IoT Driving Entertainment Experiences at Theme Parks, Malls

RFID Journal

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Feb 17, 2019

By Claire Swedberg

ITEC Entertainment is providing personalized experiences, guest flow data and equipment maintenance, all with data collected from IoT-based sensors.

Theme park and entertainment management has traditionally been accomplished onsite, with a focus on tracking wait times for rides, as well as congestion, anecdotally. Today’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology, however, enables theme parks and event managers to capture much more data than ever before regarding the movements and behaviors of visitors, and to thereby provide both real-time and long-term strategic improvements. In so doing, they are offering ticket holders better experiences than those of the past, including shorter lines and access to more of the activities and services that they want.

Technology company ITEC Entertainment is offering IoT solutions as part of its creative designs and the technology that supports those projects, says Marc Plogstedt, ITEC’s chief technology officer. ITEC provides creative and technical designs for entertainment experiences in new and existing parks, and also offers production-management services during a project’s construction.

ITEC Entertainment’s Marc Plogstedt

ITEC also offers sustaining support services after a project has been taken live. The global company has spent three decades providing management software for theme parks, water parks, science centers and museums. It also provides the technology (or partners with technology vendors) to automatically collect and feed data to their control systems, which has increasingly involved IoT-based sensors.

The IoT technology can include RFID-enabled wristbands for guests or Bluetooth beacons that communicate with mobile phones to identify where individuals are located, and thus what they might be doing, at any given time. With individuals uniquely identified, the IoT system can monitor, for instance, who is waiting in line for a popular ride. It knows that person’s interests, so that he or she could be provided with individualized entertainment while waiting.

The IoT does more than merely identify guests, however—it can also track park assets and provide maintenance, as well as data for analytics. Which specific technology is used, and how, depends on the “story” the company helps its customers to create. The firm’s approach, according to Paitoon Ratanasirintrawoot, ITEC’s senior creative director and producer, is one of creative, customized solutions, in which technology is brought in only to solve a specific need.

Although each park is unique, Plogstedt says, one universal challenge is to meet guests’ rising expectations. For instance, theme park guests are less likely to spend hours standing in line without any distractions than previous generations were. “It’s now ubiquitous that people want something like a FastPass,” he states, referring to a virtual queuing system created by Walt Disney Co. “With IoT, much more can be done, so their experience isn’t one of standing in line or being disappointed.”

ITEC’s Paitoon Ratanasirintrawoot

The IoT offers a variety of ways to address the shortening attention span of today’s public. “People want to be more engaged, more entertained, faster,” Plogstedt says, so if queues are necessary, the IoT data can help a business to understand when a line is forming and who is in the queue, and to provide experiences to those in the queue. “In that way, the experience is tailored to them.”

For instance, if the system knows who is standing in line, based on transmissions from badges or wristbands, the software can begin to employ personalization data. The software potentially knows not only what each individual’s interests or demographics are—provided that he or she supplied that information upon signing up— but also what parts of a park that person has already visited, enabling the park to better meet their needs.

If the system is using video or other digitally delivered content, it can display entertainment most likely to interest the individuals standing near a screen, so as to hold their interest or build excitement while they wait in line. Increasingly, IoT solutions are enabling entertainment features at places that weren’t known for this in the past—at malls, for instance. “People started figuring out that entertainment is the glue that drives a lot of development projects,” Ratanasirintrawoot states.

That can also mean collecting historic data to better understand the needs of the public. Each project requires a manager to understand how people move through spaces, as well as how they are engaged as they do so. The IoT can accomplish this by identifying individuals based on their smartphones or wristbands, providing information regarding activities and traffic flow for managers, and also offering coupons or relevant content to an individual’s mobile phone.

For theme parks or other venues, Ratanasirintrawoot says, at the launching of each project, “We start looking at how guests flow through the parks, from a creative standpoint.” The system cannot require a lot of input from visitors, he notes, such as pressing buttons. “We try to design for guests without them knowing they are being managed.”

Wi-Fi is another enabler for systems, as it can be used to provide information to guests about nearby attractions. What’s more, it can alert them to their next scheduled event or ride.

Entertainment has moved far beyond just parks. ITEC has worked with some of the largest Asian developers, Ratanasirintrawoot says, at which IoT technology is being used to track the movements of individuals for the purpose of health benefits. In this scenario, the IoT technology collects data indicating where participating individuals are within a space, as well as where they go and how fast they move, then provides rewards based on their physical activities. “The developers wanted to get visitors to walk more, shop more and eat more while they are on site,” he adds. So with the system in place, visitors can receive product discounts on their phones if they walk a predetermined distance.

Aboard cruise ships, Ratanasirintrawoot says, the technology is being deployed as a way to enhance the experience of travelers. If individuals wear RFID wristbands, they can use those devices in conjunction with an app on their mobile phones, in order to view scheduled events, track where their children are, and make payments or reservations.

The company has worked with a wide variety of IoT-based technologies. It’s not so much about what kind of hardware is being used, Plogstedt says, but rather the data collected. “It all comes back to getting information that can help an operator make better decisions,” he explains. During development, the technology can provide information that will help with decision making regarding queue space for a ride, for instance. “We don’t shove cool technology into an attraction,” Plogstedt says. “We design a cool experience, and that’s our guide map for what kind of technology we use to make that happen.”

In some cases, IoT technologies are helping to ensure that parks are running properly. Some of ITEC’s customers are utilizing the technologies to track the maintenance of park rides and fixtures, for instance, as well as how often and for how long rides are in use, and to predict the need for future maintenance.

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