What’s the Plus Side: Leveraging Next Gen

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in Disney, Features, Walt Disney World

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Published on November 03, 2013 at 3:07 am with 63 Comments

“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.

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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.

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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.

 

Fastpass+

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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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?

About Tim Grassey

Three months before being born, Tim enjoyed his first trip to Disney World. Ever since, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland have helped feed the obsession. After a three year run as a podcaster, Tim currently co-owns the Disney information site, WDWThemeParks.com. You can follow the site on twitter @wdwthemeparks or follow Tim directly @tgrassey

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63 Comments

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  1. As a local and annual pass holder I’ve been to the parks (primarily MK) several times this fall during the FastPass+ testing. Since I haven’t yet stayed at a participating Test Resort, I do not have a MagicBand, and I haven’t been able to partake in the FastPass+ testing. Now I’m not sure if it is due to unusually large crowds or the testing of FastPass+; but we have endured longer wait times during our fall visits, longer than anytime in the past. Rides like Tea Cups, Mansion, and Pirates which are typically walk-ons in the Fall all had July wait times. At the TeaCups there were as many people in the FastPass+ queue as there were in the standby queue.

    So, my question, is FastPass+ artificially increasing wait times? Or could it be equalizing them (i.e. reducing the wait at Dumbo by directing some guests to TeaCups)?

    • Well, from the guest perspective, it’s an increase in wait times for rides that didn’t have them (for those guests) before. Disney may very well be equalizing the lines with FastPass+, but if you always walked on to Tea Cups and now you don’t, the guest perception is that the system is increasing the time it takes for you to get on the ride, a ride you used to just walk up to and get on. Unless the system ‘equalizes’ enough waits out of their big, signature attractions, that’s going to be a problem for Disney (which is to say that if I still have to wait a long time to ride a Mountain, and now I also have to wait a while to ride a Tea Cup, I’m going to be annoyed.)

  2. It appears that many of the issues expressed above have to do with the need to pre-plain and the lack of spontaneity.

    One of my biggest issues with Park visits in recent years is with increasing crowds. Not necessarily attraction wait times, but the bottlenecks of people, strollers, and scoters congesting the various pathways. There was a time you could stroll down the middle of main street or along the Rivers of America; now I always feel like a salmon swimming against the current.

    I think FastPass (the legacy system) is part of the problem. People crisscrossing through the park to get from one attraction to the next to get their next fast pass, or to arrive during their schedule ride time. People do not tour in a logical order any more, i.e. completing all the attractions in Tomorrowland before moving on to Fantasyland. Now they bounce back and forth based on their fast pass times, and standby waits at other attractions.

    Instead of a preplanned reservation system, why can’t NextGen be a dynamic system that moves guests logically through property evenly distributing the crowds throughout the park and parks? If the Magic Kingdom has a crowd level of 8 and DAK has a level of 3, create an incentive to direct Guest away from MK and towards DAK. Inside the park, they have the technology to know where every guest is, now figure out how to utilize the system to distribute us evenly within the park. At the parks move the guest in a logical progression to see as much of the park as possible w/o over crowding any given area. There could be a component of preplanning, allowing the guest to prioritize what attractions they want to experience (like my DVR allows me to prioritize what shows to record) and create algorithms to work those priorities into the active/dynamic plan of moving the guest through the Park.

    The trick would be to do this w/o requiring the guest to spend their day looking down at their smart phone trying to decide what to do next. Guest spend too much time staring at their phones as it is, lets find a way to engage them with the attractions and the environment again. But perhaps this is a societal problem too big for Disney to tackle.

  3. The vision of a family walking around with their ears & noses in their gadgets during a vacation that cost thousands of dollars — that’s a place I don’t think I want to go and certainly gadgets I don’t need at Disneyland.

    And what’s with the autism? DAS is not an autism pass. It’s for all sorts of disabilities, some of which might benefit from pre-planning (though off-hand I can’t think of one). I don’t think that most normal humans could withstand all these waits and reservations.

    I happen to think this is a sobering article. I certainly found myself upset reading it. Roy worked so hard to make Disney in Florida. It is hard even for me to think that I would find anything off-property if I trek all the way to WDW…I would want to be immersed in the Disney experience (which cannot be found in an electronic gadget).

    • When we have to cunsult our phones 4 times an hour to be told what we are going to be doing on our vacation…well, something is really wrong.

      Armband may be worse.

      WDW simply had the crowds, got greedy w the hotels and didn’t want to spend on the infrastructure. So, guests have to follow directions like robots on vacations and know what they want to eat 180 days ahead. All this while spending over $500 per day for a small family.

  4. Another thought on this that I didn’t include:

    Once a guest is in the park, Disney should have the ability to make more Fastpass+ reservations available on a per guest basis. If a guest arrives at 9 AM they would have greater access to the Fastpass+ system than someone that gets there at 1 PM. They might pull up the app and see that they’ve received access to another Fastpass+ reservation. This could also be used with park hopping as well.

    Your thoughts?

    • My thoughts are that, for guests arriving at 1 PM, all the FastPass passes for the day have already been completely distributed by 11 AM — for any attraction you actually needed or wanted a FastPass for.

      Toy Story, Soaring, you all know the attractions — gone by 11 AM everyday.

      FYI, many people keep bringing-up new and better attractions as an issue (especially as opposed to all the spending on the NextGen schemes).

      #1 The whole point of the bean-counter NextGen schemes is that they are doing it INSTEAD of building new rides and attractions, and maintaining existing aging and tired infrastructure.
      This is the choice they have made to squeeze more profits out of minimal investment.

      #2 It’s really not about the rides — it’s about how they’re treating the marks (er, “guests”).

      Not only is Universal building the rides and attractions — and new infrastructure — at an astonishing pace, but they are treating the guests very well.
      When I now go to Universal, I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get there.
      Yet, I manage to get on any and every ride I wish, and (gasp!) manage to secure a same-day in-the-park reservation for a sit-down restaurant.
      Also, everything seems to be open open from open to close.

      I am shocked that Disney continues down the sorry path they have chosen.
      Forget Walt and Roy’s way, it’s now the bean-counter and slum-landlord mentality.

      Raise prices; Cut everything.
      Upcharge for anything and everything you possibly can — even if you have to rope-off numerous areas from the riff-raff — areas that were previously open to everyone in the parks — so that you can upcharge for their use by the desired marks.

      I’m sick of it, and don’t know if I’ll ever be back to WDW!
      Seems like many others feel the same way.

      • BigBobxxx,

        We found ourselves having this same revelation about two years back. We live in Texas and would buy annual passes to D-Land or WDW each year and alternate.

        Before Islands of Adventure, we would hit Universal for a day because my wife and 3 kids loved the Animal Show and ET, etc.

        We found ourselves spending a heck of a lot of money at WDW and looking at each other and shrugging about the same old attractions.
        Spaceship Earth, and all of “Futureworld” are just shrugs from the family when we asked if they wanted to ride.
        Animal Kingdom was always a shrug for us. Everest was better when the Yeti worked. I like “It’s Tough to be a Bug” but these two aren’t enough to justify $500 a day!
        Magic Kingdom is fine but we think D-Land kicks WDW’s rump here.
        Disney Studios – same thing every year. Indiana Jones old stupid jokes, etc.
        None of this is worth $500 bucks a day for our family of 5 anymore.
        At the same time Universal stepped EVERYTHING up and we are always excited to be there. Skiping lines, upgraded 4-5 star Portofino to a suite w 2 full bathrooms for free and $100 meal credit at check in, boat ride to front of parks instead of a bus, and always a new ride our attraction or two, etc.
        We haven’t been to WDW in two years except for the waterparks. When Universal steps that up and puts a wave pool and lazy river in at Cabana Bay, we will probably skip the WDW waterparks as well.

    • I’m a Luddite, Tim, and not all that old a one. Like Dobby, if I had a gadget, it would be left in the car or at home. Experiencing Disneyland takes my complete and undivided technology-”unenhanced” attention.