21st Century ticketing for parks and attractions
There was a time when tickets were simply a proof of purchase, used for getting into the park or onto your favourite ride or attraction. Now, coupled with a variety of software applications, admission systems have become the front line in intelligence for the savvy amusement park operator. Park World talks to a handful of suppliers to discover what today’s ticketing products can do for parks and their guests.
“Electronic ticket sales are the future!” declares Steve Brown, CEO of Accesso, which offers print-at-home ticketing and e-Commerce solutions to over 30 top attractions in North America, including all of Six Flags’ parks and waterparks. “We are a generation that requires speed, ease and immediate fulfilment. Therefore purchasing a ticket and having to wait for it to be delivered or fulfilled at the venue gate is not an acceptable process for consumers anymore.”
Indeed, why wait until your guests get to the front gate to sell them their ticket? Pre-selling tickets not only allows guests to walk straight to the turnstile, it is also helps park operators anticipate demand, take the strain off ticket counter staff, and help bolster attendance on quiet days or rainy days. It is also acknowledged that if guests have already laid out the cost of admission upfront, they spend more freely once they are inside the park.
Inevitably, the internet is now used as a tool by many parks many attractions. “What other industry can boast so many fan sites and online communities?” asks Andy Povey of RefTech Services in the UK, who also has experience from the operator’s side, having previously worked for Merlin Entertainments. “Electronic ticket sales are becoming massively important,” he says, “but it’s important that parks are able to keep up with the rest of the world of e-commerce. Our web sales are integrated directly into the park’s own system, so that a booking made via the internet is available at the venue within 10 seconds.”
“Electronic ticket sales are an extremely important aspect of any park’s business,” agrees Kristina Parker at Siriusware in the United States. “Increased revenue, convenience for your guests and reduction in ticket lines are just some of the benefits that electronic sales can provide.” Siriusware’s print-at-home ticketing module, for example, allows customers to purchase tickets online, print them out on their home printers, and them validate them at the park’s entrance.
A number of venues are now experimenting with mobile ticketing, delivering tickets to guests’ phones or other electronic devices. Given the allegiance many young park visitors have to their phones, this makes obvious sense, although Povey offers a word of caution: “Our belief is that mobile phones have great potential but not in quite the way many expect. A mobile phone system usually uses a barcode, but the technology has not got to the point where a single format will work on all phones.” The solution, he reckons, lies in “Near Field Communications” (NFC), a short-range wireless technology that allows phones to exchange data with nearby devices. RefTech is already working on integrating such readers into its access control systems.
While online and mobile tickets are a relatively new trend, off-site sales via third parties have been a staple part of many park’s business model for years, and nowhere is this more evident than in Orlando, where virtually any business that attracts tourists seems to have its own ticket counter.
“Any entity, including shops, tourist offices, hotels, travel agents and so on, can become a sales/distribution outlet for the park,” highlights John Davies from the UK office of OmniTicket Network. His company provides a unique activation feature so that guests to pick up a pre-printed ticket at an outlet anywhere in the world and have it activated in real time ready to use at the turnstile.
“Working with third party retailers is all about extending your box office from your front gate to the high street,” highlights Povey, and he predicts, “we are going to see this extending from the traditional resellers to what is currently seen as the competition. As tourist locations around the world compete with each other – from Orlando and London to Blackpool and Dubai – it is increasingly important for operators to join forces and market their destination.”
Whether they do it from the comfort of their home or at a third party sales outlet, Brown says he knows why visitors often prefer to but their tickets off-site – and why you should encourage them: “Guests making purchases in an environment that is comfortable, quiet and away from the hustle of the front gate encourages additional spending. Making your venue’s ticket offerings readily available gives the guest every opportunity to purchase the best fit for their family’s vacation.”
It’s usually a barcode or magnetic strip that identifies your ticket at the turnstile. It may also be an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip, a more expensive but useful option that can be used to track movement and spending habits.
Guests arriving at the gate of some of the world’s larger parks, however, are now being greeted not just with traditional ticket readers but also biometric readers that scan fingerprints. At first glance this may look like an airport-style security procedure, but for venues such as Walt Disney World in Orlando and Universal Studios in Hollywood it is actually a way of preventing lost sales.
“OmniTicket has been supplying biometric verification for several years now,” reveals Davies. “The latest generation is extremely fast, accurate and reliable. This method of tying the ticket to the original purchaser prevents the possibility of guests lending their annual passes to friends or relatives, or even purchasing multiple day passes and splitting the usage and payment between friends. In other words, biometric verification ensures maximum security and revenue generation for all ticket categories.”
“We have a partnership with Alvarado in the United States to provide turnstiles fully equipped with a biometric reader,” confirms Brown, “this provides more robust access control. The technology provides the client with options to move away from other dated forms of access control such as photos on tickets and messy hand stamps for re-entry.”
Yet stand and watch the turnstiles at any of those parks that use biometric identification, and you’ll soon see that guests need educating how to use it, and not all systems are reliable. Siriusware is one company that has so far decided to steer clear of such technology: “We don’t provide biometric recognition systems,” says Parker. “While highly useful for staff, the holy grail of biometrics is to use them to authorise access by guests and season pass holders. Unfortunately the technology does not work well for children and can raise concerns about cleanliness.”
Tickets need not be redundant once guests are inside the park. “OmniTicket has the ability to supply electronic point of sale systems for food and retail outlets, as well as a “fast-pass” system if required,” Davies informs us. “The advantage is that all systems are fully integrated, allowing centralised reporting for all revenue generation within the park.”
“Our most popular feature is in-house debit, credit and gift card functionality,” confirms Parker. “This allows clients to avoid the high fees charged by the bank-based vendors and provide the service directly to customers.”
A number of ticketing systems also allow operators to continue the guest relationship outside the park. “Our direct mail application can be used to reach guests with e-mail with future marketing offerings or even to send them a ‘thank you’ message for visiting,” details Brown.
“We are now working on an application that allows the guest to take more of their visit home,” says Povey. “By logging onto a secure area of the facility’s website they will be able to see where they have been, upload content and share this with their friends through social networking sites. The end result, hopefully, will be an increase in attendance and return visits.” Yet, he adds, “most operators don’t make full use of the software or the data applications available to them.”
“We have found that most clients have a bias of some sort,” notes Davies. “For example it may be the finance department which implements the system and therefore that is the section which is made full use of. The front of house requires it for speed, but other departments, often sales and marketing, may make less use of the system’s capabilities.”
“Our team works with the client to determine their specific needs,” promises Brown, “and full training is provided. What many attractions might not know is that electronic solutions are very affordable. We offer a subscription model, so clients aren’t required to purchase expensive hardware in order to utilise the breadth of services available to them.”
But Povey would baulk at talk of such charges: “It’s your data, you should have access to it and be free to use it whenever and however you want. We also work with a number of conferences and exhibitions, and there the exhibition organiser always owns the data without question. So next time a supplier offers you access to multi-million member mailing lists, ask yourself how that data got there. The chances are that you’re being asked buy your own guests’ details.”
Just as the internet threatens to kill off CDs, newspapers, camera films and many other tangible products, is there a chance technology will also make paper tickets redundant before long?
“In order for tickets to disappear, some other form of validation needs to be available to the masses,” says Parker. “Currently cell phones are the most likely replacement, but not all phones have a sophisticated enough display. There will always be some form of paper ticket but expect the numbers to reduce as technology that can replace them progresses.”
“This could be the new generation of mobile phones embedded with RFID technology, or national identity cards with RFID, magnetic stripes or bar-codes on them,” concludes Davies, “or even supermarket loyalty cards. In the meantime paper tickets are the most cost-effective media to provide a secure solution to the admissions process – as well as a great souvenir for guests.”
Ticketing Top 5
Here, in no particular order, is a selection of five current ticketing applications offered by various suppliers:
OmniTicket Network will soon release the latest edition of its core “Overview” software. Version 7 is the first fully open, distributed ticketing system that can be used by any size venue for all ticketing related applications. Operators access all their data either on-site or online, and in real-time. Overview 7 was developed in response to the market’s demand for global distribution options and true integration of remote selling locations. Currently in use at multiple venues worldwide, Overview can be used to integrate services including box-office sales, group sales, reservations, season pass processing, collection of client and marketing demographics, automated access control, attendance reporting, special event and retail sales.
Using this new application from Siriusware (above), operators can schedule group events on an integrated calendar. Users choose a prospective event and the time the group would like to take part and then see the availability of the resources required. If the resources are not available, the event can be changed to an alternate date or time. Resources can be anything from a classroom to a ride or attraction, and each resource has an associated calendar. The user can also browse individual resource calendars to look for open spots instead of starting with a particular event. Resources can also be capacity restricted. The result is a dynamic calendar tool that can be used to provide management of groups, facilities and resources in a single, integrated and easy-to-use interface.
This synchronisation tool offered by RefTech in the UK allows operators to hold advance booking and ticket transaction data across multiple locations at the same time via the internet. As data is not held in a central database accessed remotely, interaction with the system and the customer is much quicker. “Using this tool one of our clients is able to manage seven sites across the globe from one office in the UK,” reveals RefTech’s Andy Povey. “Sales made in Australia are reported in the UK within 10 seconds.” Another advantage is that there is no “offline” mode, so in the event of a network failure the customer is not inconvenienced. If connection to the remote database is lost, the system can continue to operate: It simply stores all data until connection is restored at which point it synchronises with the remote database.
Offered by Accesso in the USA, Shopland seamlessly integrates ticket sales with a venue’s website to offer a comprehensive add-on shopping experience that may include pre-arrival sales of parking, meal vouchers, tours and even merchandise. Dynamic up-sell and cross-sell capabilities throughout the shopping experience help drive increased guest spending. This easy to use and visually attractive application, seen here in use with Six Flags, was awarded Best New Product in the Revenue and Admission Control category at IAAPA in 2008.
Visitors to Tivoli in Copenhagen will find a number of these self-service ticketing machines scattered across the park. The machines now account for around one in four ticket sales. Tickets are available for most of the park’s rides and attractions and may be ordered in advance and collected from the machines on-site or purchased on the day. Each unit is installed with a TUP992 printer from Star Micronics, capable of two-colour output at a fast 150mm per second. Long paper rolls in a choice of two sizes are installed using an automatic paper loading facility, while a “presenter” function provides increased security and reliability.