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Wi-Fi enhances guest experience and profitability for Belgian theme park

Bobbejaanland, one of the largest theme parks in Belgium, is using a Fortinet Wi-Fi network to offer visitors access on the go, and improve its management capabilities

With the expectation of internet access almost universal, the provision of publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks in shops, restaurants, hotels and other public spaces is nothing new.

Bobbejaanland, one of the biggest theme parks in Belgium, has tapped into this trend and deployed a wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure supplied by Fortinet.

Even though they exist to give visitors a fun day out, like any other business theme parks must be profitable, and profit was a key motivation in Bobbejaanland’s decision to deploy the wireless network infrastructure.

The park’s first goal was to provide reliable network connectivity to the different corporate devices installed around the park, including computers and point of sale (PoS) devices. The second goal was to offer free internet connectivity to its visitors.

However, in the digital world it is important to keep in mind there will always be a trade-off and nothing is truly free. In Bobbejaanland’s case, the trade-off is around personal data.

The concept of big data can be very helpful for a company such as Bobbejaanland – it collects a lot of data, stores it and generates more data based on what it has collected. What if you could learn how your visitors are entering the park, when they go to lunch or how long they remain in a specific area? What if you could attract them into particular shops? This data all comes from smartphones.

Niels Meeus, IT manager at Bobbejaanland, explains how the park implemented and uses its set-up based on Fortinet appliances.

Across its campus, which covers an area of 56 acres and has 40 rides, it has deployed 30 wireless hotspots at sensitive places to cover the maximum possible area of the park, with 90% currently covered.

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These are managed and protected by a Fortigate firewall, which also serves as the wireless network management tool.

Next to the classic firewall system, another product has been deployed – FortiPresence. This tool helps gather intelligence based on connected devices. By applying triangulation, the device location can be estimated and put on a dynamic map.

The benefits of such a system are very valuable in terms of learning how visitors flow through the park, conducting queue event analysis, driving concession sales and profiling newcomers and regular visitors.

From a management perspective, a critical aspect of the deployment is to learn about visitors’ habits to make their day out more pleasant, but also to get them to spend more money.

Data security

To capture visitor information, guests are invited to register on a captive portal to access the internet using an email address or a Facebook account, explains Meeus. During the registration process, guests must accept a disclaimer clearly stating their devices will be tracked via their MAC address. According to Meeus, only one person has so far asked for their data to be erased.

The dynamic captive portal then displays promotions depending on the guest’s location in the park, with access points (APs) installed at critical locations. For example, should a guest connect to the AP closest to a pizza stand, they may receive push notifications on available meal deals.

Visitor location tracking also helps Bobbejaanland’s management to anticipate guest needs before they become a problem. A surge of people into one area may highlight the need to re-fill drinks or vending machines – which is correlated with notifications the machines send over an internet of things (IoT) sensor network when almost empty – or herald a need for cleaning teams or even security guards to be deployed.

Under Belgian law, Bobbejaanland is considered to act as an internet service provider and must keep track of visitors’ activity by logging enough data to investigate potential incidents, from MAC addresses, device-associated email or Facebook accounts and the traffic generated, although this does not include the payload, which may contain sensitive information. This data is stored in the cloud for a period of three weeks.

Besides visitors to Bobbejaanland, Fortinet created two other user profiles with access to the wireless network. These are for back-office users and applications, and mobile employees moving around the park. All three categories of users have their own virtual LAN (VLAN), service set identifier (SSID), specific encryption levels and firewalls. 

On top of this, quality of service (QoS) has been implemented to prioritise the different types of traffic. In terms of incidents or potential breaches, Meeus says the park has faced none since implementing Fortinet, although the system was able to detect and disable two rogue APs.

The success of the implementation so far is a good example of how technology can grow businesses if used in the right way. For the future, the park has plans to go further by exploring other ways to interact with guests, such as Bluetooth low-energy beacons and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. 

Bobbejaanland also has a downloadable mobile application to help guests find their way around, look up prices and chat with friends, and plans to enhance it with interactive games based on Bluetooth beacons, says Meeus.

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