  Everyone was keeping their distance and there was a steady and spaced flow of fans.  There was no crowding at the entrance, with an over-abundance of “S.A.F.E.” team members holding signs reminding guests to wear masks.  The evenly distributed arrival pattern matched our observations from other attractions where guests seem to leave extra time for parking and arrival.

arrival-1024x768

Seating: C+

Finding seats for our group of two was more difficult than expected due to mandated grouping “pods.”  These pods were enforced by zip-tying all seats that weren’t sold. Three pods per row were sold, and every other row was left completely empty.  This resulted in the middle pod group having to step over one of the end-of-row pods to access their seats.  Stepping over another group could have been avoided if the middle-seated pod was placed in the empty row instead.

seating-2048x1155

Cleanliness: A

The safety protocols in place were exceptional.  Masks were provided at the entrances and branded cloth masks were given out at every seat.  Sanitizer stations were freshly installed every 100 feet, and five out of six bathrooms had a cleaning attendant in them when visited.

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Fan Experience: B+

Even with the extremely low attendance, the experience was amazing.  The stadium at 15% full sounded 50% full.  Fans were having a great time and the game was close; allowing fans on both sides to get engaged.  Social distancing and masks clearly weren’t some fans top priority, but the “S.A.F.E.” team was strictly enforcing all safety policies.

Food and Beverage: D-

The food and beverage operation seemed well planned but poorly executed.  A mobile ordering platform was developed and easy to use.  The mobile platform said we would receive a text as soon as our order was ready in “less than 5 minutes.”  After 30 minutes and no text, we walked to the location where the staff told us they did not have the ability to text fans when orders were ready.  Eliminating the text feature and giving fans an estimated time to pick up their order would have created a better experience.

Socially distanced queues for in-person ordering were also available, but with only 73% of locations open, in-person ordering became a problem at halftime.  As we’ve observed at theme parks, grocery stores, and restaurants, without ground markings, monitoring, and reinforcement by staff, crowds will not social distance themselves.  Queues that extended beyond the ground markers stacked up and groups were back-to-back 30 people deep.

fb-line-2048x1536

Spacing between ground markings is an opportunity for future games.  The six-foot mandate is good guidance for groups of one. But a group of four creates a different dynamic and will require almost double the space of a single guest. The bottom line: well-meaning plans can quickly break down if variability is not considered.

Departure: B+

Game conditions were a perfect storm for crowding on departure.  The Jaguars were up 7 points with 2:30 left, so everyone stayed until the end.  Once the game finished, fans started pouring out, but the limited number provided a fairly positive experience.  The only crowding observed was for the escalator and elevators coming from the upper deck of the stadium and outside the stadium at the first major intersection.  These bottlenecks weren’t helped by attendants who separated groups on escalators by 40 feet.  Read our article, Solving Elevator Transportation During Covid-19, for more information on optimizing accessibility.

departure-2048x2032

Our focus over the past six months has been using Artificial Intelligence to help operators plan reopening safely and profitably.

The movie below shows the arrival and departure patterns for a small stadium. Additional perspectives on concourses and halftime are being added. Through simulation, organizations are able to visually show their plans for safe reopening.

Stadium-Movie

It was fantastic to get to see live football again, and when Johnathan Taylor broke that 35-yard screen pass the world seemed normal for a few moments. Seeing people enjoying shared experiences again was the most inspiring moment of the day. Great motivation to help others get the chance to cheer on their favorite team.

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Identifying Safe Reopening Strategies for Ski Resorts Using Agent-Based Simulation

We are liv­ing in unprece­dent­ed times. More like­ly than not, your busi­ness has been impact­ed by the unique events of the world­wide COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, even in the most challenging of times, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion remains crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant. In an effort to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing our client part­ners dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time, we will con­tin­ue shar­ing insights and guid­ance to help you strength­en your busi­ness and serve your val­ued cus­tomers when the time comes to wel­come them back to your venue. Learn more about our COVID solu­tions here.

As ski season quickly approaches, figuring out how to safely welcome your skiers back in the COVID era can be a daunting task. At acces­so, we’ve been work­ing tirelessly to help our ski clients plan for a safe and successful reopening. We recently partnered with Integrated Insight, an analytics consulting firm, to analyze how virtual queues, timed ticketing and social distancing will affect your guests and ski area. Watch as acces­so Solutions Architect Kevin Brice and Integrated Insight VP of Industrial Engineering Ben Dubiel take us through their 3 simulations for COVID crowd management for your ski resort and read on for your guide to avoiding an unexpected avalanche of traffic on open­ing day!

Tools for Reopening Safely

-Timed Ticketing & Reservations: As COVID-19 con­tin­ues, many ski area oper­a­tors are focus­ing on a reopen­ing plan that limits the num­ber of guests vis­it­ing each day. Your tick­et­ing sys­tem can help you achieve this in sev­er­al ways. Offer­ing guests timed tickets on your eCom­merce tick­et­ing site is essen­tial. Timed ticketing can great­ly help your oper­a­tions team pre­pare for and safe­ly accom­mo­date guests. This allows your resort to safely spread out skiers throughout the day on the mountain. Guests can make their reser­va­tion to ski any­where, on any device—even when they are on the gondola! Oper­a­tors can eas­i­ly enforce capac­i­ty based on local restric­tions or oper­a­tional needs.

- Virtual Queuing: Vir­tu­al queu­ing is a great way to keep skiers safe while allow­ing them to ful­ly enjoy your resort. Long lines are almost as much of a staple for ski areas as fresh powder. During COVID-19, enforcing social distancing with long lines would mean your resort would need miles of line area. Empowering your guests to join virtual queues can eliminate these lengthy physical lines in a way that promotes social distancing. Plus, when guests no longer have to spend a significant amount of their day standing in a line, they can have more time to enjoy your ski resort, making long-lasting memories that help boost guest loyalty. Not only can virtual queues be helpful for your lifts or gondolas, but also, they can be a big help for rental shops and other high traffic areas around your resort.

 

Agent-Based Simulation Scenarios for Ski Operations

In order to show how operations perform under different scenarios, the Integrated Insight team built a sample ski resort. Using agent-based simulation, they modeled the effect of different operational scenarios on guest traffic flow to identify potential friction points, crowding and/or excess queue times. Agent-based simulation uses Artificially Intelligent agents to create models of guest behaviors and navigational flows. The team created three scenarios to understand the impact that different operational methods have on system performance.

 

Free-For-All (Baseline)

This is the baseline model to show how guests would have arrived prior to COVID-19. It is important to see what would happen if no adjustments to the arrival experience are made. Data shows that the majority of guests show up between 8:15-9:15 am, but afterwards, the number of skiers arriving drops significantly. The Free-For-All scenario fills the gondola queue fastest, creating a longer wait quickly. At peak operation in this scenario, the posted wait time for guests is 140 minutes, and your resort would need over a half-mile of line space just for the gondola queue. As we can see here, a scenario that involves your ski area following through with “business as usual,” for the most part, is not conducive to a safe or efficient reopening for your resort.

 

Timed Ticketing Only

The next scenario is Timed Ticketing. This shows the result if guests are assigned an arrival time and cannot access the gondola until their assigned time. The arrivals prior to and during opening are significantly lower, but pick up once Timed Ticket and Reservation slots are active. In the simulation, we’ve also included guests arriving before and after their times to model guests needing to wait to access the gondola. The Timed Ticketing scenario only delays the concerns from the Free-For-All. Guests experience the queue filling and congestion at 11:15 am instead of first thing in the morning. Posted wait times are still at 125+ minutes and the resort still need half a mile of socially distanced queue to accommodate the guests waiting for their turn on the mountain.

 

Virtual Queue & Timed Ticketing

The final scenario shows Timed Ticketing with a virtual queue that only allows guests to enter a physical buffer queue once their assigned time is reached. In this case, the guests show up later as there is no incentive to access the queue early. This gives them time to spend at your F&B locations, rental shops or other places at the resort where they can practice safe social distancing while still enjoying their experience. At peak operations, the posted wait time is 136 minutes, but in this simulation, your guests only wait an average of 13 minutes in a physical line once their wait is over in the virtual queue. The socially distanced buffer queue or physical line only needs to be about 370 feet (.07 miles), and guests are spread out across your resort instead of crowding at the gondola line. This option not only is the safest for your guests and staff, but it also allows your resort to limit guest capacity while still driving revenue through F&B and other shops.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

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Finding Operational Efficiency in a COVID-19 World and Beyond

by Alexis Fiore, Consultant, Integrated Insight

Many businesses planning reopening strategies have approached our team at Integrated Insight for help understanding how they can reopen safely while remaining profitable. In most cases, we find operational and design efficiencies that allow our partners to increase their capacity over their original plan.

This is usually followed by the question, “Why weren’t we always running this way?” Major business disruptions like the current pandemic usually result in businesses taking a good look at their operation to try and find ways to do more with less. This has never been truer than now, when space is at a premium, and governments are placing arbitrary limits on the capacity of attractions.

This article follows one of our recent projects where we used agent-based simulation to find a 14% increase in capacity for our client while still maintaining social distancing simply by redesigning the event.

A client came to us seeking operational advice on how to re-open a long running walk-through attraction in a COVID-19 world. The initial scope of the project was to model the attraction as previously designed and then simulate the impact of changes to determine a layout that followed social distancing guidelines, while also optimizing attendance and revenue.

Data is not always available due to closures or inaccurate representations of capacity. Because of this, we use a combination of operational subject-matter experts, available data, and our industry experience to develop detailed assumptions for group demographics, arrival rates, overall length of stay, operational flow, way-finding decisions, and dwell times throughout the attraction. All of these inputs, and making solid assumptions, are critical to building a robust model.

Throughout the development of the model we received great input from the client operations team to ensure that the model accurately depicts the attraction experience. Once a valid model was created, we used our main evaluation metrics – instantaneous guest counts and time in queue – to determine that the points of interest (POI) in the attraction were front loaded. In previous years, up to 50% of the show content was placed in the first 30% of the experience. This created several problems:

1. Overcrowding at the beginning of the show became a bottleneck.

2. This bottleneck caused the queue to back up quickly.

3. The unbalanced experience caused reduced capacity in the overall venue.

Working closely with the operations team, our goal was to determine a few POI from the front of the experience that could be moved to a less crowded location without creating other unintended bottlenecks.

To decide which POIs to move, and their new locations, we analyzed guest density heat maps from the simulation model. The images below show heat maps of original layout and the new layout of both the first and final segments in the attraction. The areas circled in red highlight the change in guest density with our recommended operational improvements.

Sanitized-Heat-Map-for-Blog

These changes substantially improved operational efficiency and we were able to run higher demand scenarios with the new layout. In addition, guests were able to spend a balanced amount of time throughout each house in the event. Based upon our estimated time in queue, we determined that additional queuing was not required as the current queue layout held up to 30 minutes of demand.  With timed-ticketing, the client would be able to ensure the queue never exceeded the available space.

Making sure to maintain guest experience with the new layout of the event, the recommended daily capacity is ~40% of their pre-COVID peak day due to social distancing. This finding is notably lower than the typical government regulations mandating 50% capacity for an attractions operation. Opening at 50% of their peak capacity with no operational changes would likely have caused a public health hazard that could have produced negative press. Making these small operational improvements allowed the client to safely maximize their profits without impacting guest experience. Below is a clip of the simulation showing the attraction with the changes that improved operational efficiency.

NYBG-Short

Even with these operational improvements, we identified some areas of high guest density in the event where additional measures may be needed to mitigate congestion. By identifying these ahead of time, inexpensive strategies can be implemented to address these problem areas. This includes use of signage or ground markings guiding people where to view or wait for a popular attraction, designating a pathway through the experience where guests may pass other groups, or an employee monitoring the flow of guests through a high congestion area.

Simulation modeling helped this client in a set of complementary ways to maximize event experiences for their guests. The advanced analytic techniques helped them better understand the capacity at which they can safely open their experience. The analysis also allowed them to increase their total revenue, via increased throughput, relative to their plan by making minor layout changes. While this work was needed because of COVID-19, the operational improvements have been available for years; we just needed the right tools to find them.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

Identifying Opportunity for Hotel Revenue Amidst COVID-19 Challenges

by Stephen Davis, VP of Pricing and Revenue Services, Integrated Insight

The total economic impact of COVID-19 on the travel and leisure industry led many hotels and resorts to experience one of the softest summers in recent history. Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City, Michigan, was not immune from the impact as groups and conventions were cancelled and some families chose to pass on their summer vacation.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa engaged Integrated Insight in late 2019 to identify revenue opportunities. The resort is a beautiful property with excellent service, world-class convention facilities and a strong EBITDA – the dream scenario for many hoteliers across the country. But we saw opportunity for even stronger revenue and profit.

Grand Traverse Resort faced ongoing revenue management challenges that many resorts wrestle with: balancing group and leisure bookings to achieve the highest profitability. There were difficult questions to answer. What base volume of group bookings achieves the highest profitability, while complementing leisure demand? And how do you get confident turning down groups during periods in which leisure business would be more profitable?

When the demand for group bookings was compromised due to COVID-19, the resort had little risk shifting its revenue management strategy and decided to get creative. Fortunately, because of the resort’s location in the northwestern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, it was among the first in the state to be able to re-open.  With groups and conventions canceling, the resort had more capacity for the summer than ever before.

Integrated Insight worked with leadership to launch a successful room promotion when the resort reopened at limited capacity. We helped the resort strategize a marketing campaign to make consumers feel safe and excited for outdoor recreation.  As it turned out, that’s exactly what Michigan residents wanted to hear. Pretty soon the resort was seeing the remaining summer weekends book up with leisure business at rates well above prior years.

In spite of COVID-19, Grand Traverse Resort achieved its highest ever average summer weekend rates and had near sell-outs during July, August, and early September weekends. It was fulfilling to see Grand Traverse Resort and Spa have enough success to remain open for the summer. It was also strong confirmation that they were limiting leisure business in prior summers by booking too many convention room nights at rates well below leisure business.

Typically, changes to revenue management strategies take incremental steps for clients to execute. We saw the opportunity to move towards more leisure business and higher rates, but doing quickly is often easier said than done. COVID-19 forced them to book more leisure and proved their rates could be higher. It was a beautiful silver lining, really.

In 2021, Grand Traverse Resort is highlighting the safety of its convention facilities and the steps they are taking to allow socially distanced gatherings - balancing both leisure and groups to yield optimal revenue. When faced with uncertainty, we are often willing to take more risk. In doing so, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa discovered confidence moving forward about their business, value, and future opportunities.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

The Temptation and Risk of Discounting in a Covid-19 World

by Scott Sanders, President, Integrated Insight

As businesses reopen, many are grappling with the need to discount to generate demand. While it may seem like the right thing to do, will discounting really help generate profitable demand?

The tourism industry has been impacted significantly by the current pandemic. Companies are gathering insights to understand how individual consumers and families have been impacted, and specifically, when consumers will begin to travel again. Published research reveals some interesting insights.

- COVID-19 is the number one barrier to travel. Health and safety is critical to getting consumers traveling again.

- Price, often a top barrier in leisure experiences, has fallen much lower in the rank order. As a result, lowering price alone is not likely to get consumers back in the game.

- Most consumers have been impacted by the pandemic and expect to spend less on out-of-home entertainment this year.

As consumers adopt new spending habits, organizations need to evaluate their pricing strategies.  Promotions can be a great way to generate new customers and drive growth.  However, discounting tends to be a short-term solution. You’ve heard the old adage, “too much of a good thing can hurt you.”

The same holds true for discounts, if not done correctly.  Frequent discounting can have unwanted consequences, such as devaluing your product or degrading price integrity. And once consumers are trained to wait for the next offer, frequent discounting will erode base profits.

Before deciding whether to implement discounts, ensure your company has created a holistic pricing strategy. If your organization doesn’t have a holistic pricing strategy, now is the time to craft one.  Learn more in our article: How to Develop a Successful Pricing Strategy.

Discounts and promotions have a key role to play in every organization’s pricing toolbox and strategy.  Effective promotions typically deliver on all of the following:

- Lend themselves to compelling marketing messages.

- Target specific audiences and time periods.

- Are fenced to avoid dilution.

- Have a strong sense of urgency.

- Can be yield managed.

When evaluating discounts especially in today’s environment, consider offers that encourage higher than average spend in lieu of discounting core products.  Also ensure sufficient marketing and sales budget is available to create demand for the offer and focus on communicating value over price.  Leverage the pricing structure to pull consumers into higher yielding products.

It is also critical to measure promotions to determine if they deliver on established goals. Do the math to understand cost versus benefit and develop a “test and adjust” culture to continue building on what works.

Let’s look at a couple of recent promotional offers and contrast differences.

Universal Orlando Resort just released a Florida Resident offer to increase in-market demand: “Buy a Day, Visit Every Day Thru Dec. 24 For Free.”

the risk of discounting in a covid 19 world

Rather than discounting the base 1-day 1-park ticket, the offer is providing a buy-up opportunity. If guests upgrade to a 1-day 2-park ticket, they can receive admission for the rest of the year for free.

The promotion is set up for success for several reasons.

- It is fenced to Florida Residents.

- It offers value and has a strong marketing message.

- The finite booking window creates a sense of urgency to purchase.

- It is structured to avoid dilution of the base business.

- It has a clear usage window.

- Revenue improvement doesn’t rely on incremental sales.

- It incentivizes repeat visits and in turn increases in-park spending.

Now let’s look at a different kind of offer: a single day discount offer. A good example is a recent offer by a regional amusement park for a 1-day discount in collaboration with Coca-Cola: “Buy your tickets here and save up to $30.”

the risk of discounting in a covid 19 world

This promotion is structured to attract visitors with a deep discount message on the core single day ticket. Rather than speaking to a specific market, the offer is available to anyone online.

This offer might be compelling, but it carries a higher risk than the previous offer because it:

- Devalues the core ticket product.

- Is available to anyone who buys online versus a specific audience.

- Relies on driving incremental sales to be successful.

- Has no booking window or usage window to create urgency.

Both of these offers could generate value, but each carries risk. When compared, the buy up offer carries less risk than the discounted single day offer because it drives positive revenue improvement with minimal buy up and no incremental demand, even after accounting for buy down from higher yielding tickets.

Let’s compare the two with a couple hypothetical scenarios.

The goal of the buy up offer is to pull visitors up the price curve by providing the opportunity to visit multiple days for the price of a 1-day 2-park ticket. We can assume some modest buy up from the 1-day 1-park ticket ($119) to the 1-day 2-park ticket ($164) and slight buy down from the 2 day 2-park ticket ($223). In addition, there will likely be no volume loss since the core ticket price hasn’t increased. This promotion does not require incremental sales volume to drive revenue improvement or break even, which reduces risk.

The “$30 off” offer is designed to drive incremental attendance by discounting the base single-day ticket. Because the offer discounts the base ticket, some individuals who would have paid full price are now able to pay less. We refer to this buy-down behavior as dilution. Because of the dilution in the base ticket price, a 10% increase in visitors is needed for the offer to break even. Broad offers like this can be risky, especially when park capacity is limited.

Learn more about our guiding promotion principles to help you understand whether discounting will work best to increase demand while preventing downside risk.

While these are unprecedented and trying times, now is the time rethink pricing and come out stronger on the other side.  Below are some closing recommendations for discounting in today’s world.

Keep the customer front and center.

Play your own game.

- Have confidence in your product or service.

- Lead; don’t follow

- Don’t assume your competition is right.

Develop different playbooks for specific segments or markets.

- Not all customers are created equal.

- Individual wants and needs are different.

- Plan potential promotions months in advance.

Establish a test and adjust culture and build on what works.

- Do the math to understand cost benefit.

- Measure, measure, and then measure.

Lastly, make "Pricing" a core competency in your organization.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

Optimizing Restaurant Space To Increase Sales Post-COVID-19

Optimizing Restaurant Space To Increase Sales During COVID-19

by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

Space management strategies inside restaurants look very different in a post-Covid-19 world. Regulations for social distancing have put restraints on restaurants that have limited party sizes, total dining capacity, and number of guests allowed per square foot. Additional space is needed to increase distance between dining tables, employees in the kitchen, FOH check-in, and waiting areas.

With capacity constraints and space limitations, restaurants need to optimize the utilization of space available to increase daily sales.

Maximize Existing Space
In order to increase space utilization, restaurant operators need to evaluate existing space. A few options to explore include:

- POS Stations: Guest expectations for safety are morphing, and many guests will expect contactless payment options. Consider switching to mobile tablets for both point of ordering and sales. There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions available. This may reduce the need for the POS nooks currently dispersed throughout many restaurants in the front-of-house space.

- Storage Areas: Evaluate order quantities to reduce the area taken up for storage. The “Pre-Covid” order quantities and frequencies are no longer applicable in today’s operation. Consider ordering lower supply amounts on a more frequent basis to keep only the needed stock on hand. Restaurant operators can convert previously used storage space into guest-facing areas or increase square footage available for social distancing in the kitchen.

- Take Advantage of Available Outdoor Space: Many consumers will feel more comfortable eating outdoors because of the open space. Restaurants can get creative with utilizing outdoor space by converting parking and landscaping space into dining areas to maximize the available outdoor seating. As the weather gets colder, consider adding guest comfort measures such as tents and heaters.

 

Designate Space According to Guest Groups
Guest expectations and desires for the dining experience have changed drastically since the coronavirus outbreak. In order to optimize fulfillment space, restaurants need to identify the volume of dine-in versus carry-out orders. There are likely many more “dine-out” guests that prefer the drive-through, curbside pick-up, delivery fulfilled in-house, or delivery through third party apps.

Each one of these guest types interacts with the restaurant slightly differently upon arrival. Thus, be sure to consider each guest group and account for shifting guest behaviors when re-designing restaurant space.

Dine-In vs. Carry-Out
Restaurants should physically separate dine-in and carry-out guests since they require very different means of fulfillment. If possible, designate an entrance for dine-in and an entrance for dine-out guests. Consider retrofitting an area near an existing door to act as a dine-out counter. Conduct take-out as an independent operation from dine-in.

As an alternative, especially if separate entrances aren’t possible, consider implementing curbside pick-up for carry-out orders. Guests do not have to enter the restaurant which can free up space for a waiting area. Identify a few parking spots as “curbside pick-up.” A sign should clearly state directions and include key information like a phone number and parking spot number so the guest knows what to do upon arrival.

Reservation vs. Walk-Ups
For guests that are dining inside the restaurant, consider how to handle guests with reservations versus walk-ups. Operating by reservation-only gives restaurants the greatest ability to manage guest arrivals. However, be sure to understand the no-show rate, since you can’t fill in no-shows with walk-ins in a reservation-only operation.

If you do accept walk-in guests, look into off-the-shelf apps to utilize a mobile queue where you can text a guest when their table is ready. This allows the guest to wait in their car or other off-site location. You can also utilize apps like Yelp’s waitlist to allow guests to get in line prior to arrival.

Plan for Excess Demand
As more consumers begin to feel comfortable venturing out, demand could begin to outpace capacity and space limitations.  If venues fail to plan for this scenario, it could lead to crowds of people waiting to enter without a way to properly distance themselves.  The two most effective ways to prepare for this demand is to design a socially distanced queue or to utilize a virtual queuing system so guests can wait in their cars.

The video below shows the benefit of providing enough space to allow guests to properly distance themselves while remaining in order of arrival to promote fairness.  Many venues are attempting to do this but provide too few queuing locations and the structure breaks down with excess demand.  Providing ample queuing locations (even with masking tape!) will provide structure for the guests and prevent a dangerous situation from developing.

Virtual queuing is another great option for venues with ample parking.  Many products exist to provide automatic text messaging to guests to inform them when their tables are ready.  This allows guests to wait in their cars out of the elements and eliminates potential crowds.  Some locations are avoiding the software costs by approximating a virtual queue using a host to text guests manually when their table becomes available.

Other Considerations

Inside the restaurant, seating rearrangements will be mostly dictated by regulations, but be sure to understand both employee and customer usage. Does the route to the bathroom require guests to get uncomfortably close to an occupied table? Are there any pinch points where a server must squeeze by a table? Modify seating layouts as needed.

The back-of-house space may need to change. If delivery or take-out continue to be a large portion of sales, you may need to dedicate kitchen space to this operation. Also consider designating space to distribute dine-out orders, which can help reduce errors. Dedicate a leader with responsibility purely for delivery and take-out guests.

Always Provide Excellent Customer Services
Regardless of what changes you make to your restaurant’s physical space, guests should always receive  excellent service. Guests waiting to pick up food still deserve the level of customer experience that dine-in guests experience. Even though they may not be sitting at a table, they are still forming an impression of your business.

A great way to elevate the customer experience is to provide coverings, fans, heaters, or water to outside queues based on the conditions. Adding an entertainment factor to queues and waiting areas can also elevate the experience.

Ultimately, be sure that the operational process is clear to the guest. Customers are likely already stressed given the current outside conditions, and clearly communicating the process can relieve anxiety. Continually update all guest communication channels with the latest policies and procedures. This includes social media, website, physical signs at restaurants, and instructions on Google business listings and third-party apps.

How Can We Help?

Schedule a free consultation to discuss your business needs.

alternatives to program cuts for college athletics coronavirus

Alternatives to Program Cuts for College Athletics

by Rich Pepin, COO, Integrated Insight

Published July 31, 2020

College athletics is facing an existential crisis. Another unexpected 2020 headline, but here we are. And if you’re one of the many Americans who eagerly await tuning in to a nationally televised football game on a fall Saturday afternoon, that headline is probably a punch to the gut. This fall there won’t be millions of screaming fans packed into stadiums, which spells potential disaster for college sports.

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced revenue potential for football and basketball, which has been compounded by the reduced tuition income from lower enrollment at schools in the short term. As a result, schools have resorted to cutting non-revenue sports such as tennis, track and field, swimming and diving, and golf. As of now, 19 Division I schools have cut a combined 57 programs.  Division II & III and junior colleges have eliminated dozens more.

The results of a recent Gallup survey indicate college athletes are more likely to be thriving than their non-athlete counterparts when it comes to health, relationships, community engagement and job satisfaction. Taking away opportunities to be part of team sports at the college level will have negative impacts to student athletes that miss out in the short and long term. As a former Division 1 college golfer, I can attest to the overwhelmingly positive influence my four years of college athletics had on my personal development.

Not to mention, eliminating non-revenue college sports will have a major impact on the Olympic model. The U.S. Olympic model leans on these college programs that serve as launchpads for athletic careers and an ideal space for high schoolers hoping to develop into elite competitors. Nearly 80 percent of the 558-member U.S. Olympic team in 2016 competed at the college level, representing close to 150 schools.

For purposes of this discussion of the business of college athletics, let’s focus on the 130 institutions that are in the NCAA Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision.  Half of these schools fall in the Power Five Conferences and are commonly referred to as the Autonomy schools, the other half are Non-Autonomy.  There is a stark divide in terms of overall revenue and the respective revenue sources between these groups.

Autonomous schools account for 75% of the $10.6B in NCAA Division 1 revenues and only 7% of their funding comes from institution, government support and student fees. Conversely, Non-Autonomous schools require institution, government support and student fees to cover more than half of athletic funding. At a time when state and municipality budgets are being squeezed and universities and colleges will be under financial stress due to lower enrollment, the stress on Non-Autonomous schools will be exacerbated.

Most college athletic programs are lucky to break even. But even before the pandemic, many schools (especially in the Non-Autonomous group) were struggling to make ends meet. For the Autonomous schools, coaching and administration compensation are a huge burden, representing nearly 40% of annual expenses overall.  Student scholarships and aid, gameday operations, and travel are relatively small proportions of the cost.

With costs rising much faster than inflation and schools facing a shortfall in media and bowl revenues, the only choice some schools felt they had was to eliminate entire programs. Administrators were forced to make decisions that they haven’t ever had to consider with a rushed timeline that gave them little chance to look at things holistically.  But sometimes, what appears as a catastrophe, could spell opportunity.

Opportunities for College Athletics

 

Think differently about conferences.

It is exciting and educational for the athlete to travel all over the country, but a regional or even local schedule beats no sport at all.  Many schools could develop a set of games, tournaments or meets within their own state or neighboring states and significantly reduce travel costs.  And there is a chance to develop some new in-state or nearby rivalries that have never had a chance to foster because schools were in different conferences.

Make non-revenue sports available to networks or streaming services.

There is a significant opportunity to match the demand of live college sports content with the shortfall of new programming available for TV and streaming platforms.

Production sets are on pause due to coronavirus safety concerns, putting a halt to new films and shows.  Additionally, professional sports have been on hiatus and will have the start of their seasons shifted. This gap can be filled with amateur sports. Work with the NCAA to create its own subscription-based streaming service or go to ESPN+ or others.

Leverage the hunger for live sports with a new model. If these avenues don’t provide opportunity, colleges can live stream the sporting events on YouTube with sponsors. Production costs can be reduced by utilizing the school’s in-house film and marketing students. Use well-known alums to serve as play-by-play or color commentators to draw people in while keeping costs to a minimum.

Create compelling content out of personal stories.

Beyond the competitions themselves, everyone loves a heart-warming story of personal triumph over long odds.  These stories exist in every sport on every campus.  Develop a business model to sell this content to streaming platforms that can help distribute the story while filling their own content gaps.  And it is also another opportunity to leverage in-house storytelling from film and theatre students and professors.

Re-think the way programs are supported by alumni and the community.

Develop structured programs that give people status to football or basketball tickets if they contribute to non-revenue sports.  Many alumni play tennis and golf recreationally - two sports that are on the chopping block - and they may have considered helping out.

Make sure alumni understand the impact they can make with their support.  Match alumni to specific athletes for sponsorship. Provide them with regular updates on the team and recognize their contribution with something of substance.  Twenty-eight years after graduating I still wear new UConn Golf gear every chance I get.

Maximize use of resources in the Sports Management program if there is one.

Use students and assistant professors to play a role in scheduling, fundraising, game-day management, and other duties to reduce administrative costs and provide them with real-world experience.

Re-assess the way coaches are compensated.

For high profile sports, coaching compensation has become an arms race with spending reaching new heights every year.  Most states list their highest paid state employee as a football or basketball coach at a large university.  And most contracts are guaranteed so when a school parts way with a highly paid coach, the salary is often paid out for one or more years.  The desire to compete in these highly visible sports may make it too difficult to break the mold on that compensation, but for other sports, make sure coaching compensation is in line with full professor salaries.

Maybe all of these ideas, and more, were considered before schools decided to cut non-revenue sports.  But at a time when entire programs are being eliminated, we owe it to the college athletes to explore long-standing models to see if programs can thrive in a different way.  There is so much upside in maximizing the opportunities for student athletes.

 

solving elevator high rise transportation with social distancing

Solving Elevator Transportation During COVID-19 With Simulation Modeling

by Ben Dubiel, VP,  Integrated Insight

Elevators are part of many people’s daily lives – apartments where we live, offices where we work, and hotels where we travel. However, CDC guidelines for elevator operation during and after the pandemic are causing new concern among landlords on what elevator capacity might look like with social distancing.

Social distancing has turned the service world upside down as the industry went from maximizing the number of guests within a space to needing to maximize space between guests. As mentioned in Marketplace, some building operators are putting in social distancing measures, but how many know the implications downstream? In locations that depend on elevators for vertical transportation, decreased elevator capacity will quickly become a bottleneck that could cause dangerous crowding if not accounted for. In our experience, we’ve found that agent-based simulation is the best option for understanding and mitigating elevator operation with social distancing.

Risks Involved in Reopening a High-Rise

As with all situations that involve potential crowds, there are added risks with reopening during and after the pandemic.  Not addressing these risks could lead to tenant dissatisfaction and a potential spike in vacancies as companies begin to adopt a work-from-home culture or residents flee from high-rise housing.

The most common risk we’ve observed is tenants congregating in lobbies due to reduced elevator capacity. Individuals will usually adhere to social distancing guidelines if they are given markers on where to stand.  If these markers are not provided, the group will begin to crowd around the door to ensure they make it into the establishment as soon as possible.

Assuming an intuitive, clearly marked queue is planned, this can then lead to a secondary risk: limited space within lobbies.  We’ve found that socially distancing a queue can require three to six times more space and landlords will find the limited space they have disappears quick during periods of high demand.

The final risks are a product of the long waits that could develop if demand is not properly planned for: lower productivity and frustration.  Waiting 5-20 minutes each time a tenant calls an elevator will add up quickly. The resulting dissatisfaction will result in higher vacancies as people are forced to make a change.

Capacity Depends on Many Compounding Variables

Elevator throughput is a complex equation that depends on many variables within the infrastructure and operation.  Only some of these variables are controllable by the building operator.

- Elevator operating methods (e.g. door close delay and operational methodology) are usually variable and can be controlled systematically. Understanding the proper settings in your environment can be difficult if the rest of the equation is unknown.

- The building and lobby layout are typically limited by the physical infrastructure and need to be worked around to determine the most efficient operation.

- Volume of demand will depend on the size and operation of the building. This can be controlled by working with tenants to reduce access to the building to only necessary activity.

- Arrival rate varies widely by the operation of each tenant in the building. Each operation or tenant will have a unique arrival rate. Combining all arrival rates along with the associated volume of demand will add up to a larger arrival curve that will ultimately determine the periods of peak demand.

- The destination of tenants complicates the equation immensely. If tenants arriving at similar times have significant variations in destination floor, the elevator travel time will grow and thus the resulting elevator capacity will shrink.

Using Simulation to Model Operation Scenarios
Because each operation is unique and the solution can be difficult to determine, we recommend agent-based simulation to find the optimal solution through experimentation.  Using simulation, we can model the base scenario to determine the extent of the concern given the expected demand upon reopening.  In the movie below, an example of a base scenario for a nine-story office building is shown:

After the base analysis is complete, the model can then be modified with the help of building operators to evaluate different mitigation techniques and remove the uncertainty from the reopening plan.

A few mitigation techniques that are being used in the industry include:

- Technology: Elevator timing and logic can be adjusted to operate more effectively with smaller groups riding.

- Manual demand management: Hosts can be used to manually sort riders to make the trips as efficient as possible resulting in increased elevator throughput.

- Demand mitigation: Solutions like dedicated floor service, assigning days and times for elevator use, and incentivizing stair use can increase capacity in certain scenarios.

These scenarios can be modeled before reopening to evaluate their effectiveness safely in a risk-free environment.

Results Provide Details on the Safest Operational Plan
Metrics are used to evaluate each scenario during modeling and experimentation.  Elevator capacity, queue size, wait times, and required operators are a few of the metrics we use to ensure we identify the optimal scenario. The final step in the process would be to justify any recommended changes, infrastructure or otherwise, with the potential avoidance of revenue loss that would come from a decrease in move-outs or safety hazards.

The movie below shows an analysis of a museum operation that depends on elevators for vertical transportation. This analysis helped the operators understand the resulting elevator capacity, which was reduced significantly (up to 70%). This information provided the needed insight for the number of tickets they could sell for a specific time period to provide a safe and fun environment for their guests.

Museum Elevator Simulation Model

Mote Marine Event Space

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how to write b2b email survey invitations

Let’s Get Personal: Getting the Most out of B2B Survey Invitations

by John Page, VP, Integrated Insight

Published June, 2020

“Please take a moment to provide your feedba…” (clicks “delete”).

Does this sound familiar? We do it every day, sending survey invites into the virtual wastebin with little thought as we weed through more emails than we could possibly ever hope to read. It’s especially true of our work emails, where we may feel even less connection with the sender than invitations sent to our personal accounts.

So, we increase incentives and send more reminders, simultaneously increasing our costs while annoying the recipients. We try even more dramatic subject lines (“Only one day left!”) hoping to fill out the minimum we need to report out our findings. And, when the generous few respond, we fail to acknowldge them, disincentivizing their response to future invitations.

A Better Way

We don’t have to live in this cycle, particularly with B2B surveys. We have options and best practices to make the most out of our invitations, leading to happier respondents and better research.

  1. Rule #1: Don't avoid surveying your customers.
  2. Rule #2: Make it personal.
  3. Rule #3: Promise to keep it short...and keep it short.
  4. Rule #4: Your thanks can mean more than an incentive.

 

Don't avoid surveying your customers.

It can be tempting to trust your gut and the feedback you get from your team on what your customers want. Past survey attempts that didn’t succeed might serve to rationalize a lack of need. Don’t fall into this trap!

Soliticing feedback from your customers in the right way shows that you care about growing and evolving in meeting their needs. It’s a win-win when done right.

Make it personal.

Think about your own email habits – are you more likely to open an email from a business contact you know or an email from one of their generic corporate addresses? The same goes for survey invitations, which, if at all possible, should come from someone they know.

Recently, we programmed and fielded a survey for a client in which they contacted their business customers, asking for feedback on recent interactions. The invitation was relatively standard, and looked like many you likely receive on a regular basis. Of the 2,300+ invitations sent in two waves, only 19 completed the survey.

After reassessing with the client, we negotiated having each of their internal contacts for the businesses reach out with personal email invitations. We provided standard invitation language to draw from, but entrusted the internal contacts to send out the invites. This time, of 750 invitations sent, 130 completed the survey. That’s a 17% completion rate compared with fewer than 1% for the original invitations!

Promise to Keep it Short…and Keep it Short.

It’s always tempting to leave in that extra question, wondering “what if” if it’s not captured. Keep in mind that it’s better to get a completed survey covering most of the content you want than a high dropout rate on a survey that has everything. In the example above, the initial average survey length was nearly 12 minutes. The second version, which saw the dramatically increased completion rate, was only 5 minutes.

It’s tempting as researchers to think that there’s little difference between 5 minutes and 12 minutes, but for B2B surveys that extra length can break your best laid plans. Keep your survey length manageable, and be sure to note a 5 minute length in the invitation if accurate. It can make all of the difference in a response if your customers feel they can complete the survey in between everything else going on in their day vs. having to plan to spend the equivalent of “half a meeting” responding.

Your Thanks Can Mean More Than an Incentive.

Incentives are tricky, particularly for B2B surveys. Navigating corporate and government policies is difficult, as potentially appealing incentives or sweepstakes might land your customers in hot water with their legal departments.

Rather, build in a plan to thank those who complete the survey. It can go a long way toward building the relationship and will help a great deal with future response rates. Of course, sharing information on what you’ve learned in the recent survey is always helpful, but may not always be realistic.

Taking these steps can go a long way toward building more efficient, less expensive and generally better research. It can take more time and coordination to “get personal,” but it’s worth the effort!

 

5 Cost-Effective Restaurant Marketing Strategies during the Coronavirus Era

by Jessica Dreiling, Senior Consultant, Integrated Insight

While Germany and the United Kingdom are showing pent-up restaurant demand as bookings have already returned to pre-COVID levels after reopening, it is uncertain how the U.S. market will respond.  There is a lot for restaurant owners to consider regarding space optimization, cost savings, and safety requirements when reopening for dine-in guests, but it is also important for them to reassess marketing strategies with the new 2020 conditions.

Proactive marketing can be an effective tool for restaurants, but with limited cash flow, how should restaurants be advertising, and how should marketing priorities change?

Here are 5 Cost-Effective Marketing Strategies that Restaurants Can Implement to Increase Foot Traffic:

1. Proactively Communicate Safety Precautions

Today, more than ever, when choosing where and what to eat, safety is paramount. In fact, search interest for “is food delivery safe” has increased 650% across the U.S. since the beginning of March. Reassuring customers that you understand the concerns for safety and are taking important steps to address the current situation is key.

In addition, a research study by Market Force Information shows that 80% of consumers will be visiting brands that they trust.1 In order to re-establish trust with customers, restaurants will need to look for ways to communicate that they’re taking health and safety seriously.

Communicating the new operational procedures through organic social channels will help customers feel comfortable. However, restaurant operators should focus less on talking about the frequency of cleaning since customers may feel that should have been the standard pre-COVID. Rather, talking about contactless payment, mobile menu ordering, virtual wait lines, and table spacing is a better option.

2. Communicate Support for the Community

Customers with emotional relationships with a brand have a  lifetime value of more than 300% and will recommend the company at a rate of 71%, rather than the average rate of 45%. And a Mintel study shows that a company’s charitable giving affects over 70% of Americans’ purchase decisions, while 8 in 10 consumers say it’s important that a company supports a charitable cause.

Companies that make sincere efforts to be part of communities will receive customer loyalty.2   Right now, the communities in need are front-line workers in health care and the black community. With limited cash flow, restaurants can still show support through non-monetary efforts. Examples include social media posts, lighting up store-front signs with support messages, and stating a pledge to uphold safety precautions.

Americans have been living in isolation for months, and on top of that, the current social climate has left them frustrated, sad, and drained. Restaurants that show authentic support for their community will reap the rewards with increased referrals and organic social media reach.

3. Increase Repeat Visitation by Enhancing the Guest Experience

Instead of spending hours creating online content for potential customers to see, restaurants that focus on enhancing the guest experience for their current customers will see the most repeat business in 2020. Cost per Acquisition (CPA) is lower for repeat customers than trying to acquire new leads. And we all know word of mouth marketing is the most cost-effective acquisition strategy.

Rather than spending money on ad campaigns, retraining staff to treat each customer as a valued guest will go farther. Lee Cockerell, former Executive VP of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, recommends implementing the Guest Experience Cycle to increase repeat business in one week. This is a tool to ensure every guest is treated like a “VIP” from the first contact with the restaurant until departure.

In our article regarding space optimization for restaurants, we recommend a few ways to elevate the customer experience when wait times will increase due to social distancing requirements. This can include adding an option for virtual queuing and providing for spaced-out waiting areas or outdoor queues.

4. Increase Word of Mouth Marketing with Product Innovation

We all know that Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is the most effective customer acquisition strategy, but what are the steps for restaurants to achieve it? Customers will do the talking for you when a product or experience is unique and different. “Purple Cow”  is a marketing concept developed by entrepreneur Seth Godin that states that companies must build things worth noticing right into their products or services in order to sell.

Rather than relying on creative advertising and content production, only to spend money to be placed in a crowded media landscape, restaurants should focus on creating a great product and experience. When these elements provide significant value, restaurant goers will tell their friends.

Seito Sushi, a local Japanese restaurant, created a “build your own” sushi platter for take-out customers when the quarantine started in March. The product went viral on social media and it sold out nearly every day. It may have been the saving grace for the restaurant during the quarantine – all with $0 advertising cost, no additional food cost, and reduced labor cost.

Restaurant innovation does not need to be food-related to gain traction. Adding a surprise-and-delight element such as live entertainment, socially-distanced mobile trivia, and themed beverages can also be effective.

seito sushi is a great example of product innovation to help restaurants with marketing during coronavirus
5. Assess Pricing and Promotional Strategies

While all of these strategies can increase foot traffic to your restaurant, focusing on pricing strategies can increase sales of profitable items. In our recent article on menu engineering, we provide a guide on how restaurants can design their menu to improve profitability during these harsh times. Taking a slight price increase on very popular and profitable items will be advantageous to restaurants, as it will all fall straight to the bottom line.

Promotional strategies can improve restaurant sales by attracting new customers. Partnerships with local social media influencers can be a powerful promotional tool when customers are spending so much time online. In addition, providing a coupon in delivery and pickup orders can prompt future visits.

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