The following profile about accesso was featured in Funworld Magazine’s May issue:
Anyone keeping an eye on the attractions industry will have seen the extraordinary expansion of the company now known as accesso Technology Group plc.
The company, originally known as Lo-Q and born in a British shed out of inventor Leonard Sim’s game-changing idea to replace physical queuing with virtual place holding, has blossomed into a fast-growing global business. Since Tom Burnet joined the company as CEO in late 2010, market capitalization has surged from $30 million to $230 million today. Burnet has set a blistering pace, acquiring accesso, the U.S.-based ticketing and e-commerce company in 2012, and rebranding the combined company as accesso.
“With accesso, we found an unbelievably great group of people who shared our obsession about customer service, doing the right thing, and thinking ahead of the pack in terms of technology solutions. We both felt that by having a more joined-up solution between our two businesses we could deliver a better service and product to the guest, and that we could afford to invest more in our product evolution and roadmap. Everyone would win. That integration is now complete, and it’s repaying us beautifully,” says Burnet.
Last December, accesso acquired its ski-and-snow-sports peer Siriusware, bringing fresh technologies and markets into the portfolio.
The group’s client base now includes 400 venues in 18 countries, from theme park operators including Six Flags Entertainment, Merlin Entertainments, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and Cedar Fair Entertainment to the ski and cultural attractions sector served by Siriusware. Siriusware recently announced five contracts with attractions: iFLY Virginia Beach, Holocaust Museum Houston, African Lion Safari & Game Farm Ltd, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Jasper Tramway Acquisition Corporation.
Behind the headline-making deals, Burnet believes the attractions industry is facing a “tsunami of change” as people adopt mobile technology at an unprecedented rate. The International Telecommunication Union predicts mobile phone subscriptions will nudge past 7 billion in 2014, meaning there will soon be as many active contracts as people on the planet.
Burnet wants accesso to be at the forefront of that global phenomenon, helping operators of all types and sizes embrace new technologies and meet the needs of mobile-savvy guests.
According to Steve Brown, accesso’s chief operating officer for North America and Europe—a former Disney and Six Flags executive—queuing and ticketing technologies are no longer seen as just the “plumbing” of the attractions industry. Now, they are powering service, customer engagement, and revenue performance: “We are delivering technology that can drive business results. It is as important as what new rides the industry is going to build next year.”
Burnet is centering his vision for accesso around the “guest journey,” capitalizing on technology and the power of the cloud to streamline touch points where people interact with venues. From the moment consumers start to research, plan, and buy tickets, to how they feel when they are at an attraction, through to their post-visit experience, Burnet says the goal is to create a “queueless, frictionless great time.”
“I think about that guest journey and how technology can intervene to make the experience better. How can we make it easier for guests to decide how they’re going to spend their day, deliver great value for money for them, and give them the information they need to have the best time? If guests are happy, they’ll tell their friends, they’ll come back, and they’ll spend more money,” he says.
Connecting Guests and Venues
The bottom line for Brown: “You shouldn’t make people wait in line to give you money. If I see a line, I see an opportunity. Whether it’s a queuing or a ticketing opportunity, there’s a lot of guest demand for something that isn’t being delivered efficiently. We’re looking at anything we can develop that will help bridge the divide between the venue and the guest, and allow the technology to connect them.”
Consumers are already changing the way they buy tickets. The days of people standing in a ticket line at the front gate are disappearing; the majority of guests are arranging their admission in advance, either at home or on their smartphones.
Queuing is the next big issue once people get inside the gates. accesso’s Q-smart smartphone technology, which lets guests reserve their places in a queue electronically and notifies them when it’s their turn to ride, “puts the queuing solution in the palm of the guest’s hand,” says Brown. It gives guests flexibility and makes queuing systems more affordable for attractions by eliminating the need to provide expensive hardware. Q-smart joins accesso’s suite of virtual queuing solutions ranging from Q-bot, the original handheld device, to Q-band, a waterproof RFID wristband.
accesso’s mobile solutions are making a difference in other ways, too. “Part of our mobile content platform allows friends in the theme park to track each other. You can see exactly where they are and walk straight to them—it’s James Bond stuff. People love that,” says Burnet. “Using Q-smart, you can purchase a ticket online and then make a reservation to ride on the biggest roller coaster while you’re on your way to the theme park. You can just walk through the front gate and get on the ride.”
Is a Queueless Theme Park Possible?
The revolution doesn’t stop there: “Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a queueless theme park where everybody makes reservations and nobody has to stand in a physical queue? We have the technology to do that and the patents to protect that idea. In the next handful of years, that’s going to be the reality,” says Burnet.
It will take more groundwork for the queueless theme park to happen, though. Guests will need access to smartphones—a likely prospect given the rapid adoption of mobile technology. Also, attractions need to invest in Wi-Fi; North America is presently lagging behind Australasia and Europe in terms of Wi-Fi coverage.
“We are in the middle of colossal change. It’s not just happening to our market; it’s everywhere. As a consumer, my expectation of how I should be able to interact with a venue—how I should be able to interact with life—is changing,” says Burnet. “You don’t need to be frightened of that change. It’s possible to embrace it, carry your guests with you, and attract new guests.”
His ambition for accesso extends beyond attractions: “Why shouldn’t you and your family have a queueless, frictionless, fun time when you go on a city break, just like at a theme park? We’re thinking about how we can help communities build great experiences for all their guests.”
The Future Is About Integration
Burnet is also zooming in on how guests share their experiences: “It’s important how you share content, whether it’s video, audio, or photographs. It’s important for guests and it’s important for operators in terms of how they extend their brand beyond the park.
“Think about the way people are connected digitally: I have an iPhone with an eight-megapixel camera in my pocket, and I’m sharing digital photos all the time with my friends. At accesso, we’ve had over 3 million of our apps downloaded in the last 18 months or so. How we capture content, how we share that content, and how we do it in an innovative way will be a massive piece [of the puzzle] for us in the future,” says Burnet.
Integration was a key trend at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and its influence is evident in the attractions industry, according to Brown: “In the past, you had your phone, your computer, your TV, your washer, your refrigerator … and now it’s all connected. You can run all of those devices from your phone. We’re seeing the same thing in theme parks. Disney’s MyMagic+ [a personalized vacation planner combining online and mobile tools with MagicBand wristbands] is about integration and how everything should be connected. Consumers shouldn’t have to log in four times to do four different things. They should be able to log in once, or get one device that covers everything.
“The focus for the next 10 years is going to be around integration and where the opportunities are in theme parks,” Brown continues. “So, if I know when a guest has purchased a ticket online and I know when they scan their ticket at the park entrance, I can automatically begin their session for queuing. If I know they’re waiting at a ride, how can I integrate technology to improve the experience for the guest and the attraction? We could maximize opportunities for guest spend, for example. Guests may want a soda, a T-shirt, or a photo after finishing the ride. We can make all the options more accessible and visible to them, making sure they don’t miss out.”
As more people upcharge their experiences using front-of-line devices, it raises the possibility that this could devalue the standard attractions offering. “Either you operate systems where 100 percent of the park population gets the benefit, or where a small, but significant, number pay a premium for it,” says Burnet.
Evolving to Meet Mobile Expectations
accesso’s challenge is how to keep up with a mobile market that is moving at lightning-fast speed: “Everything is mobile-centric. All of our development work starts from the mobile device and works outward,” says Brown. “You have to be nimble and focused on usability. The consumer expects you to deliver in a way that is easy to use, fast, efficient, and available.
“I opened an attraction’s website the other day and it turns out they don’t have a mobile website,” he continues. “To find your way to their mobile ticket store on your phone, you have to navigate through a standard website experience. The industry is looking over its shoulder and seeing that mobile ticketing is at its back, but I’m not sure people quite realize how important it is. Statistics show that about 15 percent of websites are accessed via mobile, but in the attractions industry it’s much higher because the demographic they are serving is younger. In this segment, it’s 30-40 percent. Next year it’ll probably be 50 percent. If venues don’t have a mobile strategy and mobile technology to meet that demand, they will disappoint people and their guests will go elsewhere.”
It’s all about service: “We spend our time worrying about what it feels like to be our customers, and their customers, and making sure it feels good,” says Burnet. “We’re developing our relationships with customers, earning their trust and confidence, so they’ll give us more opportunities to help them. We’ll continue to integrate our technology platforms. We’ll keep looking for cool innovation in the market that we can buy, partner with, or learn from. We’ll evolve and invest in the future: We’re working on a major update to our already powerful e-commerce offering and the next version of Q-smart. That work costs us millions and millions of dollars, and it will never stop. It’s about obsessing over customer service and the guest experience, and how to make that really, really slick.”