Give Disney Visitors Hi-Tech Wristbands and They Spend More Money

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Once again, Disney appears to have mastered the art of rolling out a new perk for guests—that actually winds up with them spending more money at Disney. This time, it’s a wristband that serves as a combo admissions pass, room key, credit card, and reservation assistant for rides and restaurants.

When Disney first introduced the MyMagic+ wristbands concept earlier this year, some observers were initially concerned about privacy issues. The New York Times wrote that the wristbands, which use radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and collect tons of data about the preferences of guests — even children — “could be troublesome for a company that some consumers worry is already too controlling.” A Salon post even went so far as the call the new system “Mickey Mouse‘s magic handcuffs.”

Regardless, Disney has moved forward with the wristband plan. Executives showed off the new technology at the All Things D conference this past spring, and the bands have undergoing test runs for months. As a USA Today’s tech column summed up, in addition to getting the wearer through the turnstiles into a Walt Disney World park, the MyMagic+ bands are capable of doing such things as the following:

They can unlock a door at a Disney hotel. You can use tap them to buy concessions or souvenirs (great, just what parents want to hear), order photos, and yes take the place of a FastPass to an attraction that lets you reduce the time you’d spend in a long line.

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Guests can also use MagicBands to pay for meals at restaurants, book meet-and-greets with characters like Belle and Goofy, and even make reservations for a spot for your family to watch fireworks and parades.

The Disney-focused blog Mouse Planet reported that select regular guests started testing out the wristbands in Florida in late June. And apparently, the initial tests have proven very successful, at least from Disney’s point of view. At a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, Thomas Staggs, Disney’s parks division chairman, said that guests wearing the wristbands spent more on average, according to Bloomberg News.

Staggs didn’t clarify where that extra spending was directed, just that they spent more “because they had fun with the technology.” No specific timeline was announced regarding an expansion of the program. “We’re still in test mode,” he said. “It takes some time to get it all rolled out.”

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It’s pretty easy to see how and why the wristbands correlate with an uptick in spending, though. It’s not just because the technology is “fun” and new. (If that’s really all it took to increase spending, smartphone payment systems would probably be a lot more widespread by now.) Instead, the wristbands seem to succeed mainly by eliminating hurdles that get in the way of guests spending money freely, nonchalantly, with as little hassle as possible.

One of the reasons that the original FastPass—the system allowing guests to reserve ride times so they don’t have to wait in the usual lines—was a win-win for Disney is that it made guests happy (happy guests come back again and again), while simultaneously freeing guests up to do things like hit the gifts shops and go to restaurants during the hours they’re not waiting in lines. The MyMagic+ program provides guests with even more time to find ways to drop cash, while the speedy band-zapping technology involved makes it seem like they’re not really parting with cash at all. And any parent who enables his kid’s wristband to make purchases and sets him free in the parks should expect quite an increase in family spending.

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The other big Disney World innovation that brilliantly manages to pull off the magic trick of granting a special perk to visitors while all but guaranteeing they’ll spend more money at the resort is the Magical Express. For those unfamiliar, it’s a complimentary roundtrip bus and baggage delivery service connecting Walt Disney World with Orlando International Airport. It’s available only to guests who are booked for overnight stays at Disney properties, thereby giving visitors to central Florida extra incentive to stay at an on-site Disney hotel. And the service negates the need for rental cars—which, if guests had them, might be used to visit an offsite restaurant or grocery store, or even drive over to Sea World or Universal Studios for a day. For obvious reasons, Disney would prefer guests to never leave its sprawling resort grounds, and the Magical Express helps ensure that’s the case.