Bluetooth Beacons Bring Services, Info to SeaWorld, LA Zoo Visitors

Both organizations are trialing a solution from The Experience Engine to deliver content to phone users as they walk through the parks, visit exhibits, or pass restaurants and gift shops.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 16, 2015

The Los Angeles Zoo and SeaWorld have both recently launched a solution provided by The Experience Engine (TE2) that enables marketing via consumers' smartphones, by providing an app that they can download, and offering information specific to a location identified via new Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons deployed throughout the parks. At the LA Zoo, guests can use their phones to take a guided tour of the recently opened Rainforest of the Americas exhibit, while SeaWorld is testing beacons throughout its park in Orlando, Fla., so that its existing Discovery Guide smartphone app now has the ability to present information based on a particular visitor's location.

TE2's solution involves more than just a determining location, according to TE2's founder, Scott Sahadi. “It takes more than just knowing a consumer’s location to deliver an effective experience that can drive conversion rates,” he explains. TE2's solution includes contextual data such as time, guest loyalty or product preferences, as well as proximity, to provide relevant data to that consumer.

At both SeaWorld and LA Zoo, the TE2 system, is aimed at bringing more information to visitors' phones, such as indicating where they are located, what they might be looking at and what else is available within their vicinity. LA Zoo’s deployment involves Gelo battery-powered beacons, while SeaWorld is testing beacons from a variety of vendors.

The Gelo beacon
Gelo beacons are designed for customized outdoor installations, says Al Juarez, Gelo's director of sales and business development. The beacons are built to be rugged enough for all weather (they are IP66-rated for dust and water resistance) and have a long battery life. According to the company, each beacon comes with two pre-installed AAA batteries (replaceable by means of a screwdriver), with an expected operational lifespan of at least two years. At the LA Zoo, the TE2 solution consists of 40 Gelo beacons installed throughout the Rainforest exhibit. Each beacon transmits a unique ID number to nearby smartphones, enabling those phones—if they are loaded with the appropriate app—to access the data specific to that part of the exhibit, focusing on a certain animal or the environment being showcased, according to Kait Hilliard, VP of marketing at the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), which operates the zoo.

SeaWorld had already launched its Discovery Guide app—the motto of which is, "Put the park in your pocket"—for Apple iOS and Android phones and tablets, in order to send visitors promotional offers, information about animals and conservation status, basic park information and a GPS-based map to help guests navigate the park or figure out where they parked their car. Now, says Darla Morse, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment's CIO, with the addition of the TE2 beacon-based functionality, the park can also provide location-specific special offers from gift shops and restaurants when individuals come close to those establishments.

SeaWorld's Darla Morse
TE2 was formed after Sahadi says he saw an opportunity to help "venue-based businesses dramatically enhance their customers’ experiences." Prior to founding TE2, Scott was the CEO of Ioko North America (acquired by Piksel), a platform and services technology company focused on the media and entertainment space. (With considerable experience in the entertainment space, including for Disney and major consumer brands, Sahadi built TE2 to provide a scalable enterprise software platform that would allow brand marketers to connect with consumers via mobile devices to enhance guest experiences.

To enable customers to manage the data and make changes to what is shared with consumers, TE2 offers a software interface known as Mission Control. The company's apps can work with GPS, Wi-Fi and RFID technologies, as well as Bluetooth beacons—the latter of which, Sahadi says, have a low price point and offer "a wonderfully simple way" to reach users based on their location. SeaWorld is using Wi-Fi technology, in addition to the beacons, in some cases to send location-based data such as wayfinding and promotional data. However, neither SeaWorld nor LA Zoo are using RFID in their deployments.

The company began working with the LA Zoo in 2013 as the zoo began planning its new Rainforest exhibit. The Zoo and Botanical Gardens receives 1.6 million visitors annually, and its 113-acre site has a collection of 1,100 animals comprising a total of 250 species. It opened its 2.2-acre Rainforest exhibit in May, and included the beacons as part of the exhibit to enable the virtual tour. As a patron nears an exhibit, his or her phone, operating the TE2 app, receives a transmission from the local beacon, causing the Rainforest of the Americas app to capture information about the animal or habitat in the closest exhibit. Users can then scroll through the data, watch videos, listen to audio files or view photos. The app is available only for iPhones and other Apple iOS devices, Hilliard says, but will eventually be made available for Android-based phones as well, though there is no timeline for that release.

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