Taming Crowds with Mobile Technology

The Denver Zoo uses rugged PDAs with barcode scanners to save time and improve customer service.


Find an efficient way to admit thousands of visitors at once for large events hosted at the Denver Zoo. 


Turn the Zoo’s exit into a second event entrance, using Handheld’s Nautiz X5 — a rugged PDA with barcode-scanning capabilities — to verify printed ticket data. 


The Nautiz X5 provides a durable outdoor ticket-scanning solution that has helped the Zoo decrease wait times and improve guest experiences.

Picture this: On an average day at the Denver Zoo, over 4,000 guests come to visit 4,000 animals, entering and exiting over several hours. Now, imagine: After the day is done and the animals are fed, a special event at the zoo draws the same amount of people — but instead of staggering admission throughout the day, they all arrive at once. If you think feeding thousands of animals on time sounds like a challenge, consider trying to admit eight hours’ worth of visitors, all within an hour or so. 

Like most zoos, the Denver Zoological Foundation is not only a wildlife refuge focused on education and conservation; it’s also the site of several benefits, exhibits and other special events throughout the year. While the zoo doesn’t handle this influx of visitors every day, it does need an effective system for managing guest entry when large events draw crowds of up to 5,000 people. With the help of rugged mobile devices with barcode-scanning capabilities, the zoo has transformed the way it coordinates admission for many guests at once. The process has changed from a logistical nightmare to a smooth and manageable operation, saving time and significantly improving customer service and the visitor experience. 

It’s a zoo in here

About 90 percent of daytime Zoo visitors pay their entry fees after they arrive, at six points of sale at the park’s front entry. But during events such as the Zoo Lights winter light display, the Brew at the Zoo benefit and other popular functions, 80 to 90 percent of guests buy their tickets in advance. These tickets need only to be verified upon arrival, not sold on the spot. 

The zoo’s director of information technology, Dean Paulson, realized that setting up mobile ticketing checkpoints — where guest services personnel could use handheld computers to scan printed tickets and admit visitors anywhere, instead of only from the six physical registers — had the potential to save a lot of time for both zoo staff and event attendees. So he set out to find a feasible mobile solution. 

Paulson knew the right technology for the job would have to feature a fast, reliable barcode scanner. But it would also need to be rugged enough to handle outdoor use, compact enough to hold and operate with one hand, able to run Windows Mobile 6.0 to accommodate the Zoo’s custom software program, and capable of easy and consistent Wi-Fi connectivity. With these specifications in mind, he reached out to the Zoo’s IT systems supplier — Alberta, Canada-based Vantix Systems, Inc. — about finding the best technology for its needs. 

A powerful mobile scanning tool

After scouring the Internet for barcode-scanning devices with outdoor-viewable screens, David Cheung, senior analyst of IT systems at Vantix, discovered several contenders — including the Nautiz X5, a versatile, rugged PDA from Handheld. The Nautiz X5 is a powerful handheld computer that features robust scanning capabilities and a high-speed processor. Its daylight-readable screen and long-lasting battery make it a perfect choice for use outdoors. Its Windows operating system is compatible with the Zoo’s ticketing software, and its integrated BT, 802.11 b/g and 3G capabilities offer the connectivity the Zoo would need for real-time ticket validation. 

“I asked for a demo model of the Nautiz X5 so that it could be compared head-to-head against three other rugged devices,” Cheung says. “In the end, the Zoo preferred the X5, mainly because of the ease of scanning it offers.” 

“It was a straightforward solution,” adds Paulson. “The device would end up in multiple people’s hands, so there’s the potential for it to be dropped. The Nautiz X5 is lightweight enough to carry in hand, with a nice strap on the back that allows people to hold it. It’s really rugged, so it worked for us.” 

Vantix wrote a mobile application for the Nautiz X5 that allows the Zoo to use the same program on its desktop computers that it does on the unit, in order to quickly verify ticket data. That data is sent in real time to the desktop application, and can be viewed and analyzed immediately on the back end. 

Learning to use the units is easy, too, according to Leslie Chenaille, the Zoo’s guest services logistics manager: “We can even train staff on the same day they’ll be using the device,” she says. 

Less wasted time; happier customers

By purchasing and implementing four Nautiz X5 units, Paulson and Chenaille’s team at the Zoo has been able to turn the park’s exit into a second entrance for special events, dividing large crowds and speeding up the entry process. The units can scan barcodes on both printed tickets and Zoo membership cards. 

According to Paulson, the technology has done its job. “This solution is similar to what we’d use at the window,” he says. “It helps us expedite entry into the park for events and large volumes of people, and it helps us provide better customer service with the shorter wait times to get in.” 

Chenaille agrees: “Being able to use the units while walking around is great. We can use our plaza area as a queuing area, because we can go farther from our main gates and start scanning tickets — which is very helpful when we have large events.” 

Both the Denver Zoo and Vantix have been very pleased with the Nautiz X5. Based on the Zoo’s success, Cheung has recommended the product to multiple other clients, who are now using it as well — and Paulson is working with Handheld to implement the newest version of the X5, which will add 2-D smartphone scanning to the Zoo’s mobile ticket-checking capabilities.