BBC News

Cash to be axed from UK festivals

By Simon Atkinson
Business reporter, BBC News

image captionThe festival wristband is set to become more than just a piece of material and souvenir

Music festivals that do not accept cash are set to come to the UK from next summer, the BBC has learned.

Instead of using money, festival goers will be forced to pay electronically for everything from food and drink to t-shirts and fairground rides.

Payments are likely to be made via a wristband, which also acts as the event ticket. Festival goers will have to pre-load the devices with money.

UK trials of the technology have been conducted over the past two years.

No festival promoter contacted by the BBC would confirm that their event would be 100% cash-free for customers in Summer 2011.

But one of the companies behind the technology said two festivals would "definitely" eliminate money by next summer.

'Backed off'

Barclaycard, which sponsors the Wireless Festival in London, is showcasing the technology at this year's event and said it was "very hopeful" that it would be entirely cash-free next year.

And the Download Festival, which has been trialing the technology in parts of the event, is also named among the likely contenders by industry sources.

But the the firm's chief operating officer for UK music, John Probyn, said there was "no race" to be the first.

"Trials went very well this year, much better than we thought. Now we have to assess where we go from here."

He said he would have liked to have gone cashless at Download in 2009, but "backed off", deciding not to go it alone if others were not also adopting the technology.

Festival Republic - which runs some of the UK's largest events including Reading and Leeds festivals - trialed a cash-free event at the Hove festival in Norway late year.

"It was very straight forward, there was no opposition at all," managing director Melvin Benn said.

"The reality is that we are all looking at cashless activity in the UK. It will definitely happen. It's just a matter of time."

Music fans at Glastonbury Festival gave the plans a mixed reaction.

"I'm not confident about the safety of it - they'd have to prove to me it was secure. If they could do that, it sounds like a good idea," said Emma Trueman, 47, from Dorset.

Catherine Lester, 29, from London, said: "I would be a bit worried about my spending getting out of control, but it's better than carrying lots of cash."

Matt Popping, 26, said he thought the idea made sense, "so long as you can get back any money you don't spend."

Security implications

The concept uses radio frequency identification (RFID) systems - which involve a microchip being embedded into the wristband or ticket.

Festival organisers hope this will also help them avoid counterfeit tickets.

They say other benefits would include:

• avoiding having millions of pounds of cash on festival sites, which is seen as a security risk and is expensive to transport and guard

• improving security for festival goers - who would no longer have to carry cash around and who could freeze their account if the payment device was lost

image captionLondon's Wireless festival is tipped to be cashless by next summer

• cutting theft and fraud by staff working at festivals

• making service quicker at bars, and allowing management to monitor stock levels in real-time

• controlling entry to different parts of the festival such as backstage or VIP areas.

Under the plans, money left on the card at the end of an event could be transferred back to the ticket holder's bank account.

Other options may involve allowing it to be used after the festival, for example towards buying a CD, or using at another event run by the same promoter.

'Totally new'

People traveling around London are used to cashless transactions, with the Oyster card. Similar systems are also used on transport in other cities and in businesses from universities to golf clubs.

However, the concept is new to the music industry.

"A lot of young people do not carry much cash and use their chip and pin cards to pay for everything," said David McWilliams managing of Redtech, one of the companies vying to provide the service.

"But because we're used to our festival experience with money being very low-tech, it will take some education because the idea of going cashless in a field is totally new."

He added that while at least two UK festivals would use it in 2011 - it would need at least five years before was at every festival.

"For it to work, the event has to be entirely cashless and it needs to be large so that you get the scale to make it cost-effective," Mr McWilliams said.

"It's definitely doable, so long as enough information is given to people well in advance."

Festival-goers would be advised to top up their accounts before an event.

There would also be machines enabling credit to be added on-site - similar to the way mobile phones can be topped up at cashpoints.

Customers could also go to kiosks where they could hand over cash at the event and get credit on their account.

The technology was trialed in the Louder Lounge at last year's V festival at Chelmsford and in a VIP bar at Wireless.

And next month, users of Barclaycards, which allow contactless payments, will be able to use them at some bars at Wireless.

"We want our customers to be able to see how fast the technology works and try it out at a festival - but without offending or isolating those who don't have it yet," said Barclaycard's sponsorship manager, Daniel Mathieson.

He added many festival goers would be given cards topped up with sufficient credit to buy a drink, so they could try the system first-hand.

But he admitted that nobody was rushing in to use the technology.

"If it did go wrong and there was no means for anyone to buy anything because nobody on-site was geared up to take cash then that that could be quite a catastrophe," he said.

image captionWellies: made of rubber, paid for with plastic

Live Nation's Mr Probyn raised similar concerns at the UK Festival Awards conference last year, telling delegates: "What we do not know is how many people will buy in to it and top it up before the event. The worry is they don't commit and just top on site."

However, he said traders such as food stalls were "totally up for it".

As well as convenience and security issues, Barclaycard's Mr Mathieson said that information gathered from transactions could be valuable for future marketing.

"For example if the system knows what time you went and bought a beer and at which bar, it can make a guess which band you were about to see," he said.

"Then the organizers could send you information about upcoming tours. The opportunities are exciting."

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