By J. Jeff Kober
What if a billion dollars fixed your customer’s biggest complaint?
And it also made you money, reduced labor, and created greater guest satisfaction?
Call it Next Gen, My Disney Experience, or MagicPlus. Disney’s been working on a high-tech project that’s about to be released in a major way over the weeks, months, and years to come. It’s been billed as a way to efficiently have one source to get into your hotel room, charge purchases in the parks, and be utilized for planning FastPasses in advance.
Some Disney fans are its biggest critics. Why would someone spend that much money for some band or for the ability to make a FastPass reservation? You can still build a lot of attractions for that kind of money. Used cleverly, you could use the money on four strong attractions in all four Walt Disney World theme parks to draw people in.
Bob Iger loves technology. He made it one of three core strategic priorities when he became CEO at Disney. He stated:”I’m committed to increasing long-term value for shareholders and am confident we will continue to do so through the successful execution of our core strategic priorities: the creation of high quality, branded content and experiences, the use of technology, and creating growth in numerous and exciting international markets.”
Wanting to move forward in a big-price, high-tech way isn’t so easy. How do you get the board of directors at Disney to sign on to spending that much money on technology?
The answer is simple. Have Steve Jobs sit on the board.
With the purchase of Pixar, Steve became Disney’s biggest shareholder. He also became a member of the board of directors for Disney. You don’t think that Steve wasn’t toying with what would make a theme park experience better? Do you think Steve and Bob didn’t talk about this?
Of course, Steve Jobs passed away. But not before doing two things: First, paint a glimpse for Bob Iger about what the future might look like utilizing technology in the parks. Second, arrange for Bob Iger to sit on Apple’s board of directors.
So what does this all mean for you the guest at Disney?
To understand what this initiative is all about, it’s probably more useful for you to figure out what Apple is doing. They’re the technology leader–not Disney. And Disney is there to follow their playbook.
I noticed an article a few weeks ago that talked about the use of Apple iPod Touches to help guests enter the park. Initially, I thought this was just to reduce the amount of congestion expected at these new turnstiles. But I thought it strange that Guest Relations hosts and hostesses were handling these devices, rather than admissions folks.
What is happening is that before, when you had a problem with your ticket, you were re-directed over to Guest Relations. Now Guest Relations can look right then and there and resolve your issue rather than you having to go over to the Guest Relations kiosk and stand in line. You don’t have to leave the gate and get in another line. Cool. That’s a very nice thing. But it’s not worth a billion.
Yet the article made me think about where Apple was going. Apple has many projects going on, but one of the most intriguing is the development of the iWatch. It’s said that Apple has filed some 79 patents on this, and that it has teams of people working on this day and night to create an offering that could conceivably be launched as early as Fall of this year.
It’s been some 3 years since Disney did an unusual test at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. There, they handed out tickets with instruction that standby guests could get in line to ride when their number was posted. In place of a queue was a DJ, some games, and benches on which to sit down. The idea was to create an experience of waiting to ride the attraction without going through the experience of having to wait in a long line.
Fast forward to the opening of the new Dumbo the Flying Elephant about a year ago. Dumbo is an iconic ride for Disney. It was also one of the worst queues you could ever experience. It wasn’t a long queue. It simply didn’t move fast. That meant you stood. And stood. And stood–often with small kids. Painful.
The big thing everybody talked about with Dumbo was that there were now two spinners. But there was also much more. Instead of a queue, an interactive tent was established, and guests waiting in standby were given a restaurant-style pager letting them know that their kids could play and the parents could relax until their pager went off, letting them know it was time to queue. Critics complained that the playground offered nothing for adults–but it’s been a big hit for kids. And it has given parents a chance to relax and let their kids play until it was their turn.
With the addition of a MagicBand, you will still need the pager. But with the addition of an iWatch, you won’t! It–not the pager–will be able to tell you when you can go on the ride. And for that matter, why wait in the tent if you don’t have a kid who wants to enjoy the playground? You can go next door to Big Top Souvenirs while you’re waiting.
You’re thinking, “That will simply be like FastPass. What’s the difference?” Remember, FastPass is changing. You’ll set your reservation for FastPass ahead of time, so you won’t have to go to the attraction to get a paper slip like you did in the past. That means when you arrive, you can walk right on in when it’s your turn rather than check-in first. With stand-by, you will have to check-in at Dumbo by swiping your iWatch. But then as long as you have an iWatch or a smartphone, you are then free to do what you want until you check in. And if you don’t have an iWatch or a smartphone, you can still get the pager like they currently require and wait in the tent.
Do you see where we’re going with this? In time, there may no longer be any major queue other than the one used for boarding when you check in.
Now, imagine if every major queue could essentially be like Dumbo’s? Maybe not places where there really isn’t much wait like the Carousel of Progress, but what if you took out almost the entire stand-by railing at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, leaving the activities and just put in a few benches? Guests checking into the Standby queue could sit and enjoy, while their kids play on the interactive activities now in place. Or, as long as they have an iWatch or a smartphone device they could go next door to the gift shop and browse. Or hit the restrooms. Or simply grab a bite to eat, knowing their iWatch was telling them they still had another 15-20 minutes? And then when it was time, their iWatch would beep and they would return to enter. Those in time without an iWatch could still be given something like the beeper. But in a few years time, many will have an iWatch.
Imagine that the queue at Big Thunder Mountain took out its queuing rails and simply added benches along with all those new interactive games? Imagine that with an iWatch, the interactive game at Space Mountain could “carry over” your game into another console as you snaked down the line toward the boarding area? What if your waterproof iWatch let you go under the boat and watch the fish swim until you were ready to enter the lagoon at Shark’s Reef at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon for your own turn to go snorkeling? Simply put, there could be no waiting at Disney with iWatch.
In essence, within a few years, Disney could conceivably remove its major queues. That’s just one big thing that a billion (early projections stated even more was being spent) just might buy you in 12 major Disney theme parks worldwide. It will start with Walt Disney World, but with lessons learned, it will move forward from there, perhaps to Shanghai first. Know that China has overtaken the US as the largest smartphone market. You may recall that’s the country where they riot in the streets when they can’t obtain an iPhone.
Tom Staggs stated: “In the coming years, we’ll introduce a broad set of systems and tools that will help us create a more seamless and personalized experience and help guests get more out of their visit with us…The ultimate goal is to welcome more and more people, while making their experience more satisfying, more personal and more immersive.”
There’s more to come than making it easier to check into your room and get a FastPass ahead of time. More than this article probably implies. But reducing the frustrating experience of waiting to go on an attraction–the number one complaint guests have at Disney–is a big way to make a Disney theme park experience stand completely apart from its competitors. Is it a gamble? Yes–especially when other parks near Walt Disney World are building rides at a faster pace. But so was Disneyland in the first place. Again, to quote Iger: “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo.”
For a billion dollars, the status quo is about to change.