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Festival tokens reach boiling point: will there ever be an alternative?

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At most festivals around the country (NL), you still pay with consumption tokens. But why do we actually use these coins? And do we lose awareness of the value of money when we pay with tokens? “Festival goers experience less payment pain, so are more likely to make a purchase.”

Terrie Eisinger (38) has been going to parties for over 22 years. She just returned from the Belgian festival Tomorrowland. To eat and drink at the festival, she paid 80 euros for 45 “pearls” – that festival’s currency – which were put on a bracelet. “At every bar, there were devices to scan your bracelet and pay with it,” she says to NU.nl.

She explains that because of these digital coins, she didn’t have a good sense of the real prices. “You lose reality, because a few tokens for a drink don’t tell you that much. For example, I paid five ‘pearls’ for a Red Bull drink, later it turned out to be 10 euros converted.”

However, she could return the remaining ‘pearls’ at the end of the festival. “I think that’s very neat. There are plenty of festivals where the tokens are worth nothing after the festival, because a year later the same festival uses a different color.”

Festival visitors experience less payment pain

According to consumer psychologist Patrick Wessels, festivals have several reasons for using coins. “Psychologically, one of the effects is that the association with money becomes less strong. Festival visitors experience less payment pain, so are more likely to make a purchase.” In addition, tokens make it difficult to determine exactly what something costs. Especially the tokens for 2.85 euros where a beer costs one and a half tokens are a good example, says Wessels to NU.nl.

“Most festival visitors then have no idea what they are really paying. Their brains are stuck in the mode of having fun and celebrating, because the ratio is skipped. Normally you often compare prices and think about whether you think something is worth it. Because you don’t do this, it’s easier to spend money.” Thus Patrick to NU.nl.

Most festivals prefer to work with tokens

Michiel Fransen of Dutchband, the largest producer of consumer tokens, handles the tokens for some 80 percent of all festivals, including Mysteryland, Lowlands and Zwarte Cross. “Tokens are almost as old as festivals themselves. Cash gave all of us misery because it’s a lot of value you just can’t protect well.”

He explains that most festivals prefer to work with tokens because they are reliable and the most efficient. “Pin transactions are done over the internet, usually there is a sim card in wireless pin equipment. Festivals often take place in remote locations, where a pin failure can happen like that.” There are exceptions though; for example, this year for the first time you could pay with pin everywhere at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam Ahoy.

Alternatives to physical tokens?

So tokens are reliable, but aren’t there better alternatives? “A digital currency on your phone. One that you can use at multiple festivals. You put a value on the coin each time and then pay with that.” Still, Fransen thinks it’s not ideal. “You are then again dependent on power and a network, something that is often difficult at a festival.”

However, he does advise festival organizers to make it possible to return leftover coins to a point. “By then, visitors can decide for themselves whether they want to stand in line for a few coins that are still in their pockets. Fair enough.”

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