Granby Zoo (Zoo de Granby) is a popular attraction in Quebec. Now, it offers an enhanced visitor experience and a new way to discover the zoo, having partnered with Connect&GO, a leader in RFID solutions for the leisure, sports and attractions industry. Together, they have incorporated Play&GO, a unique experiential platform, and Konnect, a virtual wallet-driven platform.
Samuel Grenier, Director of Operations, has been working at Granby Zoo for 23 years. He is responsible for all the sectors concerned with customer interaction and speaks to blooloop about how the project has changed the guest experience for the better.
“We are a nonprofit organization, with a conservation mission to protect wildlife,” he says, introducing the attraction. “That is our priority. But after that, we have the waterpark and the ride park, too. It’s a good mix because it differentiates us. When people want to visit a zoo, they tend to choose us, because of the three parks.
“It makes us unique and extends the length of visits. People don’t leave after three or four hours; they extend their day or stay for supper, because they have to go to the waterpark, and, after that, to the rides park. Our core business is families with kids between 3 and 12.”
A more integrated system
Until now, the zoo has been operating with its own ticketing system.
“It was developed for us a long time ago,” says Grenier. “Each time we wanted to improve and evolve the system or add a feature, it was complicated and required a lot of development. We wanted a more integrated system capable of facilitating operations for our staff. And we also wanted to improve our guest services.”
Of the experience of working with Connect&GO, he says:
“We worked hand-in-hand, developing the interactive experiences and activations for the zoo together. It has been a real partnership. We plan a long-term relationship with them, so we can evolve the system over time, adding new features and activities to the experience, and to assess what works well, and what doesn’t, so we can adjust our new experiences the following year.”
The system is also useful when it comes to data collection, he adds:
“We can learn a lot about our customers, and can then target marketing. We are starting to bring in that part, automating communication and continuing to connect with our customers, both with targeted marketing, but also to connect customers with our conservation mission, and to help them to form an emotional connection with the endangered animals.”
Improving the guest experience
Granby Zoo selected the Connect&GO product, Grenier says, because it offered an integrated solution that improves the POS systems and enables the creation of a new experience for visitors:
“Their partnerships with other POS companies allow us to be completely integrated throughout our other onsite activities. We also chose Connect&GO because they have expertise with RFID technologies. Especially with the festival industry.”
He lists the Zoo’s objectives for the project:
“We wanted to improve the guest experience with new interactive activities, improve our POS systems and increase revenue per customer. Plus we wanted to increase customer loyalty by using targeted marketing and improve our access control.
“We are currently using the RFID wristbands for access control, as well as cashless payments for the rides and activities that have fees, and for the pre-purchase of items. We are using POS features such as combos and discounts that are user-friendly for our employees. This is to increase sales. In addition, we are using Connect&GO’s e-commerce solution that is directly integrated with their POS and RFID wristbands.”
Interactive experiences at Granby Zoo
“In collaboration with Connect&GO, we developed a brand-new interactive experience for the zoo,” Grenier adds:
“This experience allows visitors to go on missions, collect badges and enjoy unique experiences (pictures with animal filters, a lighting experience, triggers throughout the zoo that activate sounds and music, etc.) Our guests can create souvenir photos and videos. There is also an online platform where each visitor can see their progression and download their souvenirs/memories.”
“The wristbands have been customised and themed to represent our animals. We have custom collectable animals head designs.”
Overall, he says, the collaboration with Connect&GO improves the guest experience. Plus it makes the process easier for the operator:
“Their technology allows visitors to plan and to buy our products. It increases customer engagement; it reduces waiting time and makes their visit frictionless.”
The cashless solution is especially appreciated at the waterpark section:
“Their frictionless system helps people to spend money on-site, and their integrated system gives us real-time data on many useful metrics. For instance, the number of visitors on-site and the number of memberships. Or the number of admission products purchased, the number of onsite sales.”
“The system also gives a lot more data about consumer behaviour. We know what people have bought, when and where, and what activities they experience at the zoo. This allows us to better understand our visitors. Eventually, we will be able to target customers more efficiently according to their purchasing habits.”
Connect&GO launched Play&GO in March 2021. A unique experiential platform, it enables attractions such as theme parks, zoos and more to create memorable experiences, increasing both engagement and revenue. The platform uses a smart wristband. This lets guests play games and enjoy interactive experiences, before, during and after their visit.
Operators can provide a range of customisable experiences through the platform. These are designed to let visitors explore, learn and play. Each user has a personalised portal linked to their wristband. This shows various results, points, badges and more.
Play&GO can be integrated with a range of automated video and photo capture solutions.
As well as enhancing the guest experience and generating return visits, Play&GO can also increase revenue. Experiences can either be included in the ticket price or sold as a premium extra. Guests can buy personalised videos and photos after their visit.
Konnect, Connect&GO’s virtual wallet-driven platform designed for the attractions industry, launched in May 2021. The company predicts over 5 million virtual wallets will be on its system by 2022.
When a guest purchases a ticket, the system creates a virtual wallet. This can be assigned to a wearable, RFID card or smartphone.
Due to a modular operations management system, the wallet functions as a digital passport in the attraction ecosystem. It stores data on personalisation, cashless payments, privileges and purchases.
When linked to Play&GO, Konnect also accumulates loyalty programs and guest rewards. The Konnect cloud-based ecosystem provides flexible software module options for operators, from access control to experiential activation. It has features such as capacity control, marketing automation, waivers, and retail POS available.
The start of an idea
Speaking of the project with Granby Zoo, Dominic Gagnon, president and CEO of Connect&GO, told blooloop:
“The history of our project at the Zoo dates back about 3 years when Connect&GO was primarily an event company that began to roll out in amusement parks. I was visiting the Granby Zoo with my wife and my two daughters. When they came to the lions, one of his daughters was disappointed, because they were asleep. She had been looking forward to hearing a lion roar.
“This experience sparked an idea in my head for the zoo,” he says. “I realised that using our bracelets in this context could have made this possible. A visitor could scan a bracelet to hear the sound of the lion, for example. A few weeks later, we began discussions with the Zoo.”
Granby Zoo, at this point, operated with an old system, developed and custom made for them:
“Like a majority of attractions, the different platforms weren’t integrated. They didn’t have much data on their customers,” Gagnon explains:
“Initially, they were mainly looking to replace their management system. However, we proposed a more complete approach that included a complete overhaul of the Zoo’s digital ecosystem. Plus the creation of a premium product, the Experience + bracelet, to increase visitor engagement and generate significant revenue.”
The Experience + bracelet
The bracelet project, an extra layer of experience at the zoo, has 3 fundamental principles:
“Firstly, it minimises interfaces. It uses technology to augment a physical experience, through interactive terminals,” says Gagnon. “Secondly, it facilitates logistics, managing access to the Zoo, its various areas and activities more efficiently. Meanwhile, it is also collecting valuable real-time traffic data.”
“Thirdly, it increases micro-transactions and ARPU, creating coveted items such as personalized photographs, as additional income generators. It also increases revenue, facilitating payments by pre-loading funds or the sale of packages.
“More than ever, guests are looking to connect and interact uniquely,” he says. “The challenge is to create an environment where these connections are seamless and frictionless to the visitor. Before, during and after their experience. This is what Play&GO offers.”
A complete project for a streamlined zoo experience
The Granby Zoo project is, he says, the most complete Connect&GO project:
“We have deployed all our technology platforms at the Zoo, including our Konnect virtual wallet ecosystem, our Play&GO experiential engine and our Kapture memories maker. With the deployment of our platform, the Zoo is the first to become 100% connected by RFID technology.
“Visitors have two choices. They can either buy a standard bracelet with a secure chip or buy the Experience + for the price of $ 8.99. This includes a souvenir bracelet with collectable head and access to a bunch of exclusive experiences and benefits.”
In practical terms, this means the Zoo has real-time data on all customers. Meanwhile, each visitor has a virtual wallet allowing them to add money to their bracelet, which is particularly useful at the water park or to be able to launch Kapture, the photo/video system.
“Many people have pointed out it resembles Disney’s Magic Band, as much in its aesthetic appeal as its interactivity.”
An incentive to return
Myriam Blanchette is Connect&GO’s Director of Implementation & Customer Success. She describes the Play&GO experiential element in more detail:
“Our goal at the outset was to provide an interactive experience for the guests at the zoo, and an incentive for them to return. This makes it an attraction, rather than something you only visit once in your life.”
The first step in achieving this outcome was, she says, a series of meetings:
“We had a lot of brainstorms, both internally and with the client. In each contract or business development we do, we consider the client to be a partner. For us, it’s super important. It keeps us engaged with our clients. They are the person who best understands and knows their consumers, on their side, but we are the experts in RFID and optimising experiences for repeat visitation, on the other.”
An all-in-one solution
Two Connect&GO products were used; Konnect and Play&GO.
“Konnect is an all-in-one system for ticketing,” says Blanchette. “Any commerce online, and the POS, are linked together. The link between each transaction is a virtual wallet. It’s as if every time a guest purchases online on-site we create a virtual bank account. This can store tickets, money, tokens, and points.”
“The Play&GO system is the experiential and gamification part. Our experiential website has been designed so that a kid of six years old can create an account just with their username and password. It’s very user friendly. Children don’t need to be able to read fluently to understand what to do. There is a lot of use of icons, which make it clear what to do.”
Putting conservation at the heart of the experience
The challenge was to put the zoo’s mission, the conservation of endangered species, at the heart of the experience, while also making it fun for children and families:
“The Zoo features separate continents,” says Blanchette. “Kids head out on a ‘mission’ on each continent. There are trivia true-or-false quizzes, and interactive experiences and interactions.”
The Trivia Stations are terminals that allow visitors to test their knowledge. Here, they can learn more about the animals and the Zoo’s mission. As soon as the visitor scans their bracelet, the kiosk displays a list of true-or-false questions to answer. So, the visitor can learn while accumulating points.
“We also have a scavenger hunt,” says Blanchette.
To raise awareness of the plight of endangered species, this is a unique treasure hunt. It involves seven stations hidden in the zoo’s different habitats. When the visitor discovers the station, they scan their bracelet, and lights and music confirm that they have found the animal. More information on the endangered animal is also next to the kiosk.
Completing fun missions
Those who complete the activities and fulfil their mission win a badge:
“Kids can become, for example, an African Explorer if they complete the mission in the African continent.
“We also have a range of wristbands. Each features one of six different kinds of animal heads. These take inspiration from the most popular endangered animals at the Zoo. That was the most fun part. Kids can collect the whole range as they return to the Zoo again and again. They can enter the number of their particular head into our platform, so it knows which animal they are wearing.”
It was important to make it a fun experience, but also to do so in a way that allowed the Zoo to raise money to help animals
Each head unlocks new interactions. In one of the favourite activities included in the Experience +, the Magic Mirror, the guest scans their wristband, and a Snapchat-style face-swap transforms them into their animal for a souvenir photo. This is captured in their account.
“It was important to make it a fun experience, but also to do so in a way that allowed the Zoo to raise money to help animals,” Blanchette says.
“We have a photo opportunity at the gorilla enclosure that is a Jeep, with cameras installed inside. The front half is outside the enclosure, and the back half is inside. You can sit in the front of the jeep with your kids. Often, if you’re lucky, a gorilla will come and sit in the back of the jeep, which is separated by a clear screen. This triggers a unique souvenir photo that they can then buy online.”
More zoo experiences
Further interactive experiences at the zoo include the Temple Black Light Experience, where, when visitors enter the temple, they discover a surprise kiosk. This reveals prehistoric designs on the walls of the temple. Once the bracelet is scanned, the lights dim, revealing the drawings.
Meanwhile, the Funniest Toilet reveals mystery feet under the door of a ‘toilet’. This uses sound effects to make children laugh.
There is also the Piranha Slide Video Souvenir, a photo opportunity in the Piranha slide. This is the most intense attraction at AmaZoo, the Granby Zoo’s water park. As the visitor scans their bracelet at the entrance to the slide, this triggers the many cameras. With the Experience + bracelet, the video is free.
At any point during their visit, guests can go to base camp to scan their bracelets and display their profiles. This includes their accumulated badges, completed missions, souvenir photos and more. The platform is also accessible on their mobile device. Or, when they return home, on their computer.
Creating a virtual wallet
Marc-André Dubé is Head of Product at Connect&GO. He outlines the Konnect system, its development, and its application in enacing the guest experience at Granby Zoo.
“The way that we build our systems is to create the virtual wallet as a container for the client that is linked to the RFID wristband,” he says:
“You can regard the wallet as a bank account, and the RFID as the card to that bank account. You can lose that RFID and have it replaced, but whatever is in your account remains untouched, and you can count on what it contains, which is your ticketing, your mission progress, all the cashless transactions, and any amount that you add to your account, and which you can read at any POS on-site.
“Our Konnect system is ticketing and POS. We also do integration with F&B partners, so cashless is available for those as well.”
Going forward, he adds:
“What we’re planning in a future curation is that the virtual wallet could become very much like the Google or Apple wallet. You wouldn’t necessarily have to use a wristband, but, instead, would be able to use your phone as that wallet. One beauty of the wallet is that, unlike the Zoo’s previous system, it can track guests’ behaviour on site.”
Gamifying the zoo experience
Besides the Konnect system, the Zoo has the Play&GO gamification system:
“The zoo has installed stations for the scavenger hunt and trivia games around the park, which people go and scan. So we get more data analytics regarding the behaviour of the customer.”
This means recommendations can be made to the guest about where to go next, or in which direction, for example. Therefore the flow of people around the site can be optimised. “These data sets are not available with a regular ticketing system,” Dubé says.
“We’re partnering up with a CRM called ActiveCampaign. This pushes every bit of data, from sales up to customer behaviour, to that CRM. From that CRM, our clients can trigger what they want, when it comes to upselling. From a sales perspective, for example, every time that someone buys tickets to the waterpark, they can be sent a reminder to buy a locker, and the information that paying for their locker online is cheaper.
“A link can also be sent to the photos and video footage collected by the cameras that are all over the place. So customers have the chance to buy the memories of their day.
“There is always an upsell to bring in more revenues for our clients.”
A solid partnership
There weren’t any real challenges to overcome in integrating the system at Granby Zoo:
“It’s a new system, we’ve been working on it for the past 20, almost 22 months now, so we’ve really built it out,” says Dubé. I developed other systems before joining Connect&GO in 2019. Matt Dupuis [Mathieu Dupuis, VP Products & Technologies at Connect&GO] built his own ticketing system in an earlier life.
“I understand what operators lack with ticketing systems. And he was the guy who was able to create the ticketing part of it. We kind of bolted the brain behind that system to the operator needs. I would say we’re a good pair together.”