Download dives into the cashless future

Download 2015 became the first of the major UK festivals to go completely cashless, in a bid to cut food and bar queues and improve on-site security. The Donington Park weekend, which features around 150 acts across five stages, was this year headlined by Muse, Slipknot and Kiss. Each of the more than 70,000 ticket holders was issued with a Dog Tag wristband designed to work with German RFID specialists YouChip’s wireless, contactless system. The technology is increasingly popular, with Standon Calling and larger festivals like Wireless using it successfully, but this year’s Download was the first major not to accept any cash at bars, stalls or funfair rides across the entire site.

After registering online, each ticket holder was able to preload money onto their personal tag’s RFID (Radio frequency identification) chip. They received their smart wristband on arrival at the site, and free wi-fi was provided to make it easy to top-up their chip using the Download app. Balance check and top-up points accepting cards and cash were also provided. As well as allowing contactless payments, the chips helped to speed up movement around the site with frictionless security checks via remote readers at gates and arena thresholds.

Unfortunately, many people arriving on the Wednesday found their wristbands wouldn’t work, resulting in long queues at the festival’s information points. Some complained on Twitter that they’d had to go without food or drink, branding the system “useless”. Organisers Live Nation acknowledged “some minor technical issues, affecting around 1 per cent of attendees” and opened additional help desks on the Thursday.

There are privacy concerns in some quarters about digitising every single transaction, and some detractors suggest the system merely shifts the queues to the Top Up machines. Others point out that contactless payment is already possible, and question the value of a closed system like this.

The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) is working for a code of practice for similar systems to protect traders, currently dependent on organisers to repay them. The proposed code would require organisers to hold such funds in a trust account, rather than their own, and to repay traders daily to allow them to restock and pay staff.

While there are clearly some issues still to be ironed out, there’s no doubt the new system had the desired effect on Download’s queues. A typical post on Download’s own online forum read: “My personal experience with the cashless system was near enough fantastic, I love it and hope it rolls out to more festivals. Don’t think I ever had to queue for a drink for longer than 90 seconds, even later in the day before headliners.”

We continue to be excited about the potential of cashless payment options to make life easier around the bars and to generally improve the festival experience for everyone.

What do you think?

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