The wine and chilli beer flowed and gustatory delights like wallaby kofta balls, Patagonian goat and tempura mushrooms were gobbled down at the annual Christmas period Taste of Tasmania festival in Hobart, but not a note or coin could be seen reflecting off glittering Sydney to Hobart yachts moored nearby.

For the first time in its 27-year history the week long Taste of Tasmania festival, held on the shores of the Derwent River in the iconic Salamanca Market district of Hobart, was cashless this year.

It is believed to be an Australian first for a festival of its size to be completely cashless. A smaller musical festival in Calandra on the Sunshine Coast went partially-cashless in October last year, but it was basically just for the serving of drinks.

In Europe cashless festivals started in 2012, but they rely on pre-loaded electronic radio frequency identification (RFID) wristbands or dog tags, and at the giant Download Festival in the UK last June, chaos reigned when its system crashed on the first day of the five day event, leaving tens of thousands of patrons thirsty and hungry, but with a voracious appetite for taking out their frustrations on social media.

The Tassie event drew in about 240,000 people over seven days, with patrons spending just over $5 million, or about $21.00 a head.

Albert preamble to cashless society

And all those funds were channelled through the Commonwealth Bank’s Albert eftpos tablet system.

Patrons could either tap their credit or debit cards for purchases from anything from a $140.00 lobster dish to a $3.00 scoop of ice-cream.

For people without an eftpos enabled card, pre-loaded cards were available for purchase both before and at the event, with any residual funds able to be reimbursed.

CBA had a team of staff at the event to help smooth over inevitable glitches with the 63 stall holders, many of who were using Albert for the first time.

On Boxing Day, prior to the festival commencing, CBA had a team of 87 staff stress testing the system. It maintained a staff of 24 throughout the event, and the importance it placed on the event was evident with the presence of CBA head of business banking, Adam Bennett, and head of local government, Rob Donegan.

Teething problems hurt but on par

Mushroom grower, promotor, and veteran of the Tassie festival, Festival Mushrooms’ John Caire says he hopes the festival will be cashless next year.

He says problems dogged the cashless system throughout the December  28 to January 3 event,  but that he was satisfied those issues were being resolved, and that he preferred to look forward on how to make the festival bigger and better.

“In recent years the festival has been a bit moribund, but at least the council (Hobart) is doing something and having a go to energise the event.

“And certainly from the patron’s viewpoint the cashless system was a great success,” said Caire.
Hobart of City alderman and Spirit of Tasmania spokesperson, Damon Thomas, said he also hoped the event would be cashless next year, despite a few teething problems experienced with the cashless system at this year’s event.

Accurate sales data boosts council coffers

However, by going cashless the Hobart City Council has for the first time been able to accurately tally sales at the event. That allowed it to charge stallholders 10% of their takings, as opposed to an entry fee for patrons that was being considered.

The council recouped over $440,000 from a budget of $600,000 used to run the event. Thomas said he expected the event would be cash neutral in two or three years.

CBA launched the Albert system almost 12 months ago, snagging a competitive advantage by having the only mobile, touch screen tablet eftpos system currently available globally.

In August CBA revealed it had 3000 Albert terminals in the market, and at its next update during results reporting on February 10, it will reveal a much higher number – think five digits but not six.
The bank has been promoting the system to retailers, but also local councils across Australia, where it has a dominant presence in council funds management.

While the festival was a good way for merchants to get a taste of the system, it also provided opportunity for CBA to interact with council to showcase the advantages of Albert to speed up council payment processes.
On the Gold Coast the city council chambers has Albert terminals available to rate payers as they walk in the door, to speed up council service payments like rates and fines.

But perhaps the festival experience will prompt CBA to look more closely at the cashless festival space, as its certainly big business in Europe.

And CBA’s Donegan said inquiries about cashless or reduced cash use at festivals was increasing, as organisers respond to patron demand, and see benefits such as better security and more efficient reporting.
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