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The BLOGFlume—Kiosks, Space, and Eisner

Busch adds technology, questions about Mission: Space, and Michael Eisner make more money.

Written by Russell Meyer
Published: January 9, 2005 at 9:10 PM

Just Like The Movies
St. Petersburg Times 1/7/05

Busch Gardens Tampa has announced plans to use new self-service kiosks at the entrance gates. The new machines will work very much like the self-service kiosks at most major movie theater chains. Guests will select the type of admission they would like to purchase on the touch screen, and insert/swipe their credit card, and the machine prints your ticket or pass right on the spot. All the guest has to do from there is walk to the turnstile, and they’re in the park. While these automated ticket booths are nothing new, this is one of the first times they’ve been formally applied to a major theme park. I seem to remember Busch Gardens Williamsburg with a couple of kiosks near the main ticket booths near the end of last season, perhaps that was the beta test for this new system. Combine this with the proliferation of on-line ticketing, and guests never have to talk to a single person before getting through the front gate, aside from security.

These new kiosks are a great idea, but make it nearly impossible for guests to use discount coupons, which probably won’t reduce ticket lines much at parks. What needs to be done at entrance gates is speeding security and bag checks, and simplifying the admission process. Nothing makes entering a park slower then a family with dozens of bags that need to be checked, or someone who is so indecisive it takes them five minutes to decide which type of admission they want to purchase. What we need is a faster, more efficient bag check system (or separate entrance gates for guests without bags, which some parks have already implemented), and simplified admission prices, especially for Disney.

Tone It Down!
Orlando Sentinel 1/6/05

When Mission: Space at EPCOT was opened, a number of people riding it became ill, and suggesting that it was too intense on the human body. Reportedly, the Disney imagineers experienced similar problems during tests and had toned down the attraction prior to its grand opening. It was also rumored that the attraction was slowed down after a number of guests had complained that the attraction was still too intense. During the first six months of the ride’s operation, 5 people were admitted to the hospital for treatment, but during the second six months, only 1 person was admitted because of Mission: Space. However, Disney is trying to set the record straight, and denies slowing the attraction down. They claim that the dramatic decrease in injury on the attraction was because of numerous warning signs and announcements, not due to a reduction in the ride’s intensity. I have not had the pleasure of riding this attraction, but have a hard time believing a bunch of warning signs and announcements would cause such a dramatic decrease in injury. If they did, then I think every company in the world should hire Disney to make signs for them to reduce injuries.

Eisner Gets A Raise
L.A. Times 1/7/05

According to a filing with the SEC, Michael Eisner received compensation in 2004 that increased 13% over what he received in 2003. In addition, the Disney board concluded that Eisner’s performance was “greatly improved.” The company’s profit rose 85% attributed mostly to ESPN and theme parks. However, Eisner was not the only one cashing in, COO Robert Iger’s annual compensation rose 73% to $12 million. Iger is currently considered the front runner to become Disney’s new CEO and may not meet much competition for Disney’s top job. Disney also announced that it would continue to keep the chairman of the board and CEO jobs separate. It’s great to see the rich get richer, but at least they could do so by producing something original. I guess when ESPN and theme parks are driving your profit, “originality” doesn’t need to be in your vocabulary.

Readers' Opinions

From David Klawe on January 9, 2005 at 10:23 PM
I think the first self-serve kiosks I saw were at Magic Mountain about 10 years ago... they still remain, but are out of service and have been for years.....

Universal Studios Hollywood has had them for years, and still actively promote them. When the lines get long, an employee gets on a mike and brings up the fact that machines are located on each end of the human staffed ticket booths. All of the main ticket choices are available including different types of Annual Passes, and VIP and Front of the Line passes.

So Busch is not the first park to offer them, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more of them at other parks, as a machine is a big labor savings..

Heck, at DCA, you now order and pay on a self service kiosk at Taste Pilots Grill.

Also, the article mentioned this device...

>>Indeed, Busch pass or ticket holders will have a side express entrance of their own. They swipe their pass. A scanner records a topographic map (not fingerprints) of their hand in two seconds and compares it in a Busch database to ensure the dimensions match the passholder.<<

SeaWorld San Diego has had this system for about a year, and has closed down their Passport Processign center. Each Ticket Window can sell the actual AP or Fun Card instead of a Voucher, and no photo is needed (which allowed the closing of the processing center). In fact some gift shops have been equipped with machines to print AP's for those who want to upgrade after entering the park....

SeaWorld San Diego also has a special Passport Member entrance, though it is only open during busy times.

Another interesting thing SeaWorld San Diego offers Passport Members is a daily sheet of coupons, and an occasional Surprise Gift. All you need to do is go to a set of machines and scan your AP next to Guest Services.

I have gotten free soda, popcorn, a key chain, and gallon of free paint (from a park sponsor), plus free plays in the arcade, and discounts on food, merchandise and park tours. The San Diego Padres Baseball team has the same type of machines in which they offer coupons and perks to returning fans. (There is a posted schedule, the more games you go in the season, the more prizes you get.)

From Pete Brecht on January 10, 2005 at 8:34 AM
Russell, in all the trips I took to BGW this year with my kids, not once were they required to do the hand-scan thing (we're Passport members).
From Russell Meyer on January 10, 2005 at 8:45 AM
I'm not exactly sure which people are being chosen to use the system, but I think they are using it for Gold and Silver passports only, as most of the new ones do not have pictures on them. I have a Platinum Passport, and have not had to use the system either, but have frequently been behind people who have, and all of whom are carrying passports without pictures on them. Also, I think if you renewed your passports online, and still have a picture passport, the "handi-scan" system is not used. It's the old grandfather clause.

So the new system would only apply to people purchasing passes for the first time. If they made everyone switch over to the new system at the same time, no one would ever get into the park. This gradual application of the system is probably deliberate. My guess is that they will eventually switch everyone over to the new system soon.

From Russell Meyer on January 10, 2005 at 8:47 AM
I figured other parks had either tried them or were using them in a limited basis, but could not find any promotion of them. I thought the Sea World frequent visitor kiosks in the Passport Member center were really cool when we visited in 2003. The system encourages passholders to come as frequently as possible, and hopefully spend some more money in the park, and yes the system is very similar to those used by minor league baseball teams. The single A teams near us utilize a similar system that allows guests to earn rewards from free popcorn all the way up to a tour of the stadium and skyboxes and autographed team memorabilia. I'm still not sold on this "handi-scan" concept that Busch has been pushing. Every time I've gotten behind someone with a gold passport (at BGW) it's taken them longer to get through the turnstyle than someone with just a scanned card, because their hand has to be placed in a very specific spot to get a match. From my experience, small children almost always seem to have problems with these new machines.
From Robert Niles on January 10, 2005 at 11:51 AM
Russell, I believe that the warnings on Mission: Space could have had that effect, simply because I've never seen an attraction that so aggressively incorporates warnings in its preshows. You won't simply find warning signs here. The spiel, video and PA warnings are non-stop. It's so bad as to risk making the attraction itself anti-climatic, IMHO. I don't think the warnings cross that line, but I was fully prepared to hurl the first time I rode. (I didn't -- in fact, I had a great time and consider this Disney's best new attraction in years.)

FWIW, Disney tones down attractions in every soft opening where it can tone them down. The company's attitude seems to be (as it should be) -- crank it up in the beginning, see how much folks can take, and dial it down until people are no longer ill. I rode Body Wars at Epcot on its first day of cast member testing -- back row, far left side. My seatbelt broke on the first jolt and I have never, *ever* had a more turbulent ride on any theme park attraction, including extreme roller coasters. No, Disney could not and should not let the public experience something so intense. But, Lord, I loved it!

From SpaceMt Fan on January 10, 2005 at 12:37 PM
One possibility for the parks hesitating to put in ticket kiosks (besides money) might be the fear of reducing the initial human contact in the purchasing process, and thus turning it into a sterile and anonymous action. Customer service and human interaction can always be translated into a goodwill entry in the G/L.

RE: Baggage Checks
It's a shame that the baggage check process is the bottle-neck of park entry. This is especially true as the checks are rarely thorough and are mostly placating an over-sensitive public.

From J. Dana on January 10, 2005 at 2:00 PM
Kiosks are for one purpose, and one purpose only: to cut out the cost of having to pay people to do those jobs. Simple as that. Think grocery stores, movie theatres...think online airline ticketing. Airlines offer cheaper online tickets. Why? To encourage people to bypass the costly "people-centered" method of purchase. It also cuts the commissions they have to pay to travel agents.

And speaking of cutting costs, I heard a rumor about some bit cost-cutting (involving people) at DISNEY-MGM studios. Aw, I'll post that elsewhere so as not to muddy this discussion.

From Matt E on January 10, 2005 at 3:06 PM
I had rode Mission:Space for the first time during the previews that started 3 months even before its "announced" preview phase (that would be June 2003) when only one centrifuge was operating. I've ridden it numerous times since then, including just last week or so and in my personal opinion, the intensity of the ride has NOT changed at all.

The only change I've seen is from a few warnings here and there in the beginning to an all-out onset of warnings that bridge on the edge of over-excessive today. You would have to be completely ignorant to your surroundings not to hear or see or read one of these warnings now and make an educated decision if this is something you should try. They are everywhere from bright yellow signs that lead up to the building to several flat-panel video screens throughout the entire queue area that do nothing than repeat warnings of motion sickness and spinning in big letters. Not to mention you are now bombarded with warnings in both a visual and audio format during the first pre-show, BETWEEN the two pre-shows and again during the second pre-show and then given one final chance to exit from a CM before they close the pod doors. During the previews, there were just a few warnings in each pre-show that differ a bit from the new warnings.

In the case of MS, what makes folks sick is actually the sensation experienced as the centrifuge starts its spinning and as it stops, not necessarily the speed it attains in the end. Changing the spinning speed would do little to decrease the probability of experiencing motion sickness on MS, which is why I don't necessarily believe any of the "toning down" stories.

Again, from personal experience, I haven't seen ANY change in intensity of the G-Forces on MS at all since it opened. What happened before they opened it to the public is something I don't know.

From James Adams on January 10, 2005 at 3:37 PM
The kiosks at Universal Orlando are rarely used as well. It may be tough to tell as people buzz through them quick but I haven't noticed a wealth of people using them. Mostly because thet are limited in their depth (no discounts, very few ticket types, etc.).

I completely agree about the bag check. I fail to see how "peaking" through someone's bag with a small stick really uncovers lethal weapons. Of course, this doesn't stop the zeal of the bag check. I was witnessed some poor guy being hasseled about a gold chain he was wearing around his neck.

From David Klawe on January 10, 2005 at 4:17 PM
The problems with the kiosks can be fixed, I know that every USH coupon has a "Speed code" on it, basically a 3 digit number that the employee types in to have the computer figure out the right price, I think that could easily be added to the kiosk machines.

Heck, with the DCA Taste Pilots grill, to get your discount, all you do is swipe your AP or CM card after ordering, but before paying...

It can be done, heck the grocery store machines allow you to use coupons, all you do is swipe the barcode, then insert it in a slot (honor system).

From Joe Lane on January 10, 2005 at 6:03 PM
Reading Robert's comments about Disney and how it tests the limits of its attractions reminds me the recent reports that Imagineers have been retooling the periods of darkness on Stitch's Great Escape so as to be less terrifying for the kids. Already I've seen strobes used more often to simulate electrical shorts so as to add some light to the chamber during the dark periods. Not sure how else the creative team plans on lessening the darkness factor without spoiling the overall effect.
From Pete Brecht on January 11, 2005 at 7:48 AM
Russell, I was little unclear in my last message. What I meant was that *I* always had to do the hand scan at BGW, but my kids never did. I guess management either figured out that it was taking too long for kids or that their small hands don't work well in the scanners.

BTW, we were just Bronze passholders early in the summer, later upgrading to Silver, and this was our first year of ever being BGW passholders.

Also, I never had a very long wait for either the bag check or the entry gate at BGW, regardless of how crowded the park was. By contrast, I did have a couple of times at King's Dominion where the wait to get through the entry gates was at least 15 minutes (the metal detectors were the slowdown). Since BGW doesn't have metal detectors, the ticket line moves a lot faster.

From Michael Dougherty on January 13, 2005 at 7:22 PM
As I remember it, last Spring when BGW was touting the hand scan sytem in the local press, they stated that "young" children would not be scanned. Reason given being the rate at which their hands grow and change.

BTW, I'm probably one of those "photoless" pass holders (used to have a photo till I upgraded to Platinum from Silver) delaying the entry line. However, as the season went on, I did seem to get the knack of it, almost always getting it right the first try.

Incidently, when I visited Orlando last Autumn, I had to do the hand scan thing at Sea World. But at Busch Gardens Tampa, on each of my two visits they simply scanned my pass and waved me through.


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