Jegar Pitchforth is a statistician, data scientist and blogger with a background in complex systems analysis.
In this opinion piece, Pitchforth takes a tour of potential blockchain applications in the theme park industry, presenting five ways the summer entertainment staple could improve its services and customer experience with the tech.
The theme park world has been known to embrace all forms of new technology, from virtual reality in rides to recommendation systems on mobile apps and the touchless payment technology that now pervades all major theme parks globally.
But while the methods of delivering the theme park experience are as advanced as they come in any industry, the systems behind all of it are sorely lacking. The experience of booking tickets and organizing the visit is often a lot more stressful than it needs to be, and anything that minimizes this process is likely to be well received.
Meanwhile, the digital world is undergoing a change in the way it stores information and makes financial transactions. A technology known broadly as 'blockchain' is gaining more and more attention amongst development circles, and it promises a new way of interacting with data altogether free of server costs or security issues.
You’ve probably heard of the first major application of the blockchain known as bitcoin – an entirely digital currency given value by those who use it.
But for all the hype you've heard about bitcoin, this is only the very pointy tip of a continent-sized iceberg. The next iteration of cryptocurrency is called ethereum, and its applications to the theme park world are far ranging.
Ticketing is probably the most obvious application of the blockchain to the operations of theme parks. There are already a range of interesting ethereum-based 'dapps' that promise ticketing services for music festivals and concerts at a fraction of the price.
Because the blockchain only ever allows one copy of a digital property (such as a ticket to a theme park), users can have a password-protected wallet on their phone that contains the digital tickets signed by the park which are scanned at the gate, at which time the payment transfer is finalized between the guest’s wallet and the theme park's.
No ID, no paper tickets, just a secure decentralized system approved by consensus.
What's more, these digital tickets don't have to be bought all at once or even by the same person. A guest who knows they want to go to the park a year out can make a promise to buy a ticket, which they can then pay off at their will over the remaining time they have. The blockchain can easily store the payment history of the guest without any specific human approval or oversight.
Now that your tickets are digital assets that you don't need to keep an eye on, you can pretty much allow people to do whatever they want with them.
Ethereum has the ability to run 'smart contracts' (executable code with instructions to carry out actions based on specific triggers), so any time someone sells on your park's tickets at a profit you can get a cut. Say you take 50% of any resales as part of the contract when you sell the ticket. On popular days that ticket might go through any number of hands, and you are making money each time without any effort, while also allowing others to make money from their good predictions.
2. Fastpass tracking and swaps
Similar to theme park ticketing, fastpass tickets for ride queues like this one at Universal, or the equivalent at Walt Disney World can be entirely controlled through smart contracts, giving them much more flexibility than the current systems.
The current system has a whole range of books and forums dedicated to how to game it, with people spending hours trying to get the best ride times and cover the rest of their favorite rides through careful planning. It surely doesn't need to be so stressful.
What if everything switched over to a bidding system with every guest given equal opportunity to start with?
You could provide guests with some tokens to spend on fastpasses when they buy a ticket, then use a demand-based system for the token cost of each ride in the park. The hardcore fans can spend all their tokens on the newest ride at the most popular times, while the kids can spend theirs on riding the Jungle Cruise for the five-millionth time.
Now that you've established a within-park market for ride times, there's nothing stopping you from selling additional tokens to guests buying premium packages, or to their relatives wishing them a good holiday.
The cool thing about this is that you get a lot more information about which rides people really wanted to go on, because you can track the 'price' and watch them trading with each other. This would let you start improving your recommendations to them, giving them indications of rides they might like and good times to ride them that suit their intended schedule.
3. Create a theme park currency
You can probably see where all this is heading: a theme park currency that can be used at any of the park owner’s subsidiary and affiliate businesses.
A majority of people that visit premium parks now download the app before they go so they can organize their day and use the map. It's not a great step for that app to become a digital wallet that visitors can use in your parks, stores and even online platforms. What makes this a digital currency rather than the old-school version of 'park dollars' is that these could be exchanged back into local currency anywhere someone wants to set up an exchange.
On its own, the prospect of having a future corporate currency that could be more stable than many local governments is interesting, but the immediate benefits are still compelling. Once you transfer your ticketing, fastpasses, merchandising and digital distribution payments through one channel that doesn't require a bank, your accounting suddenly becomes a lot simpler.
The concept is especially exciting for larger brands who may not have a park, but do have a store in a particular country.
The park currency can be used in all these stores without having to make special banking or business arrangements, allowing for much faster expansion into new markets. With incredibly low transfer costs between countries, theme parks that embrace blockchain would be able to capitalize on the post-visit experience much more effectively.
4. Audience surveys with meaning
One of the most popular early uses of the ethereum cryptocurrency was as a voting system. Rather than a 'one person one vote' approach, The DAO (the earliest manifestation of an ethereum organisation) used a share-based system where those with more coins had more vote.
While this may not be exactly what you want for your theme park, having a good knowledge of what the highest spenders in your park are looking for is a useful thing.
On top of that, you might also see a groundswell of grassroots support from lower-spending guests (like Universal saw with the opening of Harry Potter worlds in Florida), which would give you an indication that you need to build a ride with high throughput that doesn’t need a lot of stores nearby.
Whatever the outcome, an audience survey with the answers weighted by how much they have invested in your company is a lot more useful than standing around on corners asking people how they feel about things.
5. Turn everyone into an ambassador
Once you have your audience used to using your park's currency, and it's gained some value, there's more and more benefit to offering what are essentially cash rewards for advertising and information about your park.
This could be as basic as forwarding coins to a wallet linked to a Twitter account that posts lost of highly retweeted content, or as sophisticated as real-time rewards for advice about park waiting times, incident reports and events. There are already dozens of forums online vying to be the expert of one park or another, why not bring it all into your own app ecology and reward your guests for their effort?
You could create 'flashmobs' in the park with your most loyal fans by incentivizing them with tokens, as could any guest with enough tokens and approval from the park's digital protocols. There is no end to the ways people could build secondary and tertiary businesses around your brand, and with the right protocols you wouldn’t need to spend a cent on protecting it.
There's a massive range of ways which theme parks can use blockchain technology, and it’s exciting to imagine what the future might hold.
What other ways could theme parks use blockchain technology? Or should they be looking at this at all? Let us know in the comments below.
This article originally appeared on the author's blog, and has been republished here with his permission.
Theme park ride image via Shutterstock
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, CoinDesk.