Will Disney use Apple's Passbook app for ticketing? A Lake Mary software company says it should

Steve Brown is CEO of Lake Mary-based software company accesso. The company is one of the first travel industry suppliers to adapt its ticketing platform to support Apple's Passbook app. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

Technology has changed much at Walt Disney World recently.

Since just last year, guests have marveled at "The Magic, The Memories and You!" visual spectacle at Cinderella Castle, enjoyed the interactive fun of the "Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom" game, and even have begun to log onto free Wi-Fi access throughout the parks and at the resorts.

Yet one aspect of the Orlando resort’s experience that hasn’t changed much has been its ticketing process. Guests today purchase and use their theme-park tickets much the same way as they have for years. Since 2006, ticket-holders have gone through the turnstiles with paper tickets and outstretched fingers for the parks’ biometric scanners.

Yet a local ticketing software company thinks Disney — and other themed attractions here and worldwide — could better utilize today’s technical advances to improve their guests’ experiences and their companies’ bottom lines. And the key to doing this, according to Lake Mary-based accesso, is to develop a strategy that focuses on mobile technology users.

The company, which was created in 2002 and is led by CEO Steve Brown, a former director of Walt Disney World ticketing, already has become one of the first travel industry suppliers to adapt its ticketing platform to support Apple’s Passbook feature found on the new iPhone 5.

In September, accesso announced that it had extended Passbook accessibility to guests at Cedar Fair Entertainment’s theme parks, as well as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, making those themed attractions among the first in the nation to utilize the digital wallet feature on the new iPhones. Guests to Cedar Fair’s 11 U.S. amusement parks can now purchase tickets on their iPhones anywhere and at any time.

Those parks include Ohio’s Cedar Park and Kings Island, and California’s Knott’s Berry Farm, as well as various water parks throughout the nation.

"In a few years we are going to start see more and more people shift from buying at home to when and where they want on their mobile devices,” Brown said. “It’s much better to develop a game plan now than to try to catch this speeding train."

Brown says desktop machines still account for most online transactions today, but he points to a recent Gartner forecast that predicted a 42 percent annual growth in mobile transactions between now and 2016. By then, according to the analysis, the worldwide mobile payment market could see $617 billion in transaction value.

“That means mobile can’t be ignored, and those organizations that take a wait-and-see approach will quickly get left behind,” he said, adding that themed attractions and other travel-related industries may well be a driving force for this new marketplace shift.

"When you travel, one of the biggest anxieties is keeping up with all your plane tickets, car-rental confirmations and hotel bookings or keeping up with your room key once you board a ship or check in to a hotel,” Brown said, adding that “guests always have their phones with them, so why issue them another item to keep tabs on?"

Apple’s latest changes

When Apple released its iPhone 5 in late September, the new hardware almost overshadowed a defining aspect of the phone — its operating system. That system, iOS 6, ushered in myriad new features, such as better Facebook integration with apps, enhanced Sir features, FaceTime capability over cellular networks and one poorly designed feature that became the subject of countless and well-deserved jokes – Maps.

Maps aside, Apple touted more than 200 new or improved features with the new OS — and one was the digital wallet app called Passbook.

The new app allows iPhone users to store coupons, tickets, reward points and other forms of value-based transactions on their ever-present phones. And because it is a mobile app, it allows iPhone users to keep their entitlements — everything from tickets to boarding passes to reward points — nearby while they’re on the go.

How it works

Here’s how accesso has made ticketing work with Passbook: When an mobile-device user purchases tickets from a Cedar Fair attraction, the platform will detect if the transaction is being made by an iPhone with iOS 6 installed. If so, the user is offered the option of adding their purchase to the Passbook app by following a few simple screen prompts. Users also are offered an alternative option: the ability to add recent purchases to the Passbook app from any email receipts they view on their phones.

It’s certainly not the only digital wallet in the marketplace. After all, Google has its own version, Google Wallet, that does much the same thing yet relies on near-field communication to connect Android phones with checkout devices that scan the phones in the merchants’ stores.

In fact, Apple surprised many in September when it released the iPhone 5 without NFC capabilities. Instead, Passbook relies on an app-based cloud integration to facilitate the transactions. Yet Brown said he doesn’t think the exclusion will hurt the adoption rate of the technology. The reason: Too many checkout scanners would have to be installed at businesses that wanted to interact with NFC devices.

"If you look at the marketplace today, there are a lot of terminals out there that need to be replaced before NFC will be a really viable payment method," he said. "If Apple had offered NFC in the iPhone 5, the number of retail outlets that could have accepted it would have be minimal. ... That said, it’s coming soon on the radar, and you can be sure that Apple has a plan to get some major retailers on board before they jump into the game."