Getting in the swim

Lower-cost passive RFID technology is beginning to appear at hotels and resorts that value its ability to improve security and service. For properties with specific needs, including Great Wolf Lodge resorts in the US and Canada, RFID offers benefits that more than outweigh the costs.

Great Wolf’s resorts are waterparks, making RFID a particularly suitable solution for guest convenience, notes Brendon Lam, lecturer at the RFID Hospitality Management Systems (RHyMeS) Center in Singapore. “RFID is very compelling as it frees the guests from having to carry cash (and get their wallets soaked) or conventional door access cards.”

Ready for Fun  
In Great Wolf Lodges, guests receive wristbands, which include a 13.56Mhz frequency RFID transponder. When used with the park’s network of readers and centralized software, they allow the park to provide smart access to facilities and process payments. 

“The idea is for guests to be able to do everything with the RFID wristbands, so they do not need to carry a wallet, charge card or room key,” says Castellino. “Instead they use the wristband to pay for food at the lodge restaurants, purchases in the gift shop, treatments at the spa, and so on.” Indeed, the wristbands can even be used to pay for games at park arcades – a particular favorite for children visiting the park.

The system improves security by eliminating the need for guests to carry cash or keys when enjoying the park. And according to Castellino, Great Wolf is considering adding even more advanced security features, focusing more along the lines of location and mapping services, that use hand-held devices with RFID scanners.”  

Keeping Track
In large family resorts like Great Wolf’s parks, location and mapping can offer invaluable peace of mind for parents. With these solutions, the central computer system identifies the zone of the park where the guest last used his wristband to enter an area or make a purchase. Kiosk or handheld devices carried by resort staff will then reveal those locations (typically as dots on a virtual map) to people traveling in the same party after they log in with their own RFID tags.

RFID locator systems have already been implemented at many other theme parks in North America, and while they appear to be popular amongst parents, they also raise some concerns. First, the security they provide is not foolproof: The pinpointing the system provides is usually not precise; the system only works within the property; and potential kidnappers can remove bracelets. Some experts are concerned that the RFID devices may provide parents with a false sense of security that results in them putting their children at risk.  

Too personal?
Privacy is another concern. Taking an RFID bracelet or intercepting RFID transmissions doesn’t pose much of a privacy risk, since, as Castellino points out, “no personal information is stored on the RFID wristbands – it is merely an identifier.” However, having companies use their knowledge of what rides individuals visited or what they spent – or having hackers steal and exploit this information – is a more significant issue.

Companies using RFID locator systems usually state that they are not tracking individual family level data, in order to address this concern.

Privacy expectations do vary significantly in different cultures, and while US residents have typically been more concerned about “Big Brother” than Asian residents, it is clear that many people are willing to make an exception when it comes to issues of child safety. And if guests embrace the technology, hotels will be quick to offer it – particularly if it becomes less expensive. “Over time, RFID will get more affordable as an increasing number of companies take advantage of it to enhance the guest experience,” predicts Rajiv Castellino.   

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