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Published: Monday, 8/12/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Leave wallet in hotel, spend more at park

Cedar Fair testing wristband payment for most purchases

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Water park-goers might find new wristband-payment systems especially appealing because they eliminate the need to carry cash or credit cards that might get wet or lost or be unhandy to hold. Water park-goers might find new wristband-payment systems especially appealing because they eliminate the need to carry cash or credit cards that might get wet or lost or be unhandy to hold.
CEDAR POINT Enlarge

SANDUSKY — In the near future, you may not need to take your wallet to Cedar Point, Soak City, or other Cedar Fair LP parks.

This summer the Sandusky-based company, which owns 11 amusement parks and six water parks, is testing a new system it calls FastPay at its Dorney Park amusement park in Allentown, Pa.

FastPay uses wristbands containing radio frequency identification chips that allow users to pre-load them with cash to make electronic purchases at any place in the park with a cash register. If the test program is successful — and indications are that it works well — Cedar Fair plans to install FastPay at many of its parks in 2014.

“We are very pleased with the results we see [at Dorney],” Cedar Fair president and chief executive Matt Ouimet told analysts last week during a conference call to discuss the company’s second quarter earnings. “I would expect you would see [FastPay] in multiple parks next year on a somewhat of a modified basis,” he said.

“But we’re a big believer that over time this will become a standard for us. I just think the adoption rate will be slower because it’s a product that isn’t widely available throughout the industry, and we’ve got to do a little bit of the training of consumers. But so far we’re very pleased with those results,” Mr. Ouimet said.

FastPay is a far lesser version of the MyMagic+ wristbands that the Disney Co. rolled out this June at Walt Disney World park in Florida.

Disney’s wristbands, which can be customized with a variety of styles and colors, can unlock hotel room doors, allow access to the theme park parking lots and parks, pay for food and merchandise, and load Fastpass tickets for reserving spots in line at popular rides.

Dorney Park’s FastPay bands are merely portable cash cards. A customer selects a wristband from a machine and it comes preloaded with cash in increments of $20 to $100. There is a one-day FastPay band as well as a removable multiday band. Both bands can be reloaded with cash and work everywhere in Dorney Park except the midway games.

Jeffrey Seifert, an editor at Amusement Today, an industry newsletter, said RFID wristbands were pioneered at water parks several years ago but are making their way to the nonwater parks.

Six Flags Inc., for example, uses the wristbands for its fast pass reservation system for rides. Cedar Fair appears to be the first regional park chain to use the wristbands for cash transactions, he said, but their use is likely to grow as the industry recognizes their potential.

“For example, you can use them for photos. You would scan your wrist at the start of the ride and it would tell the ride to take your photo during the ride and then send that photo right to your phone,” Mr. Seifert said. “You don’t have to wait in line after the ride, you don’t have to carry that photo around. It goes right to your phone and you can keep your phone locked up in your locker.”

Dennis Speigel, an amusement industry consultant and head of International Theme Park Services Inc. of Cincinnati said what Disney is trying to do with its MyMagic bands and what Cedar Fair is attempting with FastPay “is to enhance impulse spending and make it less cumbersome. We all know that at the parks the less customers have to reach into their pockets and use cash, the more they’ll spend.”

Wristbands are “all about not having the mind-set that you’re spending money but doing so all the same,” Mr. Speigel said. “Just recently at Six Flags and Cedar Fair attendance was basically flat at both parks, but their in-the-park-spending was up considerably. So [FastPay] is, in a way, a sort of poor man’s test of the Disney system. And it seems to be working very well.”

Rick Munarriz, a Florida-based investor who covers the amusement industry for the Motley Fool online investing site, recently observed Disney’s MyMagic system in use and said Cedar Fair’s system isn’t as high-tech.

However, “The parks are going to get good information from this. They’re going to know where people are spending their money,” he said.

“It’s a baby step for Cedar Fair, but it’s in the right direction.”

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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