Some tourist attractions throughout the U.S. have had a boost in business generated by a prepaid smart card program operated by Boston-based Smart Destinations Inc.
During the first year, the Smart Destinations Explorer prepaid cards helped drive up admission sales for Chicago-based boat tour company Shoreline Sightings by 40% to 50%, says Chip Collopy, co-owner. Even with slower tourism caused by economic downturn, sales in 2009 were up 19% from the previous year, he says, citing consumers’ preferences for discounted deals.
Accepting the Smart Destinations prepaid cards has been simple and worthwhile for his business, Collopy says. “They contacted us in 2004 when they were bringing the card out, and they needed certain attractions to make their card work. So having boat tours of the city was one of those,” he says. “We were reluctant at first because it was a new vendor and kind of a risk, but it’s been great, and the increase in sales has been dramatic.”
Smart Destinations is able to negotiate discounts because its service helps increase admissions, program participants say.
Two potential roadblocks to accepting any new card involve terminal costs and support. However, Shoreline has had few problems with the VeriFone Systems Inc. equipment, and Collopy says Smart Destinations, which pays for, installs and services the terminals, has provided technical assistance when needed.
Shoreline has six terminals at its ticket locations. Overall, Smart Destinations deploys about 900 smart card terminals at its tourist locations.
The Willis Tour (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago has accepted the Smart Destinations prepaid cards since 2004, and it also reports having a positive experience with the product and terminals.
“The thing we really like is that it brings in a different type of traveler, the one that doesn’t want to carry cash, wants to have great value and usually is energetic and wants an ‘all-you-can-experience’ type of package,” says Randy Stancik, Willis SkyDeck vice president. “And with accepting the card, we’re not handling cash, so it’s a nice way to take the pressure off.”
The terminal system uses simple accounting, which enables attractions to get paid quickly and to see their admissions data in monthly reports. And having the prepaid card keeps the lines moving, Stancik says.
“It’s really a smooth program, and it’s a simple program to administer,” he says. The tower uses only one terminal because it has just one SkyDeck access point.
Stancik would embrace an additional payment purse on the card so visitors also could use it to make purchases at a gift shop or a nearby restaurant. “I’d like to see that,” he says, suggesting the involvement of a major card brand to lend marketing support to the tourist attraction. “It could help us get our brand out there.”
Tourists likely would use such a purse because they already set aside funds to prepay for the attractions they visit, so they probably would do the same for gift or food purchases, Stancik says. “We are truly a point-of-sale-type attraction because the consumer is ready to purchase in the time that they are there visiting an attraction,” he says.
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