Originally Published in Theme Park University…NOVEMBER 2, 2016
Every theme park has its ups and downs and Shanghai Disneyland, being less than six months old, has had a few bumps already. A recent article on the usually brilliant Disney and More website brought to light somemisconceptions about not only ticket fraud, but security in theme parks globally. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Talk to anyone who’s worked a guest services window at any major theme park in the the world and they will tell you that ticket fraud is a real problem. From scalpers selling phony tickets to customers trying to pass passes from one person to another when they are non-transferable. As evidenced by recent changed at Walt Disney World, the non-transferable ticket problem is an issue since the Mouse now requires children to scan their fingerat the park entrances, just like adults do.
Sometimes the fraud is intentional on behalf of the person holding the ticket, but often times it is not. Generally speaking, ticket scalpers will either buy or collect used tickets that have no indication of it they were used or not and try to resell them to the public.
Indeed there is a sucker born every minute. These ticket scalpers descend upon unsuspecting tourists and sell them tickets at a significantly reduced rate from their price at the gate. If you’ve lived near a theme park long enough, especially in a city like Orlando, you’ll see a ring of scalpers arrested every few weeks and their mugshots appear on local television. Often times they will be thrown in jail, which has increased in recent years thanks to Disney lobbying the state of Florida to show increased penalties for repeat offenders.
Things in China, on the other hand, operate differently. The government plays a different role in protecting their people and businesses. While there are laws against things like ticket fraud, the population is so large that with certain laws, the government can often look the other way in order take care of what they consider bigger issues. This leaves the individual company, such as Shanghai Disneyland, to do a lot of their own policing to try to prevent the ticket fraud from happening before it becomes a problem.
In the United States, buying something off the street such as electronics or theme park tickets is often seen as shady, and most people are aware that those deals are often illegal. China, while slowly evolving, is a different story altogether. You can often buy bootlegged DVDs from someone’s trunk and not many people think twice. You can buy nearly anything off the street and often times it will be for less than what you will find in the store, sometimes because it was obtained illegally.
For many people, working around the system is not just a way to get free stuff, it’s a way of life. A major theme park like Shanghai Disney has never been seen by people living in the Shanghai region. They have no idea what to expect in terms of crowds, prices and even how the ticketing system works. This is all new territory for the vast majority of people who are visiting the park. Keep in mind, most parks in China are smaller and guests can pay by the ride. Even those that grant full-day admission are relatively inexpensive. The higher the value of the item you’re trying to scam, the more valuable it becomes. Shanghai Disneyland, as it stands now, is the most expensive theme park in China.
During my visit to Shanghai Disneyland, I did see a few ticket scalpers trying to blend in with the tourists. Unless you were looking for them, they wouldn’t stand out, but they were certainly looking for you. Approaching tourists with a casual conversation about tickets they weren’t going to use that they had either used themselves previous days, found on the ground or even printed at home. Shanghai Disneyland actually has some fairly unique defenses against ticket fraud.
For starters, if you bought your tickets in advance, in order to redeem them you must present our confirmation letter and a government issued photo identification. Once the name on that identification matches, your tickets are printed at the turnstile itself.
Once your ticket is printed, a photo is taken of you directly after scanning the newly created bar code. In other words, if you leave the park and come back in, your ticket is scanned and your photo pops up on a screen in front of the turnstile greeter. As long as it is the same person who came in with that ticket, you are good to return back to the park. If not? Security gets involved.
This is where the Disney and More article comes in. Upon his visit, Alain Littaye encountered this unique-to-Disney ticketing system and had this to say:
“Then, after the security check you’ll arrive to the entrance where they will not only “bip” the barcode printed on your reservation but also take a picture of each guest coming in. I don’t specially like that and the supposed the reason why is to avoid Chinese going out of the park and giving his ticket to someone else. I asked to others readers who went in the park where are the cameras shooting a picture of you and none could really tell me. So, when i was there i asked the CM where they are. To what she answered to me “I can’t tell you for security reasons”. Which was such a corporate answer that it put me in bad mood and i told her “Security reasons? C’mon, it’s bullshit! where are they?” And it’s at that point that I noticed them. What they did in fact is to put different cameras in the ceiling, so basically they can shoot a picture of you on three different angles, meaning there is no way to escape to this corporate madness. Seeing them, I told the CM, “Ah, here they are, right?” to what she didn’t answer, so I took a picture to let you know exactly where these bloody cameras are!”
Now there is a lot to unpack in that paragraph, so let’s look at this situation piece by piece. Let’s start with the picture Littaye took of the camera system above everyone’s head. While that may be a great shot of bald spots and bald caps, it does very little to identify each individual person who enters the gates of Shanghai Disneyland. Rather, employees use a bar code scanner that has a camera built into it to point in the direction of every guest who enters the park. I know this because I was wearing sunglasses to enter the park and they request that anyone wearing those remove them for the photo, otherwise it is taken without the guest knowing.
Most likely, while Littaye was calling “bullshit” on his question not being answered directly, his photo was being taken before he could get the “bull” out of his mouth. Now certainly you could call her out for not informing him of where the camera is as a corporate answer and it most certainly is. I don’t know if he’s aware and for God sake keep this between us, but Disney is a very very large corporation. While it may be hard to believe that an employee of a corporate company gave a corporate answer, that is what happened. More on that later.
Certainly one can make the claim that a corporation shouldn’t go to the lengths of taking photos of every person who walks into their gates in order to protect themselves from ticket scalpers and fraud. Unfortunately for many, Disney is looked at as a multi-billion corporation who could stand to lose a few dollars here and there. Things happen and chalk it up to a loss, right?
Absolutely wrong. Knowingly scamming the system in any form has to be protected by all companies as much as reasonably possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re a local business selling hot dogs on the street or a multi-billion dollar company operating a theme park, you have to protect your assets and ensure you’re doing all you can to make sure you’re not losing thousands in revenue. Especially. In. China.
Let’s say that you don’t think taking everyone’s photo entering a premises is a reasonable thing to do. That it is an invasion of privacy and you feel that some of your rights are being stripped by allowing this to occur, especially if you’re buying your tickets and using them properly. Let’s ignore the fact that most businesses in the world (and even many homes) have surveillance cameras everywhere to monitor their property and assets for security and other reasons. Assuming that’s not the case (it most certainly is), let’s assume that going the extra step of taking your picture is a line you personally take issue with.
There are certainly ways to channel that anger to address those concerns. For starters, you certainly can turn around and leave the premises without having your picture taken. You can also take it up with the higher ups at Shanghai Disneyland. Write a letter or even have a face-to-face conversation with security or a ticketing manager. Hell, you can even petition the government saying that this is an invasion or privacy and fight the good fight!
If there is anything I want you, my dear readers of Theme Park University, to understand from today’s article is this: keep yourself in check when dealing with frontline employees. If you disagree with a policy at any business and you want to vent? Do not get upset with the person in front of you by saying “this is bullshit!”
I’m assuming, if you’ve gotten this far, you’re an adult who is hopefully a rational human being who can understand a basic concept. Saying a phrase like “this is bullshit!” will most likely result in the employee in front of you starting to take things personally, possibly getting anxious and regretting taking that job. Sure, it comes with the territory sometimes. You may not be upset with that direct person, but acting like a child and saying “this is bullshit!” to a person who has no control over that particular policy and is doing their job correctly makes you look like an ass.
Please, if you have a beef with an employee of any business who is dong their job correctly, control your anger and channel it elsewhere. You’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.
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