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Innovation from limitation: How Holovis took 2020 by the horns and ran with it | Planet Attractions
     

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Innovation from limitation: How Holovis took 2020 by the horns and ran with it

Holovis CEO Stuart Hetherington talks to Planet Attractions about the past 12 months, major projects and the future of technology in the world of attractions




Stuart Hetherington is CEO of immersive and mixed-reality solutions provider Holovis   Credit: Holovis

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year, with lockdowns, closures and the constant cloud that is COVID-19 is hanging over the entire world’s head.

As it became more and more evident that things weren’t going back to normal any time soon, companies and people realised they needed to adapt.

One company that has managed to pivot into the ‘new normal’ is immersive and mixed-reality solutions provider Holovis, with the UK-based company transforming its approach to projects, while still working effectively with clients in locations all over the world.

“If I’d been told 12 months ago ‘95% of your staff will be working from home’ I probably would have had a heart attack,” Holovis CEO, Stuart Hetherington, tells Planet Attractions.

“You think straight away about that question of discipline and if your workforce can be truly effective working from home. Then you find yourself in a position where there’s no other option but to try it out.

We’ve been amazed at how well it’s worked. People have stepped up, they’ve done what’s needed, they’re pulling in long hours. It also offers an environment where our employees can spend more time with their family and friends. For us, sending people home has spurred innovation.”


Crowd Solo was created as a response to the COVID pandemic - Credit: Holovis

The new normal

One example of this innovation came during the first UK lockdown.

In an attempt to help its customers, Holovis developed Crowd Solo - an operations app designed to allow visitor attractions reopen in a COVID-secure way.

The app allowed guests to book rides and attractions in advance, so venues could safely manage the number of people and footfall in specific areas.

It also gave operators greater insight into the movement of guests throughout the attraction, allowing them to make informed operational decisions based on real-time data.

“It came out of our development work but without the lockdown, we would never have considered migrating some of our core software technology into that type of application,” says Hetherington.

“It was a great success, with a lot of operators adopting the technology. It showed that in these times, where everyone needs to play their parts for each other, our software team brought something out which was a game-changer in helping to support our clients.

During the first lockdown, we saw our team taking on board these kinds of challenges, seeing where we could help our clients. It’s something we’ll be carrying on with, so that will be a stream we’ll see more of at Holovis.”

Managing 2020

Like almost every company in the world, for Holovis, 2020 was a big shift in terms of management processes and structure.

But the company has managed to continue with its major projects, with a number of new additions also in the pipeline.

“The big thing for us was that despite having to furlough a big majority of our staff, we still carried over a lot of work from last year that allowed us to keep people on the ground as long as we could,” says Hetherington.

“We carried on with our work in Japan at Universal right up until the last few moments where we had to pull them out in the early summer.

It was the same with our US team, though having an Orlando office made life a lot easier as they could carry on with work for Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Our core team is based in the UK. This presented challenges as we couldn’t get out to places like China, which gave us a real headache.

Luckily we’ve got a great team and we came up with some innovative solutions to work around that.

There were lots of very early morning and late-night calls but we got through it and we’re really proud of our team for stepping up. More recently, we’ve managed to get some of the UK team out there to finish up certain jobs but they’ve done whatever is needed to see the work completed.”


Holovis and ETF Rides have worked on the Lego Factory Adventure Ride, debuting at Legoland New York in 2021 - Credit: Merlin Entertainments

In the pipeline

In addition to its work with Universal, Holovis is working with a number of major companies on projects over the next few years.

“China continues to be a very lucrative market for us and we continue to grow our team out there,” says Hetherington. “We’re finishing off multiple projects there, which will be complete in early spring next year.

We’re also doing a lot of design work for Evergrande, which is working on some huge parks at the moment and will be moving into rides with them in 2021.

Then Lego for Merlin is turning into a multi-site rollout. If everything goes to plan, New York will go live next year and we have several other sites underway at the moment.

We’re also branching more into the Middle East. We’ve recently opened an office in Abu Dhabi, to support our projects out there. Saudi Arabia is the next big thing for attractions, everyone is looking towards that, so the new office will act as a springboard for us.”

Tech forwards

It might have been a year where most of the world was at a standstill, but that hasn’t stopped technology companies, including Holovis, from continuing to innovate.

For the attractions sector, Hetherington believes some big changes are coming, with new and exciting technologies pushing immersive worlds and experiences and to new heights never before seen.

“Going forward, interactive technology will become a key element for immersive experiences, with more natural human interaction and storytelling,” Hetherington says.

“We’ve been working for a good many years now, on next-generation real-time technologies rather than linear storytelling with CGI and film-based attractions.

Media-based attractions have evolved over the last 10-15 years and that need for constant interaction, feedback, feeling part of the experience and the story has always been in our mantra.

It’s what we’ve been trying to create in the attractions world. We’re trying to take that to the next level with the work we’re doing right now. In two- to three-years time, we’ll see technology pushing that idea and those limits even further. The technology and the hardware are there to deliver on that type of approach.”


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Innovation from limitation: How Holovis took 2020 by the horns and ran with it | Planet Attractions

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Innovation from limitation: How Holovis took 2020 by the horns and ran with it

Holovis CEO Stuart Hetherington talks to Planet Attractions about the past 12 months, major projects and the future of technology in the world of attractions




Stuart Hetherington is CEO of immersive and mixed-reality solutions provider Holovis   Credit: Holovis

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year, with lockdowns, closures and the constant cloud that is COVID-19 is hanging over the entire world’s head.

As it became more and more evident that things weren’t going back to normal any time soon, companies and people realised they needed to adapt.

One company that has managed to pivot into the ‘new normal’ is immersive and mixed-reality solutions provider Holovis, with the UK-based company transforming its approach to projects, while still working effectively with clients in locations all over the world.

“If I’d been told 12 months ago ‘95% of your staff will be working from home’ I probably would have had a heart attack,” Holovis CEO, Stuart Hetherington, tells Planet Attractions.

“You think straight away about that question of discipline and if your workforce can be truly effective working from home. Then you find yourself in a position where there’s no other option but to try it out.

We’ve been amazed at how well it’s worked. People have stepped up, they’ve done what’s needed, they’re pulling in long hours. It also offers an environment where our employees can spend more time with their family and friends. For us, sending people home has spurred innovation.”


Crowd Solo was created as a response to the COVID pandemic - Credit: Holovis

The new normal

One example of this innovation came during the first UK lockdown.

In an attempt to help its customers, Holovis developed Crowd Solo - an operations app designed to allow visitor attractions reopen in a COVID-secure way.

The app allowed guests to book rides and attractions in advance, so venues could safely manage the number of people and footfall in specific areas.

It also gave operators greater insight into the movement of guests throughout the attraction, allowing them to make informed operational decisions based on real-time data.

“It came out of our development work but without the lockdown, we would never have considered migrating some of our core software technology into that type of application,” says Hetherington.

“It was a great success, with a lot of operators adopting the technology. It showed that in these times, where everyone needs to play their parts for each other, our software team brought something out which was a game-changer in helping to support our clients.

During the first lockdown, we saw our team taking on board these kinds of challenges, seeing where we could help our clients. It’s something we’ll be carrying on with, so that will be a stream we’ll see more of at Holovis.”

Managing 2020

Like almost every company in the world, for Holovis, 2020 was a big shift in terms of management processes and structure.

But the company has managed to continue with its major projects, with a number of new additions also in the pipeline.

“The big thing for us was that despite having to furlough a big majority of our staff, we still carried over a lot of work from last year that allowed us to keep people on the ground as long as we could,” says Hetherington.

“We carried on with our work in Japan at Universal right up until the last few moments where we had to pull them out in the early summer.

It was the same with our US team, though having an Orlando office made life a lot easier as they could carry on with work for Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Our core team is based in the UK. This presented challenges as we couldn’t get out to places like China, which gave us a real headache.

Luckily we’ve got a great team and we came up with some innovative solutions to work around that.

There were lots of very early morning and late-night calls but we got through it and we’re really proud of our team for stepping up. More recently, we’ve managed to get some of the UK team out there to finish up certain jobs but they’ve done whatever is needed to see the work completed.”


Holovis and ETF Rides have worked on the Lego Factory Adventure Ride, debuting at Legoland New York in 2021 - Credit: Merlin Entertainments

In the pipeline

In addition to its work with Universal, Holovis is working with a number of major companies on projects over the next few years.

“China continues to be a very lucrative market for us and we continue to grow our team out there,” says Hetherington. “We’re finishing off multiple projects there, which will be complete in early spring next year.

We’re also doing a lot of design work for Evergrande, which is working on some huge parks at the moment and will be moving into rides with them in 2021.

Then Lego for Merlin is turning into a multi-site rollout. If everything goes to plan, New York will go live next year and we have several other sites underway at the moment.

We’re also branching more into the Middle East. We’ve recently opened an office in Abu Dhabi, to support our projects out there. Saudi Arabia is the next big thing for attractions, everyone is looking towards that, so the new office will act as a springboard for us.”

Tech forwards

It might have been a year where most of the world was at a standstill, but that hasn’t stopped technology companies, including Holovis, from continuing to innovate.

For the attractions sector, Hetherington believes some big changes are coming, with new and exciting technologies pushing immersive worlds and experiences and to new heights never before seen.

“Going forward, interactive technology will become a key element for immersive experiences, with more natural human interaction and storytelling,” Hetherington says.

“We’ve been working for a good many years now, on next-generation real-time technologies rather than linear storytelling with CGI and film-based attractions.

Media-based attractions have evolved over the last 10-15 years and that need for constant interaction, feedback, feeling part of the experience and the story has always been in our mantra.

It’s what we’ve been trying to create in the attractions world. We’re trying to take that to the next level with the work we’re doing right now. In two- to three-years time, we’ll see technology pushing that idea and those limits even further. The technology and the hardware are there to deliver on that type of approach.”


 



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