The holiday season is often one of the busiest visitation times for many of our sites. For those sites that charge admission, this can equal big bucks from ticket sales, gift shop sales, and overall exposure to a larger tourist sector. But it can also equal overcrowding and a less than optimum experience for our guests. So what do we do when our visitors come to see what we have to offer but end up only seeing a crowd?

This problem is one that just last week impacted Disney. The 2014 holiday season is one that was so successful that both Disney World and Disneyland reached capacity. So, how did the king of tourist destinations handle overcrowding? They followed preplanned protocol and closed the parks in phases to control crowds. That’s right, the “happiest place on earth” decided that turning away some visitors would be in the best interest for their guests.

Reading about what Disney did got me wondering, what could or should we be doing at our sites to prepare for those times when the crowds simply get too big? I’ve been working on a plan at my site and here are some things I’ve found to keep in mind when developing such a plan:

1. Have clear indicators for implementation.
Be sure to have clear indicators that determine when you implement a (temporary) closure due to overcrowding. Whether you are setting them on physical capacity or length of admission lines, have a clearly written parameter you can use to define the situation. When overcrowding occurs, the last thing you want is overwhelmed staff feeling uncertain on whether to close the lines or not.

2. Prepare your audience.
If you know that there are particular times of the year/ month/ day in which closures may occur, inform your audience early on. If you have a “Plan Your Visit” page on your website, this would be a great place to share the info. Naturally not all your visitors will read this info but it could help ease the pain for those visitors who do read it and plan ahead. Likewise, offer tips for the best times to visit and how to avoid overcrowding.

3. Make a plan.
Knowing that you will close at some point is one thing but having a plan on how to do it is a separate thing. Develop a plan on how you will physically close. Do you have signs or stanchions to close the line? Who will put them in place? What will they say to the visitors still standing in line? Will it always be the same messenger or is it determined by job title? Make sure that those who will spread the bad news are armed with the knowledge (and confidence) in how to control the situation.

4. Constant communication.
In this age of instant communication, waiting can seem like an eternity. Keep your visitors informed of what is going on. Utilize your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to keep visitors in the know of what is going on and when they can expect a re-opening. With this though, be sure this task has been assigned to a particular person so it doesn’t fall to the side. Again, preparing a statement in advance will make this go smoother.

5. Stay positive.
Remember that for some people this may be their only time visiting your site. Keeping staff positive about the situation will help them stay calm and maintain a good experience for your visitors. Is there a ready made interpretive program that could be utilized to entertain visitors while they stand in line? Is there a way you can capitalize on the captive audience while they wait?

Reality is that none of our sites will experience the same crowds that Disney does but on a relative scale to our sites it can feel that way at times. Crowds can be a great thing if you plan ahead, communicate, and breathe. Do you have a plan for handling overcrowding at your site? Please share.