Each Christmas season, London’s Hyde Park offers one of the most well-attended festivals in the world. With attractions from across Europe that include rides, live shows and a market, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland has attracted 14 million visitors since opening in 2007. There’s no cost to visit, but there are many attractions at which visitors can spend money. When it comes to charging for specific attractions like rides, the program has traditionally relied on paper tokens, meaning visitors queue up to buy tokens, then line up again for the actual ride.
This year, visitors will be able to employ a reusable Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled season pass to pay for any of 70 different rides. With the NFC card, they can purchase seasonal access to rides, wait in fewer queues by eliminating the need for tokens, and purchase gift cards, or buy passes for family members, to make ride access more convenient. The solution, first deployed on a smaller scale in 2018, is provided by the program organizer, IMG, using RFID technology and software from Montreal-based Connect&Go.
Each year, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland receives approximately 3.7 million visitors. It includes an ice rink, food and beverages from 600 vendors, ice sculpting workshops, a Paddington On Ice performance, and a circus megadome, as well as rides ranging from a Ferris wheel to multiple roller coasters. Traditionally, visitors purchased paper tokens that could be used on the rides, which they presented to the ride operators, who could then charge IMG according to the number of riders. The paper tokens will still be available to those who want to buy them onsite via cash or credit card, but visitors will now have another option in the Ride Pass.
The technology deployment launched last year as the Coaster Pass, a card that could only be used on the nine roller coasters, according to Richard Guest-Gornall, IMG’s VP of arts and entertainment events. The technology consisted of credit-card-sized cards provided by Connect&Go, with built-in 13.56 MHz NFC tags compliant with the ISO 14443 standard. Operators at the rides used Connect&Go’s Caterpillar Android-based RIFD reader to capture tag ID numbers, says Anthony Palermo, a co-founder of Connect&Go.
The technology seemed to be well-received, Guest-Gornall says. “The main criticism,” he recalls, “was that it was only used on nine rides and they wanted it to be available on all the rides.” So this year, the system is being used similarly to how the Coaster Card worked, but the new card will work with all 70 rides.
A potential visitor first must access the Winter Wonderland website and select an option to purchase a Season Ride Pass. That person then provides his or her name and credit card account information. The purchase information is forwarded to Connect&Go’s software, the amount is deducted from the account, and the purchase data is stored. If a visitor spends £80 ($104) or more, he or she can receive a £5 ($6.48) bonus. Upon arriving onsite, the visitor provides his or her ID to receive a card. A blank NFC card is then issued for each pass-holder. A park employee links the ticket’s NFC ID number with the individual’s account, then hands the card to the guest, who can use it throughout the season.
The ride operators represent dozens of ride companies, but every participating operator will be provided with a handheld reader to scan season passes. As each visitor arrives at the ride gate, he or she will present a card, and the operator will use the handheld device to read it. The card reader will access the onboard Connect&Go application, then display approval indicating the rider has sufficient funds for the ride (typically about £5). The operator will then allow the individual to enter the ride, while the cost of the ride will be deducted from that person’s card. The handheld also uses a network connection, via Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity, to report transactions back to the cloud-based software, as well as to access recent deposits to the visitor’s card.
In addition to providing the payment method, the Connect&Go software measures more than a dozen metrics that it can provide to IMG for operational benefits, Palermo explains. These include an overview of rider behavior, when bonus amounts are used, the specific rides on which this occurs and other features.
Approximately 20 top-up stations are available at some of the ticketing booths, where individuals can use their credit card to add additional money to their Ride Pass account. That same top-up process can also be accomplished on the user’s mobile phone, Palermo notes, sparing them a potential queue at the ticketing station.
The solution provides multiple benefits for visitors, Guest-Gornall says. For one thing, they can purchase gift cards for others as a Christmas gift for friends or family members, or as a corporate gift. “It’s a nice thing to be able to give to your team, saying ‘Here’s a Ride Pass,'” he states, without requiring the purchase of paper tokens. What’s more, the card can provide a tool for budgeting; a family can purchase cards for children, with each child’s spending limit loaded onto his or her card. It can also encourage people to return to the site multiple times, since the pass can be used and reused throughout the season.
In the future, other features could include a free hot chocolate or other beverage for season pass-holders, which visitors would redeem by presenting the card to a vendor. Operational metrics provided by the system could track customer behavior, Palermo adds, as well as help operators view and understand their ridership and bill guests accordingly.
For Connect&Go, the phased approach of this deployment, from the 2018 season to this year’s larger rollout, has been the unique feature. “Clearly, the scale-up is what is a rewarding challenge,” Palermo says. “We started out last year with just trying the system out. There’s clearly a technological scale-up, [and] the operators can see the value. ”
“We have a longer-term vision in which we could start putting other features on the pass” for non-ride activities, Guest-Gornall says. “We’re a long way from where it’s valid in every single outlet.” With hundreds of independent vendors on site for food and beverages alone, the deployment by each vendor would be ambitious, requiring a new point-of-sale solution alongside existing payment systems. Initially, he states, “We want to keep it simple.”