Riding Radio Waves

Are radio frequency identification tags good just for cutting costs in the supply chain? Not hardly. Theme park operators think they can boost sales. (Baseline)

As project leaders ponder pilots of radio frequency identification systems this summer, in the rush to meet the mandates from Wal-Mart, Target, the Department of Defense and others, the real action may be at the theme parks where theyll take their kids.

A series of pilots are set to begin at regional and national theme parks. Baseline has learned that Walt Disney Co. is planning to use radio waves to track assets such as laundry, beverages and bus shuttles that ferry visitors around its parks. The Disney pilots are in the early stages—the company in some cases hasnt even selected a tag vendor yet—but the company does plan to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging throughout its parks.

Disney would not comment, and details about pilots by the company and other theme park operators are sketchy. Oklahoma City-based Six Flags Inc., however, did confirm that Memorial Day will kick off pilots at four of its water parks in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas and Jackson, N.J. 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. "Its a guest satisfaction thing."

And thats the difference between the theme park pilots and the efforts by consumer goods makers to comply with the product-tagging requirements of big discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, beginning in January 2005. Where those retailers are trying to drive down costs, the theme park operators are trying to drive up revenue.

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Many of this summers 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 its 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.

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