Conquer Disney World with a Flick of Your Wrist

Disney's Magical Wristband is Revolutionizing the Theme Park Experience

Going to Disney World? Forget your tickets, wallet, and room key. All you need is a sleek, personalized wristband to step into the magic. “Welcome to Disney, Chris”, a cast member beams as you tap your wrist to enter the park. A simple flick of your MagicBand purchases your Dole Whip, books your fast pass tickets, and even opens your hotel room door. MyMagic+, Disney’s $1Bn digitization initiative [1], has revolutionized the theme park experience, taking guests into Tomorrowland.

In the mid-2000’s, Disney execs were panicking. The world’s most iconic park was in a slump, with consumer metrics such as “intent to return” falling due to long lines and high ticket costs [2]. Every hour, 8,000 to 10,000 guests flowed through Disney World’s main entrance, creating massive bottlenecks [2]. The inability to plan in advance and high ticket prices incentivized families to crisscross the hub of the park up to 20 times per day to maximize ride options, leading to an exhausting experience [2]. In addition, technology was challenging Disney’s legacy – how could Disney ensure young, tech-savvy guests would love Disney Parks as much as their parents did [3]? Disney’s answer to improving operational efficiency and capturing the next generation of customers was a radical overhaul of the parks experience known as MyMagic+.

Launched in 2013, MyMagic+’s goal was to reduce friction in the system through two initiatives (Figure 1): 1) My Disney Experience, an online planning page and mobile app where guests could make restaurant, hotel, and ride reservations in advance [4] and 2) MagicBands, wristbands equipped with RFID technology that stores information for each guest [5]. MagicBands possess both short and long-range sensors: short-range allows functional benefits such as entering the park, making purchases, and opening hotel doors whereas long-range tracks guests as they navigate the park [2]. In addition, MagicBands access real-time data, personalizing vacations to an unprecedented degree [6]. Thanks to the instant data transmission from MagicBands, Cinderella may wish your daughter an unprompted happy birthday or your favorite meal could magically appear in front of you.

Figure 1:

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Source: The Walt Disney Company, MyMagic+, https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/my-magic-plus/, accessed November 2016.

Operationally, MyMagic+ has smoothed demand while increasing capacity and customer satisfaction. Advance booking of rides has reduced wait times for popular attractions and minimized idle time for guests [2]. In addition, The Disney Experience app allows guests to view wait times in real-time, further optimizing the guest experience. Since the introduction of MagicBands, Disney World has decreased turnstile cycle time by 30%, alleviating the entry bottleneck [2]. Evening out demand also allows for more guests in the park, increasing capacity and therefore revenues. Furthermore, long-range sensors allow Disney to create heat-maps to monitor where crowds are forming and respond accordingly [2]. For instance, if sensors indicate Fantasyland is overcrowding, Disney can respond with a character parade in Adventureland to re-direct traffic. Since implementation, 90% of guests rated the MagicBand experience as excellent or very good, indicating high customer satisfaction [7].

In addition to operational improvements, MyMagic+ has generated a treasure trove of consumer data. In the past, Disney treated “everybody as a giant blob of people…delivering a one-size-fits-all experience [2]”. MyMagic+ allows Disney to differentiate its customer base on a granular level by collecting data on all touch-points from how guests spend money down to the exact rides they choose [8]. According to then CFO, Jay Rasulo, “we can now offer on a personalized basis because we know who you are, where you are…whether you are a first-time visitor, a 50th-time visitor…it is your child’s birthday, it is a graduation, it’s an anniversary [9].”

Despite MyMagic+ being a drastic overhaul, Disney is only grazing the surface of digitization. For instance, customer data can have vast implications on marketing and cross-segment synergies. Personalized moments, such as birthday greetings and custom photo opportunities, can be monetized as part of a premium package. With full visibility on individual consumer spend, from accommodations to purchases to dining, Disney can offer tiered pricing to attract guests of all income levels. Big data also enables Disney to pitch experiences beyond parks to consumers. For instance, if one family attended the Frozen Sing-A-Long multiple times, Disney could advertise a Frozen-themed cruise to the same family or promote the latest Disney Princess movie in theaters. Queues and rides can become further customized by leveraging MagicBand data. Guests could be greeted by name in line by animatronics or even integrated in the ride itself through virtual storytelling.

Despite being at the forefront of digitizing the theme park experience, Disney is still grappling with the possibilities of its customer data. Beyond potential pushback on privacy, Disney is only limited by its own processing power. With 100 million visitors per year globally [10], Disney’s database has boundless potential. Next step you step foot in a Disney Park, don’t be surprised if Disney knows more than just your name.

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[1] Cliff Kuang, “Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband,” Wired, March 10, 2015, https://www.wired.com/2015/03/disney-magicband/, accessed November 2016.

[2] Austin Carr, “The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness,” Fast Company, April 15, 2015, https://www.fastcompany.com/3044283/the-messy-business-of-reinventing-happiness, accessed November 2016.

[3] “50 years later, Disneyland faces a challenge: younger, plugged-in generation demands more interactive entertainment,” NBC News, July 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8573158/ns/business-us_business/t/years-later-disneyland-faces-challenge/#.WC86ofkrLb0, accessed November 2016.

[4] The Walt Disney Company, “Disney Vacation Planning Magic Is at Your Fingertips”, https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/my-disney-experience/my-magic-plus/, accessed November 2016.

[5] Brooks Barnes, “At Disney Parks, a Bracelet is Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales)”, The New York Times, January 7, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/business/media/at-disney-parks-a-bracelet-meant-to-build-loyalty-and-sales.html?utm_source=datafloq&utm_medium=ref&utm_campaign=datafloq&pagewanted=2&_r=0, accessed November 2016.

[6] Mark van Rijmenam, “Big Data Meets Walt Disney’s Magical Approach”, DataFloq, May 23, 2013, https://datafloq.com/read/walt-disneys-magical-approach-to-big-data/472, accessed November 2016.

[7] The Walt Disney Company, FY 2014 3rd Quarter Earnings Release, August 5, 2014, https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/investor-relations/, accessed November 2016.

[8] Jason Garcia, “Disney’s New ‘MyMagic’ Wristbands to Turn Big Data Into Big Profits”, Orlando Sentinel, October 6, 2013, https://skift.com/2013/10/06/disneys-new-mymagic-wristbands-to-turn-big-data-into-big-profits/#1, accessed November 2016.

[9] Matthew Bates, “Personalize the customer experience with RFID data wristbands”, August 1, 2014, LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140801091217-297594004-personalise-the-customer-experience-with-rfid-data-wristbands?redirectFromSplash=true, accessed November 2016.

[10] Peter Wayner, “Disney’s big data dream is no Mickey Mouse effort”, InfoWorld, March 1, 2013, http://www.infoworld.com/article/2613598/big-data/disney-s-big-data-dream-is-no-mickey-mouse-effort.html, accessed November 2016.

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8 thoughts on “Conquer Disney World with a Flick of Your Wrist

  1. Having spent more hours than I wish to admit for a FastPass into Disneyland’ Indiana Jones ride, I am thrilled to see Disney fully embracing digitization to improve customers’ park experiences. Lynn so eloquently delineated the operational and business values digital transformation for theme parks can have — it’s clear that Disney is hitting it out of the park at Disney World, using the park as a beta test for future implementation. The expansion of their park digitization is something that interests me here. I am curious as to how Disney plans to roll out their digital strategy to their portfolio of parks, and how they will account for localized technology adoption.

    For example, if a Disney park is located in a country that has significantly greater or less adoption of digital tech, how will Disney account for variations in customer comfort with technology? Will Disney need to innovate beyond their existing implementation at Disney World, will they simply be able replicate the model elsewhere, or will introducing technology to new parks require more customer education? Additionally, I look forward to following Disney’s park selection strategy for digital roll out. As Lynn articulated so well, it’s clear that Disney World was chosen for its breadth and depth of rides and customers. When we start looking at smaller parks or parks in different geographies, how will Disney prioritize the customer park experience at one park versus another? It appears that Disney is limited by its own human capital to roll this out in parallel to many parks simultaneously, so I look forward to following how they determine where, how, and when to push into other parks in the Disney portfolio.

  2. Fascinating post Lynn! It’s intresting to see that MyMagic started as an initiative to reduce friction and improve operations, but that its transformative impact may not be linked to cost but rather to revenue.

    You suggest Disney is still trying to figure out how best to use the reams of data it is collecting. On this front Disney may be well advised to see what American Express, widely viewed as having one of the best customer engagement programmes in the world, has had to do to take advantage of big data. Amex embarked on a “big data transformation project” that was originally linked to improving risk management, but has increasingly shifted to improving marketing. Moreover, to take advantage of big data, Amex had to adapt the organisation to new ways of working, recruit employees with relevant skills, and go through iterative “test-and-learn” techniques to figure out how to use data to improve marketing and the customer experience. (1) There are some interesting parallels here to the design of innovation teams and the IBM Watson case we studied.

    (1) http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2016/04/27/inside-american-express-big-data-journey/#2544f451127f

  3. This post brings back so many memories of my childhood! I didn’t know Disney changed its ticketing system to wristbands, and I think it’s a brilliant concept! My concerns will most likely be alleviated as Disney works out the kinks of MyMagic+ and fully integrates the new product into its IT systems, but I’ve been reading a lot about problems with MyMagic+ as experienced by its first users. Specifically, because MyMagic+ is designed to increase the capacity of its theme parks, it has as a result created a new layer of complexity in terms of issues and problems that arise throughout the day, and Disney’s existing IT systems just haven’t been upgraded fast enough to deal with many of these issues [1]. Moreover, as Lynn so eloquently explains above, Disney hasn’t scaled its human capital fast enough to support MyMagic+. Nevertheless, I think the concept behind MyMagic+ has a lot of potential if executed properly and all the supporting systems at Disney are also upgraded appropriately, and I am eager to follow Disney’s progress in this regard.

    [1] http://www.themeparkinsider.com/flume/201311/3790/

  4. Great post Lynn! It looks like Disney is definitely taking a step in the right direction with MyMagic+. Do you know how Disney is advertising the wristbands though? It looks like this is a product that every attendee can benefit from having, but I am not sure if they are aware it exists. I went into the company’s website to see how the wristbands were advertised and I think there is still room for improvement as you have to actively search for the product. It might even be a good idea to offer it for free as it is a win-win for both the customer and Disney.

  5. Lynn, this was an incredibly articulate and well researched post. As I was reading your post though, I kept wondering why Disney had gone through the effort of designing a personalized wristband with RFID technology rather than building a mobile app for customers to download to their phones to accomplish the same things that the wristbands do. At the March 2016 shareholder’s meeting Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said, “Because technology keeps moving onward and improving, we’re looking at all different ways to expand the program, both in Orlando and our other parks around the world. It won’t necessarily be through physical MagicBands, since mobile technology and personal mobile devices can offer a lot of the functionality that a lot of the bands we created offer [1].” I’m not sure how much Disney spent on designing the wristbands themselves, but I imagine the capital outlay required to build the wristbands and roll them out to every Disney park is significant compared to having customers use a mobile app to accomplish the same thing.

    [1] Sandra Pedicini, “Phones, not MagicBands, will be the future of Disney’s MyMagic+,” Orlando Sentinel, April 9, 2016, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/travel/attractions/the-daily-disney/os-disney-magicbands-phones-20160408-story.html, accessed November 2016.

  6. Fascinating article – Definitely brings back many happy memories! I hadn’t previously thought about just how apt theme parks are as a study of operational efficiency. It is clear bottlenecks, ride capacity and utilisation, line times are all key issues preoccupying management. It’s very cool that the wristbands, which were designed with an eye on managing overcrowding in the park and maximising efficiency have actually turned out to be great tools for revenue generation and delivering customers that magical Disney experience. I do wonder about privacy issues here – will customers feel exploited if – as you suggest – their every movement within the park is tracked, and Disney then tries to monetise guests at each opportunity?

  7. Great post Lynn !

    Do you think that Disney will face a couple of issues with the wrist bands –

    1) Data privacy – Does Disney communicate to its consumers about the right to use the data from the wrist band. If it does communicate, does it takes consent from the consumers to use this data for its own use? If not, Disney might face severe consumer backlashes once consumers get more educated about connected devices.

    2) Data security – What initiatives does Disney take to protect the data. While more and more devices are being connected, more and more system integrity issues are cropping up. Moreover, the scope of system integration is very huge for Disney (as compared to other products and services).

  8. Lynn thanks for such a fantastic read! I had no idea these bands even existed and it seems like Disney has done a fantastic job of leveraging tech to improve operations, smoothen demand, gather data and build customer loyalty. I would however like to learn a little more about the economics of this band. I think I get why Disney opted for the band versus just a cellphone app. It ensures that each customer is one separate unit and can be tracked and catered to in that manner. But this definitely comes with its own costs right? From what I understand each band has to be mailed to the customers a few weeks before they arrive and then using the band the park tries to customize their experiences as much as possible. I know that it’s probably too soon to tell but how do you think about the unit economics of one band as well as the overall ROI of designing and rolling out this strategy?

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