Singer Jordin Sparks (centre) is escorted on the stage by Mickey Mouse alongside actress Ginnifer Goodwin (left) during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Walt Disney World’s new Fantasyland in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in December. (Reuters)
Orlando, Florida, Jan. 7: Imagine Walt Disney World with no entry turnstiles. Cash? Passť: Visitors would wear rubber bracelets encoded with credit card information, snapping up corn dogs and Mickey Mouse ears with a tap of the wrist. Smartphone alerts would signal when it is time to ride Space Mountain without standing in line.
Fantasyland? Hardly. It happens starting this spring.
Disney in the coming months plans to begin introducing a vacation management system called MyMagic+ that will drastically change the way Disney World visitors — some 30 million people a year — do just about everything.
The initiative is part of a broader effort, estimated by analysts to cost between $800 million and $1 billion to make visiting Disney parks less daunting and more amenable to modern consumer behaviour. Disney is betting that happier guests will spend more money.
“If we can enhance the experience, more people will spend more of their leisure time with us,” said Thomas . Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts.
The ambitious plan moves Disney deeper into the hotly debated terrain of personal data collection. Like most major companies, Disney wants to have as much information about its customers’ preferences as it can get, so it can appeal to them more efficiently. The company already collects data to use in future sales campaigns, but parts of MyMagic+ will allow Disney for the first time to track guest behaviour in minute detail.
Did you buy a balloon? What attractions did you ride and when? Did you shake Goofy’s hand, but snub Snow White? If you fully use MyMagic+, databases will be watching, allowing Disney to refine its offerings and customise its marketing messages.
Disney is aware of potential privacy concerns, especially regarding children. The plan, which comes as the federal government is trying to strengthen online privacy protections, could be troublesome for a company that some consumers worry is already too controlling.
But Disney has decided that MyMagic+ is essential. The company must aggressively weave new technology into its parks — without damaging the sense of nostalgia on which the experience depends — or risk becoming irrelevant to future generations, Staggs said. From a business perspective, he added, MyMagic+ could be “transformational”.
Aside from benefiting Disney’s bottom line, the initiative could alter the global theme parks business. Disney is not the first vacation company to use wristbands equipped with radio frequency identification, or RFID, chips. Great Wolf Resorts, an operator of 11 water parks in North America, has been using them since 2006. But Disney’s global parks operation, which has an estimated 121.4 million admissions a year and generates $12.9 billion in revenue, is so huge that it can greatly influence consumer behaviour.
“When Disney makes a move, it moves the culture,” said Steve Brown, chief operating officer for Lo-Q, a British company that provides line management and ticketing systems for theme parks and zoos.
Disney World guests currently plod through entrance turnstiles, redeeming paper tickets, and then decide what to ride; food and merchandise are bought with cash or credit cards.