Bonifas found Alvarado after seeing one of its stadium admission systems in action. Bonifas e-mailed Alvarado and received a return call from president/CEO, Bret Armatas. Bonifas explained the dilemma and the zoo’s frustrations trying to find a workable, cost effective solution. Armatas explained that Alvarado was a leading entry system provider, in addition to one of the world’s largest turnstile manufacturers.

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“As far as ticket validation and admission control goes, Alvarado took us from mom and pop to world class.”
-Kevin Bonifas, IT Manager – Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

Automated turnstile entry system helps patron flow at Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

Background

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is known worldwide as a premier zoological park and destination venue. The zoo houses over 5,000 animals and in 2009, USA Travel Guide named it the number one zoo in America.

In early 2007, the zoo purchased a 22.7 acre water park next to the zoo. The water park, called Zoombezi Bay, would be located inside the zoo and a new common entrance would be constructed to provide access to both the zoo and water park. The opening was schedule for Memorial Day weekend in 2008.

Challenge

With the expansion, a decision was made to explore an automated entry system. The management team decided the system needed to:

  • Accommodate 2 million visitors
  • Allow members/season pass holders to bypass ticket booths
  • Read and validate all tickets, including print-at-home tickets
  • Fully integrate with the zoo’s ticketing system
  • Provide beneficial financial and operational information
  • Be easy for attendants and operators to understand
  • Be a reliable, scalable solution that would grow with the zoo

The zoo also needed a vendor with the expertise to guide them through the entire process.

“Alvarado really understood the entry and operations process and offered practical solutions.”
– Andy Cloyd – Director of Operations

Where to Go?

The zoo first turned to ticketing companies, but none seemed to have a realistic solution. “One company said we’d have to set up a laptop computer on top of each of the turnstiles,” recalled Kevin Bonifas, the IT manager of the zoo. Another company recommended installing turnstiles imported from Europe. “The price they quoted for the turnstiles was just outrageous,” said Bonifas.

The ticketing company solutions were also proprietary. This was a real concern for the zoo. As Bonifas explained, “Ticketing companies seem to come and go. We really didn’t want to get stuck with something that would make it hard or expensive for us to switch ticketing providers.”

The zoo then turned to turnstile companies, but Bonifas couldn’t find one that provided solutions. “They could sell us turnstiles, but as far as providing a system, they said we were on our own.” At least, until Bonifas talked to Alvarado.

Bonifas found Alvarado after seeing one of its stadium admission systems in action. Bonifas e-mailed Alvarado and received a return call from president/CEO, Bret Armatas. Bonifas explained the dilemma and the zoo’s frustrations trying to find a workable, cost effective solution. Armatas explained that Alvarado was a leading entry system provider, in addition to one of the world’s largest turnstile manufacturers.

Alvarado’s past focus had been providing entry control at sports stadiums and arenas, but Armatas expressed interest in working with the zoo. After initial conversations, three members of the zoo, representing IT, operations and finance, traveled to Alvarado’s modern manufacturing facility, met its management team, and saw its products in action.

What really impressed the zoo, however, was Alvarado’s expertise and openness. “You could tell they knew what they were talking about,” recalled Andy Cloyd, the zoo’s Director of Operations. “They really understood the entry and operations process, answered all our questions, and offered very practical solutions.”

Alvarado developed detailed specs of the system, keeping in mind the zoo’s focus on the guest experience. Through a collaborative process, Alvarado helped the zoo refine its requirements, including the entry process itself. Alvarado conducted a site survey to assist with electrical and communication requirements and Alvarado produced CAD drawings to allow the zoo and site contractors to visualize the layout. “Alvarado was a big, big help”, remembers Cloyd. “Frankly, my only regret is that we didn’t listen to more of their layout and entry process suggestions.”

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Solution

The Alvarado solution for the zoo was ParkAdmission, a ticket validation and access control system for venues with family, group, donor and member admission requirements.

The components of the system included:

ParkAdmission Software

ParkAdmission software serves as the backbone of the system. ParkAdmission validates entry tickets and passes, including print-at-home tickets, seamlessly integrates with the zoo’s ticketing vendor, Accesso, and provides a wealth of entry and attendance data and reports.

Alvarado helped the zoo define and set up ticket types and entry parameters and worked with the Accesso closely to integrate the two products. “The Alvarado product is very intuitive and their API is very easy to follow”, said Steve Brown, CEO/President of Accesso.

An SU500 provides count of customers entering. Other equipment in this photo is a VSG Gate, and Alvarado's TASII Interactive Operator Console.

An SU500 provides count of customers entering. Other equipment in this photo is a VSG Gate, and Alvarado’s TASII Interactive Operator Console.

TAS II & PocketGate Handheld Mobile Scanners

To efficiently process tickets and passes, Alvarado created the TAS II Interactive Operator Console. The TAS II installs on turnstiles or pedestals and controls the unlocking of the entry turnstiles and gates. Building off the platform of its very successful TAS, the TAS II has an operator touch screen interface that allows the validation and recording of actual entries for group and membership tickets. The TAS II allows operators to look up ticket and pass history and can easily support custom entry requirements.

Alvarado Product Manager, Bill Voss, explains, “The TAS II is very flexible. It allows an operator to enter the actual number of people showing up and can break the attendees down by senior, adult, and child or however the facility wants to categorize guests. This allows accurate attendance information, and enables the facility to deal with split groups and all the other variations that facilities are so familiar with.”

“The functionality of the TAS II is very nice,” said Bonifas. “It does exactly what we need and the flexibility of Alvarado’s system makes it very easy to design custom screens and functionality if our needs change.”

“We put a great deal of engineering into the TAS II,” said Armatas. “The display is visible in bright sunlight, the touch screen is weatherized and the TAS II supports either guest or operator scanning equally well.”

To assist the zoo with its special events and temporary entry points, the zoo used wireless handheld ticket scanners running Alvarado’s PocketGate software. Alvarado has deployed thousands of wireless handheld scanners in its installations throughout the world.

Guest and Stroller Wheelchair Access

Alvarado’s EDC turnstiles were selected for general guest entry. The EDC operates seamlessly with the TAS II, and has a smooth controlled rotation required by family venues. Alvarado’s VSG gates provide access for strollers and wheelchairs. TAS II scanners on pedestals validate tickets for patrons entering through VSG gates.

SU500 Barrier Free Optical Turnstiles

Knowing many guests were in the park at any point in time was very important to the zoo. With this data, the zoo could improve staff scheduling, more accurately analyze per capita spending and just have a better overall understanding of patron traffic at the facilities. Entrance counts were obtained through scanning and operator processing of actual entries on group and member tickets. To obtain a real-time in-park number, Alvarado’s SU500 optical turnstiles were installed at exit points.

Installation Assistance

Prior to, and during the system installation, Alvarado coordinated with zoo staff, the architect and the installation contractor. During the actual installation, Alvarado provided on site supervision ensuring the equipment and equipment infrastructure was correctly installed.

Experience and Expertise

Founded in 1956, Alvarado designs and manufactures venue entry, crowd control and pedestrian queuing products. Alvarado installed the first computerized stadium entry system in the USA in the 1990’s and in 20+ years Alvarado has installed thousands of ticket validation/admission control systems around the world.

Zoombezi Bay and the zoo’s new common public entrance opened as planned on May 26, 2008. By the first season’s end, nearly 2 million visitors had been admitted through Alvarado’s ParkAdmission system.

Since the opening, ParkAdmission has been integral to the Columbus Zoo’s operations and has been a giant leap in the zoo’s continuing effort to enhance the guest experience. Kevin Bonifas commented, “As far as ticket validation and admission control goes, we went from mom and pop to world-class. The equipment has been reliable and has done exactly what Alvarado promised.”

Reflecting on ParkAdmission, the zoo’s Director of Information Technology, Gregg Oosterbaan, commented, “The system has met our expectations and Alvarado’s on-going tech support has been truly valuable to us. When we have a problem or a question, they are there to help us out.”