Skip to main content
In depth

Omniticket’s John Davies: Ticketing Systems – History and Future


Earlier in the Autumn, Omniticket’s Director of UK Operations John Davies (left) delivered a presentation at IAAPA's Euro Attractions Show (EAS) in Berlin. He looked at  how far ticketing systems have advanced from their very humble john davies ticketing omniticket theme parksbeginnings (an old cigar box used to collect money at the front gate of an attraction) to today’s multi functioning, ticketing, access control and security systems.

Related: Attraction Ticketing and Access Systems: An Overview

Here is a summary of this session.cigar box ticketing theme parks john davies omniticket

Cash in a Box

In the beginning the ticket was effectively a receipt for payment to the attraction. Before the advent of electronic cash registers tickets were pre-printed and manually issued to guests.

It proved that the guest had paid and allowed only a very limited amount of cash and fraud control.

However the attraction operator had no real idea how many guests were inside the attraction, or how much ticket money “disappeared” from the cigar boxes.

Whilst ickets could be collected, punched, or have a perforated stub torn off to invalidate them, there was always the risk of fraud by dishonest employees or guests.

This lack of real infocash register ticketing theme parks john daviesrmation meant that management could not be pro-active with resources in the attraction – in terms of staffing levels for rides or other secondary spend outlets.

Cash Registers Arrive

When the electronic cash register arrived, a semi real-time visitor count could be established periodically throughout the day by combining readings from each cash register.
old disney ticket joh davies omniticket theme park ticketing
In the meantime, Marketing departments were working on ways to maximise admissions by pre-selling tickets through various distribution channels..

However this normally meant having pre-printed vouchers or tickets. With vouchers, the guest had to queue up at the ticket window to exchange their voucher for a ticket.  With pre-printed tickets, the guest had to have their ticket manually checked and voided – and somehow their visit had to be counted – for example manually counting ticket stubs.

This was very labour intensive, open to fraud (by counterfeiting for example) and it meant that manual records of distribution channels/quantities had to be kept.

Tickets at Point of Sale

The next advancement was when bar-code scanning technology was combined with high speed thermal printing technologies and networked computer systems.  This allowed the on-demand production of tickets at the point of sale – and these tickets could be produced with bar-codes which could be scanned at turnstiles or hand-scanners to validate the ticket and record it’s usage. The tickets cticket stubs theme park ticketing john davies omniticketould also be souvenirs that the guest could keep as a reminder of their visit – they could also have important marketing messages printed on them.

The networked computer technology running the newly written ticket sales applications meant that a real time count of tickets sold and validated at the gate could be obtained by management at any time during the day.

All of this happened in the second half of the 1980’s !

Now that we had separated ticket printing from ticket verification at the gate marketing could begin to utilise this by printing and distributing valid tickets into the market which could be pre-sold and taken by the guest directly to the gate for scanning – with the relevant controls in place.

The real-time statistics from the gate now included guests who had arrived and purchased tickets on the day, plus guests who had obtained their ticket via distribution channels – in other words a real-time total of guests within the attraction.

Online Ticket Purchasing

The next breakthrough came with the introduction of online ticket purchasing, with the guest arriving at the attraction with their booking reference printed out man united ticketing online john davies theme park ticketingand collecting their tickets from guest services or from self service kiosks, typically by swiping the credit card they used to pay for the booking.

This evolved to allow the guest to print their own bar-coded ticket at home – however there were many early challenges with home printing technologies…

Early printers, such as dot-matrix technology would produce wavy bar-codes and the early ink jet printers did not have such a good resolution, which provided challenges at the entrance scanners. However ink jet technology improved and guests were able to proceed directly to the scanners with their print at home tickets and pass through without delay.

Smart Phones

The advent of smart phones then presented a new challenge to the industry – both for the attractions and for the ticketing systems providers.

smart phone app zoo theme park ticketing john davies omniticketShould the suppliers produce mobile optimised websites – meaning that all smarts phones – regardless of their operating system – can view the attraction’s website on their phone and make the booking ?

Or should they produce an attraction-specific “App” for each operating system – ie Apple, Android, Windows…

Whilst the “App” approach can allow some offline functionality, along with additional information and so on about the attraction, it means that each “App” for each operating system for each attraction has to be kept up to date – something which can become costly and time consuming for each phone bar code reading john davies omniticket This dilemma continues today.

The other challenge is access control with smart phones.

Do we deliver the guest’s bar-code to their phone to allow access directly at the scanners, or do we use the bar-code on the phone to look-up and print “regular” tickets at a vending machine for use at the gate scanners ?

If we use the phone directly at the gate scanners, then what if there is more than 1 person in the transaction ? Do we have multiple bar-codes on the phone which have to be scrolled up the screen for scanning, or do we have a single bar-code which identifies the quantity of people in the transaction on the scanner display – meaning either manual scanning or close scrutiny at the turnstiles…

Scanning mobile phones at the gate also normally means installing new scanners which are able to read the screen displays…

Growth of “NFC” – Near Field Communicationsnfc rfid ticketing access john davies omniticket

But of course this technology is already beginning to be overtaken by “NFC” – Near Field Communications – or RFID as it was more commonly known…

The very latest generation of smart phones (surprisingly, with the exception of the iPhone 5 ) are incorporating this technology.

This means that each handset will have it’s own “wireless” serial number/ID number and applications on the handset will allow this to be used for numerous things – for example low-value retail purchases, transportation systems and so on – not forgetting of course the visitor attraction marketplace.

This will of course again require new scanning technology to be added to the admissions scanners – and potentially new technology at all points of sale throughout the attraction!

It’s worth mentioning though that this ability to activate a third party media as a valid ticket (as per NFC for example) has been around for quite a number of years now and so the principle is not new – it’s just that the technology is adapting with time.

tescoloyalty card john davies omnitciket theme park ticketingLoyalty Cards and Annual Passes

For example it has been possible for several years to activate your supermarket loyalty card, your drivers licence, your Auto club membership card and so on, as a valid ticket which can be scanned directly at the gate and treated as a valid ticket. This opens up immense opportunities for Marketing and distribution channels.merlin entertainments annual pass theme parks ticketing history

Another of the challenges at the main entrance to an attraction is how to determine whether the guest showing an annual pass is the correct person, or a friend or neighbour who has borrowed the card for the day.

Well of course there is the good old photograph which may or may not be clear, or current – but because gate staff are often seasonal staff (students perhaps) they may feel too intimidated to challenge the card holder because the photo does not appear to match.

Facial Recognition and Biometrics

In order to combat this, some system providers have tried facial recognition software, but this can be cumbersome and time consuming – however attractions like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios have spent a lot of time working with Biometric verification.  Whilst this is not perfect, it provides a high deterrent facial recognition biometrics in ticketing theme parkslevel in terms of fraud control.

This will also work to control the transfer of multi-day tickets between friends for example…

"Upselling" to the Guest

Now I’ve been talking about the ticketing, access control and distribution technologies, but one thing many attractions are focusing on now is how to “Upsell” to the guest – either before they arrive, or when they walk up to the ticket booth.  This “Upsell” process can be merely promoting a multi-day ticket/annual pass instead of a single day ticket, or promoting food or retail add-on packages.

Now for the online booking process various custom scripting flows can be used to coax the guest into taking up offers, however at the front of house ticket booth it is often down to the skill and motivation of the ticket sales staff (who as I’ve said are often seasonal workers/students) to attempt the “Upsell” procedure…

However modern systems will allow them to be guided through a process with the guest to maximise the uptake on such offers.universal studios upsell ticketing john davies theme park

A dual screen process allows a second monitor on the guest side of the ticket booth, in addition to the screen that the ticket seller works from.

This allows the attraction to customise the sales flow during the guest interaction – by displaying ticket price comparisons, images or even video clips of new features or rides within the attraction in order to provide detailed information and encourage the “Upsell” process…

It can also be used to guide the ticket seller through an Upsell “script” with the guest.

CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management)

Now, I’d like to touch on CRM systems (Customer Relationship Management).  These have historically been used to accumulate as much demographic data about actual guests – or potential guests – with the idea of maintaining their awareness of your attraction and encouraging future visits.

However the new generation of CRM systems go one step further and utilise “Trigger-based” marketing techniques…If you already have all the demographic data on each guest, you can know when they enter your attraction and when they visit different areas within the attraction…

For example, if a parent purchases an ice cream for their child, this can be flagged up to send out an SMS message to the parent giving them 5% discount on coffee in the restaurant – thereby driving them towards secondary spend in that area.

Why is ticketing so imprtant to an Attraction?
nfc rfid ticketing theme parks john davies omniticket
I’d like to start winding up by summarising the importance of a ticketing system to some of the departments within an attraction, because investment in such systems is normally prioritised behind many other high profile things such as rides, shows, restaurants and so on.

it is worth remembering that the ticketing system is normally responsible for 50% or more of the revenue in a pay-one-price visitor attraction, with the remainder of course being food and merchandise spend.

  • It’s important to the Marketing Dept because it brings more guests to the attraction, through data capture & analysis. It also provides wider distribution of tickets.
  • It’s important to the Finance Dept because of the financial reporting and financial security and control.
  • It’s important to the FoH (Front of House)  because it provides a high speed of throughput at the gate, whilst answering guest’s questions, capturing data for marketing, and avoiding fraud.
  • It’s important to the IT Dept because it has to meet Co IT policies, needs to be secure and needs to integrate with other systems.
  • It’s important to the Operator/Owner because it provides an overall control of the attraction and of course the revenue stream.

Search for something

More from this author

Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.

Find out how to update