Technology has changed much at Walt Disney World recently.
Since just last year, guests have marveled at "The Magic, The Memories and You!" visual spectacle at Cinderella Castle, enjoyed the interactive fun of the "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom" game, and even have begun to log onto free Wi-Fi access throughout the parks and at the resorts.
Yet one aspect of the Orlando resort's experience that hasn't changed much has been its ticketing process. Guests today purchase and use their theme-park tickets much the same way as they have for years. Since 2006, ticket-holders have gone through the turnstiles with paper tickets and outstretched fingers for the parks' biometric scanners.
Yet a local ticketing software company thinks Disney — and other themed attractions here and worldwide — could better utilize today's technical advances to improve their guests' experiences and their companies' bottom lines. And the key to doing this, according to Lake Mary-based accesso, is to develop a strategy that focuses on mobile technology users.
The company, which was created in 2002 and is led by CEO Steve Brown, a former director of Walt Disney World ticketing, already has become one of the first travel industry suppliers to adapt its ticketing platform to support Apple's Passbook feature found on the new iPhone 5.
In September, accesso announced that it had extended Passbook accessibility to guests at Cedar Fair Entertainment's theme parks, as well as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, making those themed attractions among the first in the nation to utilize the digital wallet feature on the new iPhones. Guests to Cedar Fair's 11 U.S. amusement parks can now purchase tickets on their iPhones anywhere and at any time.
Those parks include Ohio's Cedar Park and Kings Island, and California's Knott's Berry Farm, as well as various water parks throughout the nation.
"In a few years we are going to start see more and more people shift from buying at home to when and where they want on their mobile devices," Brown said. "It's much better to develop a game plan now than to try to catch this speeding train."
Brown says desktop machines still account for most online transactions today, but he points to a recent Gartner forecast that predicted a 42 percent annual growth in mobile transactions between now and 2016. By then, according to the analysis, the worldwide mobile payment market could see $617 billion in transaction value.
"That means mobile can't be ignored, and those organizations that take a wait-and-see approach will quickly get left behind," he said, adding that themed attractions and other travel-related industries may well be a driving force for this new marketplace shift.
"When you travel, one of the biggest anxieties is keeping up with all your plane tickets, car-rental confirmations and hotel bookings or keeping up with your room key once you board a ship or check in to a hotel," Brown said, adding that "guests always have their phones with them, so why issue them another item to keep tabs on?"
Apple's latest changes
When Apple released its iPhone 5 in late September, the new hardware almost overshadowed a defining aspect of the phone — its operating system. That system, iOS 6, ushered in myriad new features, such as better Facebook integration with apps, enhanced Sir features, FaceTime capability over cellular networks and one poorly designed feature that became the subject of countless and well-deserved jokes – Maps.
Maps aside, Apple touted more than 200 new or improved features with the new OS — and one was the digital wallet app called Passbook.
The new app allows iPhone users to store coupons, tickets, reward points and other forms of value-based transactions on their ever-present phones. And because it is a mobile app, it allows iPhone users to keep their entitlements — everything from tickets to boarding passes to reward points — nearby while they're on the go.
How it works
Here's how accesso has made ticketing work with Passbook: When an mobile-device user purchases tickets from a Cedar Fair attraction, the platform will detect if the transaction is being made by an iPhone with iOS 6 installed. If so, the user is offered the option of adding their purchase to the Passbook app by following a few simple screen prompts. Users also are offered an alternative option: the ability to add recent purchases to the Passbook app from any email receipts they view on their phones.
It's certainly not the only digital wallet in the marketplace. After all, Google has its own version, Google Wallet, that does much the same thing yet relies on near-field communication to connect Android phones with checkout devices that scan the phones in the merchants' stores.
In fact, Apple surprised many in September when it released the iPhone 5 without NFC capabilities. Instead, Passbook relies on an app-based cloud integration to facilitate the transactions. Yet Brown said he doesn't think the exclusion will hurt the adoption rate of the technology. The reason: Too many checkout scanners would have to be installed at businesses that wanted to interact with NFC devices.
"If you look at the marketplace today, there are a lot of terminals out there that need to be replaced before NFC will be a really viable payment method," he said. "If Apple had offered NFC in the iPhone 5, the number of retail outlets that could have accepted it would have be minimal. ... That said, it's coming soon on the radar, and you can be sure that Apple has a plan to get some major retailers on board before they jump into the game."
Security and fraud prevention
One technical direction Apple potentially could choose, Brown said, might be governed by its $356 million acquisition of Melbourne-based AuthenTec, a leading fingerprint sensor technology company, in July.
Brown said he believes that fingerprint encryption could be the best and most reliable way for the technology to be adopted as a fail-safe method for storing personal financial data on mobile products, and it's not inconceivable to envision a tech leader like Apple implementing this technology in its future mobile devices.
He's not alone in that assessment. According to several online reports, AuthenTec recently emailed its non-Apple customers, telling them it will no longer honor their security-technology orders in 2013. The report went on to speculate that the move hints at how AuthenTec will more closely implement is biometric security asset into future iPhones in general and, more specifically, how the tech giant might design AuthenTec's fingerprint sensors to work seamlessly with Passbook.
Brown also sees another aspect of mobile ticketing that would benefit from fingerprint encryption.
"For Disney and other local attractions, the use of mobile ticketing and supporting apps like Passbook could further help in their efforts to control the 'used' ticket market and the sharing of discounted multi-day tickets between guests," he said. "In particular, once biometric controls find their way into the phones, it could eliminate the need for guests to use the park's biometric controls at the front gates as they do today."
From airlines to theme parks
For now, some early Passbook adopters include American Express, Target, Walgreens, Starbucks and others. And just last week, Coupons.com began offering Passbook-integrated coupons from major retailers, including Macy's, Old Navy, Petco, Sears, Sweet Tomatoes, PetSmart and others.
Delta Airlines, American Airlines and United also are taking part, as are a handful of other airlines that fly in China, Australia and elsewhere worldwide.
"If you look at how technology has evolved over the last decade, airlines have been a big driver for consumer adoption of these types of technologies," Brown said. "In the early 2000's, airlines started driving consumers online to book their travel and print boarding passes prior to airport arrival. Theme parks soon followed suit with print-at-home ticketing, and, in many cases, it now accounts for as much 40 percent of their overall ticket revenue. Over the last year or so, we've seen airlines embrace mobile boarding passes, and again we are seeing theme parks follow suit with mobile ticketing."
For now, Cedar Fair Entertainment is the primary theme-park company to take advantage of Passbook, thanks to accesso's efforts. One of its goals in utilizing the app, Brown said, is to reduce wait times for theme park guests.
"Offering tickets to Cedar Fair parks through Passbook means their guests spend less time waiting to enter the park and more time enjoying the rides, shows and attractions," Brown said. "In the theme-park business, every minute counts — in terms of guest satisfaction, intent to return and likelihood of referring friends. Anything we can do to speed guests through the initial point of entry is a huge win for everyone."
Moving guests quickly and efficiently throughout a theme park is something Disney excels at like no other, and it's a concept the company continues to look for ways to improve. Industry insiders say the company's billion-dollar "NextGen" technology project is focused on several aspects of the guest experience, including times spent in lines.
In 2011, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs even told investors the system has the potential to "define the guest experience as beginning from the time a potential guest sits down at a computer or picks up a phone to make a reservation."
The company has not released full details about how that system might operate for mobile-technology users who want to purchase tickets to the company's parks. But Kathleen Prihoda, media relations manager for Walt Disney World Resort, said it is a concept that is on the radar for the company.
"We are exploring mobile ticket technology and are currently testing it at Disneyland Resort," Prihoda said. "We are evaluating this test and a variety of other tools as we continuously look for ways to make our guests' experience even better than it is today."
But accesso's Brown thinks it will be just a matter of time before more theme parks adopt mobile ticketing strategies to some extent.
"In today's world, the one thing people always have with them is their phone," he said. "For guests not staying on property, it would give them the ability to easily store and organize all their attraction tickets without the worry of losing their tickets and it would allow them to buy tickets at the last minute without having to stand in line at the front gate or go through the process of picking up a ticket or other device that carries their entitlements.
"Passbook and other emerging payment/entitlement technologies have the potential to streamline many transactional aspects of our lives," he said. "Just think of how easy it is on a cruise when you can use your room key everywhere on the ship to open your door, to pay for your drinks, etc.