Theme Parks

Pay and Go
Dorney Park in Allentown, Pa.

By Dawn Klingensmith

Anyone who has accompanied kids in a theme park has experienced that moment when the laughter gives way to whining and perhaps even hysterics due to an empty belly or parched palate. With all the excitement, kids don't want to pause to eat and drink, and they tend not to notice—or at least not report—the first signs of hunger and thirst. "They have so much fun they sort of forget," said Michael Fehnel, vice president and general manager of Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom near Allentown, Pa.

But then their physical discomfort becomes undeniable and their behavior unbearable. They need food, and they need it now. This usually occurs "when you're in the deepest, darkest trenches of the waterpark and your wallet is all the way across the park in a locker," Fehnel said.

This is just one problem Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom sought to address by installing a PDC Smart Band RFID Wristband and Kiosk System last summer as part of a program called FastPay, enabling guests to load funds onto wristbands to make instant, cashless purchases at any of the 210 point-of-sale terminals throughout both parks. Guests can walk up to any kiosk and use a touchscreen interface provided by EuroTouch to load money onto a wristband or check their FastPay account balance, and enjoy the rest of the day wallet-free.

Customized printing options enable Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom to include the FastPay logo and promote its company on the wristband to boost brand awareness.

Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, the Sandusky, Ohio, corporation that owns Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom along with several other waterparks and amusement parks, sees this installation as a test of the digital payment option that may lead to a company-wide rollout. "They wanted to test the technology and see how guests identify with it," Fehnel said.

Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom was a good pick for the partnership because of its existing point-of-sale system. "We had the basic infrastructure already. It may sound like something that should be a given, but not all parks have a good POS network," Fehnel said.

Industry-wide, more and more parks are implementing wallet-less payment options. "It's great for children who need something immediately," Fehnel said.

It's also convenient for park users in general. "If you're running from slide to slide and don't have cash or a credit card in your pocket, you don't have to trek back to the lockers," he said. "You can utilize your time in the park doing what you came here to do—have fun accessing all the amenities."

Parents of teenagers also appreciate the convenience of secure cashless purchasing. Teens and parents tend to split up at waterparks and amusement parks. Their stamina levels and thrill-seeking tendencies aren't the same. "The parents may want to see a show while the teens run from one ride to another," Fehnel said.

Parents can establish a preset spending limit and preload the card so teens can independently make purchases without overspending.

Of course, the park hopes that the wristbands make it fun and easy for teens and families to spend a little more than they otherwise might.

Besides facilitating impulse buys, the park benefits in other ways as well. From an operations standpoint, "It definitely improves the speed of transactions," Fehnel said. "It's faster than dealing with cash and counting out change."

The success of the pilot program bodes well for a corporate rollout to other parks.

"I can't really get into metrics, but we know it's been a successful program," said Fehnel, adding that PDC was "impressed with adoption rates."

Success came as a result of a marketing push "to change the behavior of the guest," he added.

To do so, guests needed to understand how FastPay would improve their experience in the park as well as basics like how the wristbands work.

Messaging targeted season pass holders to "train them first" as the likeliest adopters, Fehnel said. Messaging to pass holders and to the general public was kept simple and consistent. The key message, after a good deal of brainstorming, was the value statement, "Quick and easy way to pay." Staff underwent training to reinforce this key value statement and answer any questions guests have about the program.

"This was not just a marketing department effort. Every department had a hand in implementing the program," said park communications manager Carrie Basta.

The park offers three types of wristbands featuring custom FastPay branding, including silicone, thermal and plastic for both seasonal and single-day passes. On top of targeted messaging, pass holders received a 10 percent bonus added to their initial prepayment as an incentive to try out the wristband, which likely encouraged people to shell out more money upfront. Leftover balances are not a problem with the reusable wristbands because they never expire and there's no monthly fee for carrying a balance. And the silicone wristbands have been designed and thoroughly tested to withstand the rigors of regular waterpark use plus additional abuses like going through the washing machine and clothes dryer.

Dorney Park, a combination amusement park and waterpark, dates back to 1884 when it first opened as a summer resort. Cedar Parks acquired it in 1992. Dorney Park is one of the largest amusement parks in the Northeastern United States, serving a total market area of about 35 million people. For the 2014 season, the park will unveil the Snake Pit, consisting of six waterslides and bringing the park's total to 26.

The park offers plenty of concessions and retail to capitalize on wristband use, including the usual refreshment stands and souvenir shops along with specialty retail and restaurants where guests can buy custom and airbrushed apparel, licensed Peanuts merchandise, pop culture collectibles, sushi and beer.

Looking forward, park management hopes to expand the wristband's capabilities to include ticketing so season pass holders don't need to bring a card.

Already, the program has brought "a lot of benefits to the park," Fehnel said, "but most of the benefits are guest-focused."

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