Why Vacationers Will Soon Spend Even More Time and Money at Disney World

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Walt Disney World’s new MyMagic+ system promises to cut down on wait times at park rides and attractions. Could that be a bad thing for guests’ pocketbooks?

The main component of Disney’s just-introduced system is a set of “MagicBands.” They’re RFID-enhanced wristbands that are worn by qualified guests and serve as an all-purpose admission ticket, hotel room key, FastPass (reservation system to book a ride or attraction without waiting), and payment system for most purchases made on resort grounds.

A New York Times story on the new system focuses not so much on the upside for travelers as on how the bands will allow Disney to compile a dizzying amount of personal information on guests—and the concerns accompanying such data collection, especially in regards to children:

Did you buy a balloon? What attractions did you ride and when? Did you shake Goofy’s hand, but snub Snow White? If you fully use MyMagic+, databases will be watching, allowing Disney to refine its offerings and customize its marketing messages.

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One example of how the wristbands might seem delightful or creepy, depending on one’s point of view, is that the character playing Cinderella could approach your daughter seemingly out of the blue and say, “Hi, Angie. I understand it’s your birthday.”

It’s probably unwise to do something like that if you’re not wearing a ball gown and a tiara.

A Salon post describes the trackable wristbands as “Magic Handcuffs.” After all, anything with the power to help a park visitor cut through unendurable lines has just gotta be magic. Then again, the system also comes with the power to help Disney “better extract cash from your pocket,” as the post states.

The MyMagic+ system is but one part of a larger initiative aimed at transforming Walt Disney World visits. It has been dubbed by Disney with the EPCOT-like name of the “Next Generation Experience,” which the Orlando Sentinel plainly explains is a “sweeping, vacation-planning project aimed at getting travelers to spend more time and money at Walt Disney World.”

How will the system enable travelers to spend more money at Disney? The MagicBands will initially only be available to certain guests who are booked overnight at Disney-owned lodging. Access to the bands, then, will be viewed as an additional selling point for Disney hotels, which are generally much pricier than off-site properties. “People are willing to pay quite a bit for convenience,” theme park consultant John Gerner told the Sentinel.

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MagicBands not only replace admissions and FastPass tickets, but can also be linked to credit cards so that guests can pay for photos, food, souvenirs, and other extras with a swipe of the wrist—and perhaps without the usual consideration one gives purchases made via cash or plastic. Families will be able to pay for another round of ice creams or silly hats without ever having to take out a wallet or purse.

But the biggest upside to MyMagic+ (for Disney and Disney guests alike) is probably the fact that the new system will save guests time. As the Disney Parks blog explained the perks:

Now, rather than dashing as a group, or even splitting up to gather FastPasses, imagine booking guaranteed ride times for your favorite shows and attractions even before setting foot in the park. With MyMagic+, guests will be able to do that and more, enabling them to spend more time together and creating an experience that’s better for everyone.

Disney doesn’t want guests milling around for hours waiting for their turn to hop aboard a seven-minute ride. When guests are waiting in line, you see, they aren’t in gift shops and restaurants. They aren’t booking spa treatments or sitting down at special meals featuring princesses and other beloved Disney characters. Simply put, when guests are waiting line, they aren’t spending money. Instead, they’re just waiting around, and the wait is probably leaving a bad taste in their mouths. By offering the possibility of skipping lines, Disney decreases the annoyance factor, while simultaneously increasing the odds that guests will do and spend more during visits.

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By eliminating some of the hassles and making the visitor experience more relaxed, Disney gives guests more reason to come and stay a while. The new system is a natural extension of the original FastPass, which was created to simultaneously help guests to avoid long lines and enable them to spend more money.

It’s also a natural extension of services like the Magical Express, the complimentary shuttle to and from Orlando International Airport strictly for guests staying at Disney-owned properties. Guests love the service because it’s convenient and free, and gets rid of the need for visitors to rent cars. Disney loves that latter aspect of the Magical Express—without their own wheels, most guests will never leave the resort—and that the value added by the service gives them justification for charging a little extra for rooms.

What’s so brilliant about these services, and about much of what Disney does, is that they appear to exist mainly to benefit guests, while they also undeniably boost the company’s bottom line. That’s quite a magical combo.