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Summer festivals regressive innovation

If you’ve ever been to a large food or music festival in Europe (perhaps, even down under in AU/NZ), you’ve noticed that no cash or cards are accepted at food and drink places. Instead you would exchange your money in the special machines or at cashiers for the tokens. No, not the digital tokens, or crypto tokens. Old-school plastic ones.

Massive open-air events have quite a few things to handle when it comes to managing thousands of people expectations. Payment is one of them.

Paying in cash means time needed to calculate and find the exact change. It means people losing cash, stealing cash and begging to wait for just a moment while their friend goes out there to get more cash. It means vendor staff has more opportunities for theft. Which in turn poses more attention to safety measures.

Paying with the bank card means time to catch the bad signal, time to realize the card is declined. And let’s face it, in some locations far out in the woods or in the fields there is no signal to begin with, so no cards possible.

At any regular day and time this would result in a queue. Short and moving. But when there are thousands of people aiming for just that specific burger at that specific break between two concerts — queues can and will become a mess. They are the evil enemy of any event organizer.

A simple and thus genius solution was introduced in early 2000s. To create a close-loop festival currency money, viable for just that event. Token are distributed through token vending machines where they are bought with cash or bank card. They are mostly made of light plastic. Printed in square or round form and personalized (which makes them great souvenirs too). Easily cracked in half. All food and beverage prices are rounded up solidly to account for only wholes or halves. Like a burger would be 2 tokens, beer would be 1,5 tokens.

As a result, vendor staff does not need time to get change. There is no change whatsoever. There is no theft since tokens are useless elsewhere but this event and often cannot be exchanged back for cash. Prices are clearly priced which helps avoid any confusion and miscalculation.

Conversion allows vendors to mark up their margin nicely. And visitors are bound to spend more than they would have with the real money. Well, it’s just plastic money with one-time use, right?

Altogether plastic tokens help reduce queues and end up boosting sales. They are cheap to produce and easy to handle.

Everyone understands coins. This is simple. Does it sound like I admire such barbaric and simple thing as fake plastic money? You are right. It is exactly that. No RFID bracelets, festival mobile apps replaced these kind of ‘innovation’ so far. They are expensive, they require top up, good signal and hey — very sober people.

However, there is one thing that is better than plastic tokens for massive events. Those are QR-codes, and not just any, but QR-codes in China. But well, for the western world that loves summer festivals, plastic tokens might be the best ‘innovative’ option so far.


What the Money is a lifestyle channel about fintech, e-commerce, business and innovations by Anna Kuzmina. From Russia. With love. Follow Anna on MediumTelegram или на Яндекс.Дзене.


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Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina



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21 Jan 2019



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