Turning security into useful management tools at amusement parks

Turning security into useful management tools at amusement parks

Amusement park operators are constantly working to find better, easier, and more efficient ways to manage their premises. To that end, operators can be aided by a variety of security technologies, such as video surveillance, access control, RFID, and biometrics to crack down on ticket fraud, control crowds, and enhance the customer experience. The ultimate goal is to bring more visitors and generate higher revenue streams.

From Magic Kingdom to Lotte World, Disneyland to Six Flags Great Adventure, theme parks are a huge global business frequented by throngs of adults and children every year. According to market research firm IBISWorld, theme parks in the U.S. have seen a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent over the five years up to 2014, in which total revenue was estimated at US$15.4 billion. Meanwhile, there were 215 million visits to the world's top 25 amusement parks last year, up 4.3 percent from 2012, according to the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM's global attractions attendance report.

With so many people visiting parks each day, operators are faced with the need to make day-to-day operators more manageable, efficient, and cost-effective. Issues facing operators, such as ticket fraud, crowd control, and customer experience improvement can now be addressed through ever-advanced technologies such as video surveillance, access control, video analytics, biometrics, and RFID. While these products are traditionally for security purposes, they can also help operations achieve better management, which ultimately leads to increased visitations and revenue.

Clamping Down on Ticket Fraud
A horrific problem that theme park operators constantly need to deal with is ticket fraud, which can cause serious damage to their revenue and earnings. Fraud may be in the form of people paying counterfeit currency, charging stolen credit cards, writing fake checks, or using false identity. “Some visitors try to pass their annual tickets on to friends and relatives, even when they know that it's forbidden,” said Roland Feil, Director of Sales at Dallmeier Electronic.

To counter this problem, operators use video surveillance to monitor every move between the ticket booth employee and customers. “Ideally cameras are placed nearby the location where theft or fraud is to be expected. Access to the camera footage can be managed via the video management system, which offers various authorization levels in order to avoid that people without proper clearance can access camera footage,” said Pieter van den Looveren, Manager of Marketing Communication for Video Systems at Bosch Security Systems, adding that video surveillance can also be linked to the operator's point-of-sale (POS) system to make sure that each transaction is backed by evidence and accounted for.

Access control technologies, such as RFID and biometric authentication, can also help crack down on ticket fraud. RFID, which entails the communication between a reader and a tag, can limit critical areas, such as ticket booths, to employees only. “If even more security is required, multi-technology RFID cards can be used,” said Scott Lindley, President of Farpointe Data. “For example, these cards can have text, bar codes, and images printed on them. They can have various mag stripes applied and encoded. They can have microprocessor- based contact smart chips embedded. They can have holograms adhered. And they can have various RFID technologies embedded, such as EPC2, Mifare, and proximity.” Biometrics, which authenticates ticketholders via a part of their body, be it fingerprints or the eye, has been implemented at an increasing number of amusement parks. “Efficient and reliable biometric authentication provides amusement park operators with a way of ensuring that ticket holders are legitimate,” said Sujan T.V. Parthasaradhi, Director of Biometric Applications at Lumidigm.

Video content analysis (VCA), or video analytics, can also play a part. While it may not act as a deterrent to ticket fraud, technologies such as people counting can help make sure there is a match between the number of people entering the park and the number of tickets sold. “What we can provide is technology that can detect how many people have passed through a given area,” said Albert Yang, President of Huper Laboratories. “If the operator sold three tickets, and there were three people passing by, then there is a match.”

Crowd Control
Crowd control is a top safety concern for theme park operators and is often stipulated by law. Security technologies can “ensure that no more than the maximum number of visitors, as is prescribed by the safety codes of both the police and fire department, are on the park's grounds at any point in time. If the quantitative threshold should be reached, an automatic action can be carried out,” Feil said.

This is when operators can rely on video analytics tools, in particular people counting, for detection and response. “Cameras with intelligent video analysis can be used to count people or gather crowd density information. Based on certain thresholds set, the operator will be alarmed immediately as soon as these levels are exceeded,” said Looveren. People counting software often includes queue management capabilities to alert operators when lines are getting long. “Our queue management software can analyze how many people are in a queue. Once the figure exceeds a certain amount, an alarm will be generated. We can also provide the average time someone is being served. This is useful for management,” said Yang, adding that people counting can be used for other management purposes. “It can be integrated with other building control devices to achieve better energy conservation. If the number of visitors drops from a certain level, then lights can be dimmed or air conditioning can be adjusted automatically,” he said. The whole concept is about efficiency, since operators can take immediate actions once the number of people reaches a maximum threshold. “Additional waiting areas can be opened, or, where the wait time is excessive, actions can be taken to increase ride capacities, decrease ride duration, or notify guests so they may choose a different ride or venue,” said Larry Bowe, President of PureTech Systems.

However, for any people counting application to be meaningful, it must be accurate. For a venue with 2,000 people, for example, accuracy rates of 90 percent and 99 percent translate into miscalculations of 200 people versus 20. “If you have 98 percent accuracy rate or even close to 100 percent, that means, you can detect almost everyone passing by. Only if you are accurate, user can perceive more value of your application,” Yang said.

Accuracy has always been an issue for VCA deployed in an outside environment like theme parks, since there are much more details to analyze. But, latest developments in the technology, for example 3D stereo imaging, have enhanced VCA's analytical capabilities and made outside implementation less of a problem. “More information provided by 3D stereo camera will let VCA make better judgment,” Yang said. “Take a tree, for example. VCA of 3D stereo video can easily distinguish between the tree and its shadow through the height information, while 2D video cannot provide the height information. This makes shadows a common problem for 2D VCA.”

Better managed, Better experience
Security aside, management has become a top priority for amusement park operators. Luckily, with ever more sophisticated security technologies, operators can run their businesses with optimal efficiency and give more satisfaction to visitors as they take rides, shop in stores, and grab a bite at concession stands. With theme parks already a multibillion-dollar industry, better management will sure contribute to higher growth in the years to come.

A Frictionless Experience With RFID
Making customers satisfied with their trip is always a top concern for operators, who try to make the park visiting experience as frictionless as possible. With RFID, this goal can be achieved. A tram or bus taking visitors to the park, for example, can be facilitated with long-range RFID, which can detect the bus approaching meters away and open the gate accordingly, thus reducing wait time.

The technology is especially useful at water parks where paper tickets can easily get wet, wrinkled, or lost. “The RFID credential can be in the form of a wristband, heightening convenience and assuring that it won't be lost. These can be made so that they are inoperable when removed,” said Scott Lindley, President of Farpointe Data.

Another benefit of using RFID is that it allows faster and smoother point of sale at restaurants, concession stands, and others. “The cashless POS is the leading application. Cashless POS is more convenient, which increases spending and decreases transaction time. Making purchases faster and reducing queues adds to customer satisfaction,” Lindley said.

Business Enablement With Security Solutions
Security technologies can offer valuable data such as customer behavior and their spending habits. With increased business intelligence, operators can strive to enhance the customer experience, in the process attracting more visitors and raking in higher revenue.

“Intelligent video analysis systems offer information about the influx of visitors and the behavior of the guests. What rides or shows are most liked? Which of the attractions are used less and thus have to be signposted more clearly or should be increasingly promoted? What are the peak times in terms of the number of visitors?” commented Roland Feil, Director of Sales at Dallmeier electronic. “Given that the park's management is furnished with sufficient information, it can use them for making decisions, for example for human resource planning or creating special incentives or announcements that will help distributing visitors more evenly across the various attractions.”

“This can be a real revenue enabler,” said Albert Yang, President of Huper Laboratories. “Shops, for example, can put hot-selling items on the shelf and take down those that are less popular. They can even sell the information of customer's behavior to the original supplier.”

Using smart cards and tokens for access to parks can also help operators track the visiting and spending habits of the people using them. Some theme parks, for example Disney World, has already issued tokens that not only permit access to the park but also allow guests to access their on-site accommodation and enjoy privileges for rides and payment at concessions or restaurants. “This offers operators a highly detailed account of the preferences and movements that guests make, allowing for targeted marketing and offers to be presented that are bespoke to the customer,” said John Davies, MD at TDSi. “It also provides valuable information on the times of entry, when guests use certain rides and attractions and when transportation is most needed to and from the park.”

Tips on Implementation
When implementing a theme park project, a rule of thumb is to remember that the park visiting experience must be as smooth as possible. “The overriding goal is to create a positive environment for paying customers, and there can't be even the illusion of a barrier between a customer and the park,” said Sujan T.V. Parthasaradhi, Director of Biometric Applications at Lumidigm.

“Working within a theme park environment is challenging and requires a balance between providing effective security solutions within a public domain,” said Pedro De Jesus, Channel Manager for Security at Gallagher. “Visitors do not want to feel like they are been watched, monitored, or have entered a high security environment. They simply want to have a fun day out with their families. It is essential that security devices blend into the environment, offering a high level of security and safety for all without been intimidating.”

The central management software should integrate with various subsystems, especially video surveillance, to offer situational awareness and quick verification. “A real-time flow of information between the two platforms, including a graphical representation via a site map GUI, allows security staff to make immediate, informed security responses and to document according to the correct records process,” De Jesus said.

“The combining of multiple security technologies, even across different manufacturers, is commonplace and results in a collaborative, highly effective, and automated solution,” said Larry Bowe, President of PureTech Systems. “These integrations automatically manage much of the sensor control that was previously done by security personnel, allowing these resources to focus on the proper steps to respond to the incident.

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