NFC Headlines at Afro Nation Festival

By Claire Swedberg

A cashless-payment solution known as Event Genius was offered at last year's global festival in Ghana and is now planned for use at Afro Nation Portugal, with the goal of reducing queues, increasing purchasing and decreasing theft.

Music lovers will be able to leave their cash and credit cards at home during this summer's African music festival known as Afro Nation Portugal. The RFID solution that will be deployed at the event allows payments and access control via a wristband, cutting waits at queues and potentially increasing sales. The deployment follows the RFID system's use at the event's Afro National Ghana festival in December 2019. Afro Nation Portugal, which will be held in Portimao, Algarve, is a beach festival that will take place on July 17–19. The festival, also held in Puerto Rico, delivers live DJ performances that include hip hop, rhythm and blues, dance and bashment music.

The beachside event's cashless-payment system, provided by Festicket, is known as Event Genius by Festicket. The solution offers a variety of features, including a cashless payments feature known as Event Genius Pay. According to Lauren Lytle, Event Genius's head of operations, the system is designed so that festival organizers can mix and match from such features as ticketing, travel, accommodations, access control and marketing.

Lauren Lytle

"Our first experience with Afro Nation came when we provided our full service to Afro Nation Ghana," Lytle recalls. The company deployed its software platform for tickets sold via Ticket Arena and Festicket, while also providing wristband ticketing. Afro Nation Portugal will benefit from the full Event Genius product set, she says, including travel packages, access control and cashless payments onsite. This is the second Afro Nation Portugal festival, she adds, but the first use of RFID cashless payments.

Here's how the system works: Each music fan first buys and prints a ticket, or receives a digital ticket, that he or she can provide at the venue. At the time of purchase, the fan is invited to pre-purchase credit vouchers at checkout, which amount to a prepaid balance from a credit card so the customer can buy goods without bringing money onsite.

At the venue gate, fans can exchange their printed or digital tickets for an RFID wristband from Event Genius. The bracelet comes with a built-in passive Near Field Communication (NFC) HF RFID Mifare chip compliant with the ISO 14443 standard. Each ticketholder's information is linked in the Event Genius software and app with the unique ID encoded on his or her wristband RFID chip. That information includes the ticketholder's identification and prepaid account, if he or she chooses to use the cashless-payment service.

Festival personnel will be equipped with Android-based mobile NFC reading devices running the Event Genius app. The app comes pre-loaded with the relevant menu for each vendor site (every location has a different menu loaded prior to the event), and staff members can select items to place in a basket and then hold the device on the wristband to accept payment. For instance, if an individual were buying a drink or a T-shirt, a worker could select the item from the menu, show the cost total to the wristband holder and tap the bracelet if the customer approved the purchase. Employees are trained by Event Genius Pay operators to use the app for payment collection on the device.

Once payment is successfully completed, the worker shows the remaining balance to the customer using the cashless mobile device. She or he can then simply receive the purchased food, beverage or merchandise. The process reduces the amount of time visitors spend standing in queues, Lytle says, adding, "The average payment takes around seven seconds."

The specific number of devices and payment locations to be deployed at the Portugal event has yet to be decided. However, Lytle says, a typical 10,000-guest-capacity festival includes approximately five food vendors, three large bars, several smaller bars and potentially rides that would require payments. For instance, Lytle states, "We recently ran a cashless theme park project in the Middle East where there were 90 different rides, all paid for using cashless wristbands."

The system can also include top-up stations in the form of kiosks where wristband users can add funds to their prepaid balance. The kiosk comes with a built-in NFC reader. A user could tap his or her bracelet where directed by the kiosk, and the NFC reader would capture the ID on that person's wristband tag. The app would then access the individual's identity, and a touch screen would display information allowing the guest to add money to his or her balance from a credit card or bank account. Users can also employ the kiosk to view their balance.

The Afro Nation Portugal event will host thousands of people, Lytle predicts, and each ticketholder will receive a wristband. The bracelet will also be used for access control, allowing attendees to go to and from the festival site as often as they wish. With the solution, she adds, the venue is likely to reduce the length of queues, as well as decrease the risk of theft, since customers will not need to carry cash or payment cards. Because the queues are shorter, Festicket reports, attendees typically spend more money. For vendors, this means less time employees must spend counting cash and conducting reconciliation.

Festivals, by their nature, are fast-paced and crowded, Lytle says, and they lend themselves to unique situations that the Event Genius solution is designed to address. But such events can also pose challenges for technology companies. For RFID use, the challenge is to ensure that the equipment arrives at the right time and place, and that training can be provided to staff members within a matter of hours.

"We have completed more than 50 cashless events in the last year," Lytle states, "and have met many weird and wonderful challenges." Those challenges tend to materialize as the program starts, she adds, "so we won't know until we get there, but [we've] never failed to get things working." One key point for such a deployment, Lytle notes, is "always—always—having the requisite number of operations staff onsite to troubleshoot issues and communicate with other concerned parties."