Building It Right The First Time: A Guest-Centric, Analytical Approach to Capacity Planning

by Susan Dekker, Director, Integrated Insight

New experiences and facilities require a high upfront investment, and often are difficult and costly to adjust after building. And so, strategically building the right amount of capacity for the right guests can save a number of headaches later. This article lays out the major steps to planning capacity using a guest-centric, analytical approach.

1. Understand Demand

Always start with understanding the guest. Market research can determine potential market size, demographics, and estimated annual attendance. Spread the annual demand to the daily level – seasonality due to weather/school schedules result in a very different average and peak day attendance. All of these demand factors will heavily influence the amount of supportable investment.

2. Develop Design Standards

After understanding daily attendance, determine for which attendance level to build. First, define the desired service levels of the provided experience. Service level standards examples include: every guest experiences a marquis attraction, keeping average or max wait times to <X minutes, or guests can experience X total things across their visit. Then, determine how many days/guests you are willing to expose to compromised service levels. The goal is to have few high-attendance days/times with a less-than-ideal experience and many days/times where the development will be more than enough to accommodate demand.

3. Quantify Capacity

The capacity required for any individual business unit or location is typically based on the peak instantaneous demand.

For example, restaurants are busiest at meal periods, whereas ticketing and entry facilities are busiest at park open.Focus on all guest and employee needs such as breakrooms, storage, restrooms and guest services; often it is easy to just focus on the core product and revenue sources.

4. Evaluate Demand - Capacity Balance

Continually iterate to ensure the resulting program is compelling enough to drive the expected demand while meeting the desired service level standards.

Other aspects can influence demand or capacity: marketing can increase awareness (and thus guest demand), mitigations such as brining in food trucks can offer short term flexes in capacity, or pricing can influence demand such as mid-week ticket discounting.

5. Design a Layout

After determining the optimal amount to build, lay out the facilities in a logical, efficient way from both the guest and employee perspective. Simulation is a great tool to evaluate design before physically building. Benchmark industry leaders to see what does and does not work in their park flow. Consider the placement of complementary functions, and balance the guest experience to enhance guest flow and reduce congestion.


Determining the proper amount of capacity requires a rigorous, analytical approach to understanding the guest and their behavior. But, building it right the first time will reduce the cost of rework while maximizing the guest experience.

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