“We have known for a really long time that getting our visitors to Walt Disney World to make decisions about where they spend their time before they leave home is a powerful driver of visits per guest. When they get into the Orlando market and their time isn’t yet planned, they can be subject to everything you see down there, which is a lot of in-city marketing for all the many products that people have put there to basically bleed off the feed that we fundamentally motivate. So if we can get people to plan their vacation before they leave home, we know that we get more time with them. We get a bigger share of their wallet. So that’s one thing for you guys to think about.
And the second thing is, what happens to purchases when they become much more convenient and you don’t spend time queuing up for a transaction, queuing up to get in the park and you actually have more time to enjoy the entertainment and subsequently spend more money doing things other than standing in line which, of course, you can’t spend any money while you’re doing that”. - Disney CFO Jay Rasulo, on the 2013 2nd Quarter Earnings Call
Without upgrades and additions, My Magic + is going to be largely perceived as a trip planning tool and scheduling assistant. This offers many benefits for Disney from scheduling staff, to offering discounts and setting park hours. More importantly, the perception is that if you have multiple items scheduled such as dining or attraction reservations, you will be less inclined to go elsewhere with your money. There is some logic to this belief, but it is not without flaws.
Disney has made it advantageous for guests to stay on property, because it is also advantageous for them. They’ve offered “complimentary” transportation from the airport to Disney property so that guests are not “tempted” by the other offerings in Central Florida. The cost of the Magical Express is built into the price of the hotel rooms. More importantly, the “cost” is absorbed by keeping guests on property as opposed to sending them and their money elsewhere. The Disney Dining Plan has a similar structure. With meals paid for in advance, guests want to ensure they are getting full value out of their meals. If the meals are already paid for, they’re not going to visit an offsite restaurant.
Fastpass+ is similar in concept and motivation. It was not driven by guest demand – it was driven by the desire to keep people on property. The belief is that if a guest has multiple ride reservations scheduled, that has value to the guest. From Disney’s perspective, they believe the guest won’t want to concede their reservations in favor of visiting another Orlando theme park.
All of these concepts are logical from a business standpoint, however to the consumer they are nothing more than a repackaging of what is already there. The good news for Disney is that many consumers won’t recognize this as a repackaging. For me personally though, it’s getting increasingly difficult to defend marginal changes to attractions while the competition is making substantial changes.
I recognize that many of these points have been raised before, either by myself or others on this very site. However, I feel it is necessary to reinforce the true motivations behind this project. My Magic+ and Fastpass+ are the most significant consumer facing components of Next Gen. Considering the budget and scope of the Next Gen project, Disney will not let the My Magic+ and Fastpass+ components go away.
Since it has been established that My Magic+ and Fastpass+ are here to stay, the best thing us as fans can do is help shape the evolution of these programs.
On a recent trip during low crowds, I witnessed Toy Story Mania Fastpasses gone by noon and Soarin’ and Test Track Fastpasses gone by 3 PM. While these numbers are normal during average crowds, it was my first experience with the effects of Fastpass+ on day-of Fastpass distribution. This reinforced what was already known: Fasptass+ will hurt day-of Fastpass+ availability. As expected the effects on lower demand attractions was higher standby times as well.
More recently, paper Fastpasses for Toy Story Mania, Test Track and Soarin have been distributed for the day by 11 AM during periods of low to average crowds. This is a function of being able to book all of these attractions in advance and all at the same time. Previously, the two hour delay helped extend the distribution times later in the day, but under the new system, this is no longer an option. Disney has marketed this to guests by offering lesser attractions that previously did not require Fastpass like Spaceship Earth or The Seas with Nemo and Friends. If Disney truly believes that these attractions have an equal demand, then they are doing a horrible job of marketing their attractions.
In many cases, Disney has stated that booking Fastpass+ reservations in advance is something that guests wanted, yet Jay Rasulo’s comments seemed to contradict this. Comedian Adam Carolla has adapted a simple approach for dealing with people or companies that appear deceptive. They’re either stupid or liars. Is Disney stupid in thinking that this is truly a benefit that guests want, or are they lying and their true motivations correlate more with what Jay Rasulo said on the 2nd Quarter Earnings Call?
With regards to Fastpass+, we as fans can identify the flawed motivation in adding Fastpass+ to attractions that never previously needed Fastpass. It ties back to Jay Rasulo’s mantra, “If they plan it, they will come.” By scheduling 3 attractions per day, guests would be less inclined to leave property. In order to facilitate 3 attractions per guest the number of available Fastpass reservations needed to be expanded. The effects of this have already manifested itself during the limited testing and the end result is longer wait times. This means that the guest reward for their planning is longer wait times throughout the park.
The other interesting dynamic of Fastpass+ is that currently guests can only acquire Fastpass+ reservations for a single park, yet all attractions are created equal. This acts as a deterrent to park hopping and there is some belief this is actually intentional. Even though park hopping is a monetary benefit for Disney, the assumption is that Disney is looking to stop guests from hopping to the Magic Kingdom as a means of better distributing crowds. By eliminating the incentive to park hop, Disney can force guests to stay in a park without having to build new rides that would otherwise keep them there.
The last Fastpass+ component that is especially frustrating for myself personally is that Disney has specifically mentioned that users of the new DAS system should incorporate Fastpass/Fastpass+ into their touring strategy. Given these new accelerated distribution rates, this represents a significantly flawed understanding of how autism works. It’s simply not realistic to plan an autistic person’s day 60 days in advance even in a manner that is supplementary to the DAS system.
Fastpass+ is a ruse to sell guests on what’s already there. Every component of it is designed to deceive guests into staying on property. It has been stated by the company that the roll out will be limited to three Fastpass+ reservations per guest, per day. If they stick with this approach, the Fastpass program will no longer be a competitive advantage from a guest satisfaction standpoint.
Rolling out the electronic system while still utilizing the distribution rules for legacy Fastpass would be beneficial to guests. Personally, I think this will allow Disney to still “save face” by leveraging the infrastructure that they created without discouraging their guests. In a time when their closest competitor is investing in new attractions, they can’t afford for these infrastructure changes to be anything but convenient.
My Magic+/My Disney Experience
After a recent trip, I received a survey about the My Disney Experience application. I gave it mixed reviews because simply put, it’s not as useful as it can be. One of the primary rules of an easily navigable website is limiting the number of “clicks” for the user. This is largely my biggest complaint about the application. I want to see wait times, and I want to see them alphabetized or of just my selected attractions. To do this requires four clicks at minimum from the start of the application. At this point, third party applications are still superior despite not having the visuals of the My Disney Experience application.
Another complaint I had centered around dining. Recently Disney expanded the credit card guarantee to all table service locations. Despite the fact that Disney painted themselves into this corner with the aforementioned Disney Dining Plan, I support the expansion of the credit card guarantee given the circumstances. Having said that, cancelling or modifying your reservation should be much easier. Currently, if you would like to reduce the number of people in your dining party on most reservations, the only way to do so is the 407-WDW-CNCL/DINE phone number. This is largely because the current online/mobile system does not acknowledge your existing reservation as something that can be manipulated, it can only be cancelled. Additionally, linking existing reservations to a My Magic + account, even those reservations made under that account’s e-mail address has resulted in complications that could not be resolved by the mobile application’s technical support.
From a simpler standpoint, finding in park quick service dining information is simply not navigable at this point. The application pushes guests towards making a reservation. The easiest way to find a quick service menu is to know that restaurant’s name and manually type it into the application. This is wildly inconvenient from a guest satisfaction standpoint.
My last complaint on the survey was about the speed of the application. Admittedly I was not using the free wireless internet in the park, and have heard more favorable speed reports on the wireless internet.
Leveraging Next Gen
So despite all these complaints, I do feel that there is some good that can come from Next Gen. In its simplest form, it is a large infrastructure enhancement capable of being integrated with a variety of things in the parks and resorts. The problem right now is that they invested a ridiculous sum of money to build this infrastructure and the efforts to leverage the investment seem to be primarily focused on deceiving guests into staying on property. Nothing about what Disney is currently doing with Next Gen is “wowing” guests, and yet the system is capable of doing so. Their actions are the equivalent of building a billion dollar football stadium, and then hoping that a Pop Warner team can fill the place.
The Next Gen system should be used to enhance the guest experience with interactive components throughout the park and its attractions. The priority should be personalization, and not in a 20+ year old E.T. Adventure equivalent type way. I don’t want to see interaction programmed into attractions where it doesn’t belong, but some of the more recent additions lend themselves to My Magic + integration:
Test Track: The design your car component can be done before hand on a computer, tablet or phone with unlimited time. This would allow these guests to bypass the machines in the queue and improve throughput.
Star Tours: The Rebel Spy on Star Tours can be identified by the name attached to the Magic Band, and Disney could track which of the 54 sequences the guests have seen. In theory this could help promote re-rideability in a very efficient attraction.
Other possibilities have also been suggested around it’s a small world and character meet and greets, but there is really two very significant possibilities for really leveraging this technology: Star Wars and Avatar.
Both Star Wars and Avatar lend themselves to physical effects that can be activated remotely. Imagine walking through a Star Wars land, waving your hand like a Jedi and activating one of many physical effects. Similarly, guests should be able to utilize the Magic Bands to activate the flora and fauna of the World of Avatar as well.
One of the most popular features of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort is the Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Inside, effects are “activated” by the wave of a Magic Wand. It is a supplementary component to the land that truly adds to the experience. My Magic+ should be used to supplement our experiences in the parks, but it should not be the primary driver of the entire vacation. Guests should be able to activate things inside and outside of attractions by using their Magic Band.
Right now, they’re not leveraging this system into one that enhances the guest experience on attractions. They’re leveraging the system into one that enhances their ability to get more money out of the guests. As fans, how would you like to see Disney leverage this technology in the parks? Do you believe that this system can truly be a benefit to the guests?