Why Universal's TapuTapu payment band could stand out

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Universal Resort's launch of the TapuTapu band at its new Volcano Bay water park illustrates how much more a wearable can do when it is incorporated into the design of the park from the get-go.

When Volcano Bay opens it doors to the public in Orlando, Fla., on May 25, visitors will find the technology in the park has been designed to accept TapuTapu wristband payments for admittance, food and souvenirs, but also to participate in the "virtual line" service, in which patrons can reserve a spot in line at a particular ride and the band will vibrate when it is time for their turn.

Visitors entering the park receive the TapuTapu when they arrive, and guests can enter a credit card and PIN to use it to pay for everything inside the water park. It also allows users to set up spending limits, and monitor them, for each member of the visiting party.

Mostly, the premise behind the TapuTapu is to encourage spending at a venue where park goers are likely to leave their wallets and cash in the dry safety of a locker.

Hersheypark was one of the first theme parks to test contactless payment wristbands in 2012, but dropped its use a year later when reporting that the "Easy Pay" program was not resonating with park visitors.

Hersheypark's failing might have been that its band was not fully integrated into the park experience; it was little more than a wearable prepaid card. Walt Disney Co. launched its more ambitious "Magic Bands" around the same time Hersheypark was ditching its technology, but expanded the use case to enable the bands to unlock hotel room doors and provide theme park admittance. Disney also turned its bands into a souvenir; it lets patrons keep the bands after they leave, and customize them with buttons depicting Disney characters and attractions.

Like Universal's TapuTapu, Disney also allows Magic Band users to skip long lines through the Disney FastPass+ system.

But while Disney's wearable still resembles a simple bracelet, Universal's TapuTapu has the look and feel of a smartwatch, giving visitors notifications and alerts related to happenings in the park, deals at restaurants, and alerts about the patron's place in a virtual line. And, much like the Disney Magic Bands, the TapuTapu will operate as the key for opening and locking hotel room doors; it also works for lockers.

But it's not a souvenir. Visitors must return the TapuTapu band when leaving the park.

Universal had the intention of extending the Tapu Tapu technology far beyond simply making a payment or saving a spot for a ride, as the Orlando Informer noted that the device will support interactive experiences such as water jets and "dazzling lighting effects" at exhibits and rides.

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Wearable payments