Onboard version 2.0

You have to tip your hat to the sage that created the onboard ride photograph. There was finally a relatively inventory-free way to monetize park attractions. Sure, the "I Survived" t-shirts were great in their day. However, now there was a new way to create incremental revenue from the ride experience.

A simple snapshot taken at a pivotal point in the thrill ride was the ideal impulse purchase and it didn't take long for operators to maximize the medium's potential. Photos got bigger with ride-specific bordered graphics. Keychains and wallet sizes emerged to make the product pocket portable.

Great. Now it's time to take the format into the 21st century.

The Internet has often been an afterthought to amusement park operators. Sites are strictly informational and rarely updated. Only a handful of park websites solicit e-mail addresses and even fewer recognize the power of maintaining a dynamic, cost-efficient virtual mailing list. It's baffling to see a park spend money on radio, print and television advertising without earmarking a larger chunk of that promotional budget to creating a site experience that is sticky and viral. That is where the onboard photos should come into play.

The merits of the digital delivery of onboard snapshots are obvious. It is inventory free as the actual printing costs, if applicable, are borne by the recipient. Server storage and bandwidth costs get perpetually cheaper so it's certainly not taxing financially as a proposition. It is also convenient for the park guest that would normally not purchase the onboard photo because it would be a hassle to carry it around the park or pick it up at the end of the day.

However, the real beauty of digitally delivered onboard snaps is that it retains contact with the patron long after the turnstile clicks the wrong way. Because the guest must return to the park's website to retrieve the picture -- or at the very least provide an email address to receive the photograph -- the park has the chance to reach the customer again. While that connection can be used to promote upcoming events or send off a satisfaction survey that's simply scratching the surface.

There is a viral blessing to the online medium that can be exploited fantastically with onboard photographs. In other words, setting up an online photo gallery in which riders can retrieve their images in attraction riding glory with unique claim numbers is nice, but having the ability for them to mail that photo to a friend with a single click is even better. That widens the park's mailing list reach. That also sets the standard. The friend will be motivated go to the park and make sure to also purchase the digital snapshot.

Again, that's just the beginning of the addictive nature of digital photography. A sleepy park website can become a local traffic magnet by rolling out something as simple as a photo voting script. The popularity of HotOrNot.com can be applied to onboard ride photography as a park cashes in on not only the spike in hits to its site (as a chance to get website visitors to register in order to vote, fattening its promotional mailing list) but also the incentive for folks to rush out to the park and get on the rides and their likenesses on the voting block.

Creating an online community is a dicey proposition. It can endear the park's loyalists or it can be a liability if critiques are allowed to fester unchecked. Having a vibrant online photo gallery of onboard photographs can transcend into that kind of communal flypaper if a site were to open up chatrooms and message board forums but do so only if you are willing to accept the responsibilities of being sticky. That means friendly yet visible moderation. That means being alert to optimize the experience because it will reflect directly on the park itself. Done right it can mean a growing stream of regulars and season pass sales. Done wrong you always have the benefit of taking a step back.

There is more -- much more -- but the park industry needs to get this far first. It will, but who will the real pioneers be?

- Rick Munarriz

Rick has been known to strike a pose or two at the site of the onboard photo flash -- but always in family friendly fashion.

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