Loyalty Programs vs Privacy: The Careful Balance Leisure Venues Must Maintain

Posted by Sasha on Monday, May 26th, 2014

Loyalty programs are an essential layer of visitor experience enhancement for today’s leisure venues. Successful programs work to the advantage of both the guests and the venue: they offer guests a more personalized visit while collecting valuable operational and marketing data. For theme parks, they act as the glue that holds the experience together, ensuring that a visit to a park with millions of visitors can still cater to individual needs. An example is Disney’s MyMagic+, which centralizes payment, real-time information, scheduling capabilities and hotel room access into an RFID wristband and a mobile app. For museums, the loyalty program is a smart survival tactic to combat fickle, transient audiences that expect multi-platform interaction. In both cases, loyalty programs offer the opportunity to build repeat visitation and connect with visitors online, gaining followers who stay engaged beyond the physical venue.

Loyalty programs typically include some form of data collection, either via an RFID chip or an online sign-up, which uses the data to recognize individual visitors and their preferences to generate a “customized” experience. The best loyalty programs are usually accompanied by some kind of online platform where guests can access more information and program benefits.  That’s all good for the venue, but what’s the cost to visitors? What personal information would you trade to make your next museum or theme park visit a customized experience?

In studying the loyalty program of two venues – one in the attractions sector and the other in the museum sector – we found that, if executed correctly, a loyalty program need not require too much personal information to deliver a more convenient, personalized visit.


KidZania – The B-KidZanian Program


KidZania is a role-play edutainment park themed as a city built to kid scale, complete with buildings, paved streets, vehicles, a functioning economy, and sponsored, branded “establishments.” These establishments offer children the opportunity to perform “jobs” and are either paid for their work (as a fireman, doctor, police officer, shopkeeper, etc.) or pay to shop or to be entertained.

In KidZania (KZ), all children must wear RFID wristbands, which are first and foremost for safety. These wristbands are also well integrated with operations, allowing KZ to profile which activities are most frequented. But the bracelets are only helpful for tracking general day-to-day behaviors and cannot keep record of individual preferences across visits. KidZania’s loyalty program takes this a step further. The B-KidZanian program is voluntary and themed as becoming a citizen of KidZania. To become a KidZania “CitiZen,” kids sign up for a KZ passport with parent consent, giving the same information required for a real passport. As CitiZens visit different role-play establishments, they collect achievement stamps in their passports, giving them tangible evidence of their accomplishments and skills. Entry-level CitiZens earn and save more kidZos (KZ currency) for their activities, and “Distinguished” and “Honorable” CitiZens, who have gained a certain level of career expertise, gain access to exclusive activities and special privileges.


KidZania launched B-KidZanian just over 2 years ago in their flagship Mexico parks and over 300,000 kids are enrolled today. The program gives KZ the ability to send targeted email campaigns to the parents of KidZania CitiZens, and also acts as a natural incentive for repeat visits — Sarah Marsh, Minister of Citizenship reported that one enthused CitiZen visited KidZania facilities more than 80 times in one year! KidZania Santiago launched B-Kidzanian in February 2014 and KidZania Dubai is the next facility to offer the loyalty program.

What’s great about B-KidZanian is that it allows KidZania to measure guest activity without being intrusive. CitiZens love collecting their passport stamps and enjoy having their progress tracked, much like in a video game. This not only reflects back to the kids what their accomplishments and improvements are, a growth process that is central to the KidZania mission, but it also naturally lends itself to a strong loyalty program. As a marketing tool, B-KidZanian also helps KZ understand its customers as individuals, generating insight into what users want, which in turn influences what KZ offers.

After leaving the facility, kids stay involved with KZ by accessing the B-KidZanian online portal, which leads to a resume of completed KZ activities and a personal bank statement. The program will be strengthened even further once it has a fully developed online platform that offers stronger engagement and more ways for CitiZens to connect their skills and interests to the real world.

The Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, CA – The Tech Tag

Tech Museum of Innovation

The Tech opened in 1997 as both a traditional science center and a showcase for the latest and greatest technology in Silicon Valley. The exhibits have taken a new direction in recent years to showcase applied technology and Silicon Valley’s spirit of innovation. In the last two years, Vice President of Exhibits, Lath Carlson, has worked on changing the museum’s interactive experiences to focus on hands-on design challenges, turning museum visitors into innovators instead of just onlookers of the latest technology. One example is the exhibit “Social Robots,” where visitors have free rein over supplies to build a robot that satisfies a specific function, such as “take care of your pet” or “make someone laugh.”

Social robots parts
Building a social robot

Another innovation that has added to the visitor experience is The Tech Tag, which has been running for over 10 years. The first iteration began as an RFID wristband, which later evolved to the current model of being linked to ticket barcodes, with the possibility that the program will circle back to a different type of RFID technology later this year. The Tech Tag tracks visitors’ language preference and their results from game-like activities and lab experiments. Guests can use The Tech Tag to activate exhibits, which will recognize their skill levels and unique preferences. Most importantly, The Tech Tag connects to an online platform where guests can access videos, photos and scores from the museum’s experiences and share these on social media. The online portal also connects to educational material and resources.

Physics activity at The Tech

This is an example of a game-like exhibit that would save scores to the kids’ Tech Tag

The Tech Tag program links visits together over time, allowing guests to connect with the museum outside of its walls. Other museums with online portals have engagement rates ranging from 1-4%. The Tech Museum’s engagement is 18-20%, thanks to its unique laboratory setup where guests can login online to find out their experiment results.

In the future, Carlson hopes to achieve even more customization in the museum experience and incorporate more design challenge levels. Later this year, The Tech will focus on health and wellness with a new exhibit experience that will complement The Tech Tag: As guests complete activities that measure mood, heart rate, and other health indicators, this information will connect to the system to create detailed visualizations of behavior and health. Collecting experiential data in this case is instructional and part of the overall message of the experience, and will also encourage visitors to access The Tech Tag portal to further engage with the data they collected on their visit. As The Tech continues to make more hands-on design challenges, The Tech Tag will integrate additional tie-ins that enhance the overall visitor experience.


The above examples enhance guest experience while satisfying key operational and marketing needs. While these loyalty programs collect personal data, privacy concerns are not an issue. At KidZania, personal information stays exclusively within the B-KidZanian program, and the Tech Tag’s database includes very little sensitive information to begin with.

Nevertheless, the concept of personalization and digital engagement brings up some ethical questions. Theme parks and other leisure venues are always striving for the next level of customization. At the base of personalization is data, which means that increased customization requires a larger database of personal information. What does the visitor lose, if anything, by giving up personal data to a venue? WhiteWater West’s Director of Imagination, Denise Weston, pointed out at an IAAPA panel last fall that, “Collecting guest data puts us in a live, real-time social experiment.” We have all become used to being asked for our information — the Internet alone has made daily life a bit like an obstacle course of permission requests and online terms & conditions, and it’s hard to keep track of the countless portals that store our information, whether we opted-in or not. The pitfalls of giving out our personal information online are clear, as Julia Angwin points out in The New York Times:

“Not long ago, we would have bought services as important to us as mail and news. Now, however, we get all those services for free – and we pay with our personal data, which is spliced and diced and bought and sold. Those who aren’t bothered by that exchange should keep in mind that our data is used not just for advertisements. It has also been used to charge people different prices based on their personal information. It has been used to provide different search results to different people based on their political interests. It has been used by the government to identify possible criminal and terrorist suspects. If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.”

Angwin’s point is well made: while the Internet appears to be free, we pay with our privacy and personal information. So what about our industry? Is our personal information safe with a leisure venue? Will theme parks start profiling visitors and secretly charge different prices based on economic brackets or interest levels? While many venues probably won’t, you can be sure that some are already working on it.

There is already some borderline disturbing profiling technology being showcased at attractions expos, marketed mostly to retail destinations:

Visitor profiling recognition wall at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2013

This recognition wall can recognize a visitor’s sex, approximate age, and help track the duration of their visit

Visitor stats

The above example clearly favors the venue over the visitor, treating guest information as a commodity and not even bothering to disguise the data collection as a fun game (though a disguise would make it even more unsettling). Even though the information it collects is quite basic, the profiling seems intrusive and doesn’t add any value to the visitor’s experience besides being an interesting gimmick.

To avoid erring on the side of paranoia, perhaps the question shouldn’t be, “What do we lose by giving our data?” and should instead be, “What do we gain, and is it enough?” As a media-savvy society, we know when we’re being advertised to and we know when there’s nothing genuine behind an attempt to gain our information. When profiling and data collection balances guest interests with a venue’s marketing interests, we will likely accept such tactics. In the meantime, visitors to leisure venues will remain a part of the big social experiment that is living in today’s technology-rich environment.

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