MyMagic+ on its way to other Disney parks” published by the Orlando Sentinel on 12/25/14. Written by
The Walt Disney Co. continues adding features to the sweeping technology program, which aims to increase visitor loyalty and spending by making trips to its theme parks more efficient and personalized. Hallmarks include colorful microchip-embedded bracelets called MagicBands, a trip-planning website and app, and the ability to reserve time slots on attractions a month or two in advance.
The billion-dollar project has faced challenges. The initial rollout took longer than expected. Some guests complain they feel pressured to micromanage their vacation planning. Costs associated with MyMagic+ continue to cut into profit, though less than a year ago. Disney executives say they are seeing benefits, though, and it is getting high ratings from customers.
“It’s obviously a pretty complicated enterprise to keep running every day, and laying on new tools and new technologies is not easy, but we’re actually really, really pleased with how it’s working and how it’s been received by our guests,” said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in a recent interview.
As Disney brings elements of MyMagic+ into its other theme parks, Staggs said, visitors should not expect carbon copies of the program launched here.
For example, Disneyland has a high proportion of annual passholders likely to make spur-of-the-moment visits. So that could change how far in advance guests book times on individual attractions, or the number of rides and shows allowing FastPass reservations. Another thing Disney could tweak is something it calls the “plus one” feature*. Disney World visitors are initially limited to three FastPasses on any given day; after using those they get more, one at a time. Disney added “plus one” after listening to guest feedback, yet Staggs said a small percentage of visitors use it.
“We’re studying it right now and learning a lot in Florida,” Staggs said.
In Orlando, Disney World has been rolling out new bells and whistles. Visitors wearing MagicBands recently began automatically receiving photos shot on certain rides in their online accounts. Staggs said Disney is looking at online tools that will help guests find which stores sell specific souvenirs, a feature that employees can currently use, and allowing shipment to their hotel rooms or homes. Disney is also testing a feature that would also let guests know bus arrival times in the resorts on their smartphones.
“MyMagic+ was really built to evolve, ” Staggs said. “So while it’s fully rolled out in Walt Disney World, we’re still looking at ways we can add additional features … That fleshing out will continue for some time, maybe forever.”
Hotel guests were the first to start using MyMagic+, and they still have more benefits. They can reserve ride times two months in advance, while others only get a month. And MagicBands — which function as tickets, FastPasses and room keys — can also charge purchases to hotel rooms.
Disney World made MyMagic+ available to all visitors in late March.
Half of Disney World guests are using MagicBands and about 90 percent of them have given it very good or excellent ratings. Happy customers include John Brauer of Clifton, N.J., who visited in the fall and liked the convenience. He called it “a winner.” His wife Donna, however, echoed an often-heard complaint.
“It’s not spontaneous,” she said. “You have to plan ahead.”
That’s because allowing advance booking can create pressure to reserve times for super-popular rides and shows well in advance. Otherwise, visitors could find themselves without the FastPasses and stuck waiting in long lines. At the Magic Kingdom, for example, a check on Friday showed that FastPasses are unavailable for a “Frozen” meet and greet almost every day over the next month.
But the new system has accounted for a 50 percent increase in FastPass usage, Staggs said. Guaranteeing minimal waits for additional visitors, he said, “allows them to enjoy more of the parks and more of their vacation as a whole.”
Much resistance to the system came from longtime Disney fans who had gotten used to the old way of doing things, said Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com
“For a great many first-time visitors who don’t know what the old system was like, they find it nice and convenient,” Niles said.
Disney won’t say exactly how much it has spent on the project. Asked about online speculation that the system went over budget, Staggs said its first “defined” phase actually came in slightly under. Now, he said, the project is in “sort of the endless phase” that isn’t lumped into one budget.
Increased costs for MyMagic+ have continued cutting into the company’s profit, Disney said in its last quarterly earnings report.
But the theme parks’ big gains in profit have given some analysts a forgiving attitude. With a 20 percent increase in operating income for Disney’s parks and resorts in the last quarter, “I’m not too worried,” said Robin Diedrich, an Edward Jones analyst.
“I look at it as a good investment,” she said.
Staggs said Disney is “very confident in … the return on that investment in terms of guest experience and in terms of the financials of the business.”
* Plus one feature mentioned is the additional FP+ options chosen at a kiosk after a guests initial 3 are used.~Aut
Article and Picture Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel
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