Disney's Billion Dollar Theme Park Gamble


Guests travel to Walt Disney World seeking the ultimate vacation experience, and Disney continues to develop new ways to deliver the best possible vacation. The company has invested over a billion dollars in their MyMagic+ system, which employs wearable technology and RFID (radio frequency identification) chips to fine tune and customize guests' experiences. Disney has high hopes for MyMagic+, but so far many guests aren't sold on the idea.

A recent MSN Money profile on MyMagic+ reveals the technology behind this new system, Disney's expectations for the program, and guests' decidedly mixed reviews.

It's a sweeping reservation and ride planning system that allows for bookings months in advance on a website or smartphone app. Bracelets called MagicBands, which link electronically to an encrypted database of visitor information, serve as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards; a tap against a sensor pays for food or trinkets. The bands have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips -- which critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.

That tracking power also is what makes them so important for Disney's $14.1 billion theme park and resort business. Intelligence collected using the bands coupled with what visitors input into the related My Disney Experience app and website -- all voluntary -- help Disney determine when to add more staff at rides, what restaurants should serve, which souvenirs should be stocked, and how many employees in costume should roam around at any given time. Data about customer preferences could be used to craft e-mails or text messages alerting them to restaurant menu changes or sudden openings for reservations in an expedited queue at Space Mountain or the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

The goal is to offer people what Tom Staggs, head of the company's parks and resorts unit, calls "a more immersive, more seamless, and more personal experience" -- allowing Disney employees to address a child by name, for example, or wish someone a happy birthday.