The British Airways (BA) London Eye is now a familiar part of the London skyline. It is also the most popular tourist attraction in the UK, carrying up to 20,000 passengers a day in its capsules.
Before the attraction first opened, BA contracted IT and telecoms service provider BT to adapt its online booking system, Rialto, for ticket sales at the Eye. Rialto is used at other UK venues such as Madame Tussauds and Alton Towers, with the aim of encouraging as many people as possible to pre-book their trip at a specific time of day in order to minimise the time they spend queueing outside the attraction.
In the early days, 80% of the London Eye's customers were UK citizens. But during 2005, almost half of its those ‘flying' have been from other countries. And this has demanded a radically overhaul of the web-based booking system and its connection to a broader range of related online services.
There were two key challenges for the new e-ticketing system, says Eleanor Harris, head of commercial at London Eye. "Firstly, we wanted to get more international tourists to pre-book their flights. This meant the system would need to become multi-lingual, as well as catering for all credit cards in all currencies. The other key objective was to offer package deals to encourage the UK visitors to return."
London Eye set about partnering with related leisure service providers such as hotels, theatres, galleries and other tourist attractions. Meanwhile, BT was given the job of updating the Rialto system to encompass the online sales and automation requirements of its new business model.
The RialtoPlus system went live in August 2005. It integrates and manages all of London Eye's sales channels, including contact centre sales, online bookings, trade partners and even automatic ticket vending machines.
"Standardising the IT infrastructure across different sites was a key element in cutting costs and boosting efficiency," says Gary Bullard, managing director of BT Global Services in the UK, who headed the project.
All data captured on RialtoPlus gives the London Eye a single, real-time view of all current ticket sales. This improves the operator's ability to run highly targeted marketing campaigns. Also, any unsold tickets can be automatically re-allocated to trade partners, including on-site ticket booths and external agencies.
At the same time, the system has allowed its homepage to integrate with websites hosted by its partners, improving the ability to cross-sell and upsell products and services.
As part of the new system, BT has also created a ‘print@home' function, which enables online bookers to print out their tickets in advance. When visitors arrive, they can now queue up immediately while ushers check their tickets with handheld bar code readers, cutting queueing time. Finally, RialtoPlus caters for the growing international base of the London Eye. The system can now accept payment in euros, US dollars and sterling.
"With the new system, customers can build a whole itinerary around a visit to see us – in their own language, using a choice of currencies," says Harris.