Are radio frequency identification tags good just for cutting costs in the supply chain? Not hardly. Theme park operators think they can boost sales. A series of pilots are set to begin at regional and national theme parks.  For example, Six Flags plans to give patrons wristbands with chips that emit radio waves. The wristbands can be loaded up with the digital equivalent of cash. Instead of digging through wet dollar bills, park visitors swipe their wristband past a reader and have an amount deducted from their stash.

This summer will mark the first time RFID pilots are widely deployed in theme parks, one of the sectors on the frontier of using radio-wave tagging for consumer applications. Analysts expect RFID to be commonplace within the next three years.

“The wristbands make it convenient to buy things,” says Debbie Nauser, vice president of public relations for Six Flags. “It’s a guest satisfaction thing.”

Many of this summer’s theme park pilots will be similar to what Six Flags is planning, say industry experts. The goal is to make it easier to pay for food, beverages and souvenirs—an issue at theme parks where children may be separated from their parents’ wallets and cash can be difficult to handle if it’s wet from a water slide.

Aside from the payment benefits, theme park managers will have a better idea where people go once in the park. Theme park officials will know where a person buys popcorn, gets on a ride and how long it takes to get across the facility to grab dinner. Some pilots also plan to include demographic data to determine if a patron is of age to order an alcoholic beverage.

The data provided by tagging could help park managers understand the behavior of customers. Often, visitors enter a theme park, get overwhelmed by rides and other attractions, and wander aimlessly or not at all—and sometimes don’t buy anything.

Ultimately, parks could provide personal itineraries and use the same yield management techniques as the airlines to populate rides and target demographic groups such as boys 10 to 16 years old, says Manning. The best park managers will use this data to document customer behavior such as how customers enter a park and what they do once inside.

Baseline May 4, 2004