What We Learned From Visiting 3 Entertainment Venues In Texas

The Industry’s Comeback Might Be Bigger Than Anyone Expected

Like many sectors, the amusement industry was hit hard by the pandemic. But as we’ve progressed through the recovery process, a lot of people (ourselves included) have become largely optimistic about the future.

We’ve been hearing positive news from our clients: revenue and traffic are trending up as restrictions and capacity limitations are being removed. Texas is one of the most recent states to lift restrictions, so we wanted to see the impact in this state firsthand by visiting several entertainment venues. Our team recently took a trip to the Houston area, and we couldn’t believe what we experienced.

In fact, there’s a chance our industry’s comeback may be bigger than anyone expected.

We conducted a survey to understand operators’ plans for attending both in-person and virtual events the rest of the year. Click below to see the full results of the survey.

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Entertainment Venues Were Packed

During our Houston trip, we visited 3 entertainment venues in the area, two of which were packed with guests: Andretti Indoor Karting & Games and Main Event. The third venue was quite empty inside, and we’ll cover that later in this article. But first, let’s talk about Andretti and Main Event.

Eddie Hamann is one of the owners of Andretti, and we’ve interviewed him multiple times at our Amusement 360 Events. In his last interview, he shared the fact that 4 of their 5 venues were already doing better revenue numbers than 2019 (this interview was conducted in February 2021). Based on what we saw during our visit, this statistic makes a lot of sense.

Within a couple hours of opening on Saturday morning, guests were flooding through the doors. By 5:00pm, the parking lot was 100% full and customers were literally parking in the grass.

Think about that for a moment. If you’ve ever visited an Andretti location, you’ve seen the size of their parking lots. They build these facilities from the ground up and spec out exactly how much parking they need for peak hours. Even then, it wasn’t enough.

Customers line up to play attractions at Andretti in Katy, TX.

Inside, there were lines for every attraction: go-karts, laser tag, virtual reality, and Lucky Putt. Plus, there was a huge line toward the front door just for guests to pay. And these lines were not indicative of poor operations; Andretti had a huge number of employees helping customers. Rather, the lines were an indication of just how busy the venue was.

And customers didn’t seem to mind. They were so excited to be out with friends and family that the lines didn’t deter them from spending money at the venue.

At Main Event, the theme was the same. The parking lot was full, the facility was packed, and customers were enjoying every attraction in the venue.

Reinvesting In The Customer Experience

It’s important to point out the fact that Andretti and Main Event had very clean facilities. We saw employees cleaning and sanitizing constantly. Andretti didn’t even want guests touching the doors; employees opened the doors for every customer that arrived and left. And even though the Texas mask mandate was lifted, both venues still required customers to wear masks.

Beyond the cleaning, both of these venues have invested in the customer experience. Most guests who walk in the door are visiting for the first time since the pandemic started, and they are viewing the facilities with fresh eyes. Right now, every venue has the rare opportunity of a second “first impression.”

These investments aren’t always expensive. It’s the little things that add up. Do you have carpet rips, or cracked tiles, or stained furniture, or broken games? This is your chance to spruce things up. This Main Event location has been operating for almost 9 years. But inside, the venue didn’t feel aged at all.

This was a stark contrast from the third entertainment venue we visited. Inside, everything felt dated and a little dingy. It was 2:00pm on a Saturday and the venue was pretty empty. Some of their attractions weren’t even turned on for guests to play.

How would you feel walking through the door and seeing this?

It’s a perfect example of why reinvesting is important. Because if you don’t, then your second “first impression” likely won’t be good. And guests may not want to come back again.

Don’t Be Concerned About VR

There was another important observation we made on this trip. During the pandemic, some operators have expressed concerns about virtual reality. They have been worried that guests won’t want to put on a VR headset due to cleanliness issues. But based on what we saw, this isn’t really a concern among guests.

Most of the arcade games were open at Andretti, and customers were generally not hesitant to play.

We saw many different kinds of VR attractions: arcade, hybrid small footprint, and motion simulators. And guests were happy to play these attractions.

Main Event had both the Beat Saber VR and the Virtual Rabbids games in their arcade, which are not staffed. Therefore it’s up to the customers to use cleaning wipes on the headsets. We stood by and watched guest after guest play these arcade games with zero issue or hesitation.

Optimism About The Future

The environment in Texas can give us all optimism about the future of the industry. Sure, we understand that this was a very small sample size (3 venues during a single weekend trip). And customer sentiment will vary by region and state. But this trip proves people are ready and willing to spend money on entertainment when given the chance. And the enthusiasm may be greater than any of us anticipated.

Habits may have changed during the pandemic, but human nature didn’t. We are still social creatures who want to gather to celebrate or escape. As more states open up and lift capacity restrictions, more entertainment venues will have an opportunity to become this gathering place and help create powerful memories for their guests.

Are you ready to make your second first impression and WOW your customers?

We can help with immersive attractions like laser tag, escape rooms, mini golf, virtual reality, Esports, and more.