Disney Works Its Magic on Wait Times
By Tom Ryan
Walt Disney, already praised for its crowd control expertise at
its theme parks, is taking the managing of wait times to another level. The
investments come as park managers told The New York Times that
video games and smartphones are feeding "a cultural shift toward impatience."
Walt Disney World in Florida, a "Disney Command Center" under
Cinderella Castle uses video cameras, computer programs and digital park maps "to
spot gridlock before it forms and deploy," according to the Times article. Screens
depict various attractions in green, yellow and red shades to represent wait-time
If a "yellow" or dreaded "red" alert occurs, several
actions can take place:
- Rides can be adjusted to handle the larger volume. For instance, the Pirates
of the Caribbean attraction can send out more boats.
- Disney characters (Mickey, Captain Jack Sparrow, etc.) can be sent to entertain
people while they wait.
- If one section (Fantasyland) is packed, a miniparade can be held in another
nearby section (Tomorrowland) to shift traffic.
- At restaurants, additional registers can be opened or greeters dispatched
to hand out menus to people waiting to order.
"It’s about being nimble and quickly noticing that, ‘Hey, let’s
make sure there is some relief out there for those people,’" Phil
Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom, the flagship Disney World park,
told the Times.
Longer-term tactics Disney has used to manage traffic have been determining
ride capacity at each location by analyzing hotel reservations, flight bookings,
historic attendance, as well as weather patterns. Its FastPass system allows
customers to skip lines for popular rides.
More recently, Mobile Magic, a $1.99
app, was introduced. Typing "Sleeping
Beauty" reveals directions to where the princess is signing autographs.
In the future, typing "hamburger" might reveal the nearest restaurant
with the shortest wait, the article stated. Video games have also been added
to some wait areas, such as Asteroid-themed games in the queue for the Space
Blogs following Disney’s parks predict wristbands containing
dense information (credit card number, favorite Disney characters, etc.) will
eventually create a quicker and more personalized experience.
"Picture a day where there is memory built into these characters —
they will know that they’ve seen you four or five times before and that your
name is Bobby," Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive at Walt Disney
Imagineering, told the Times. "Those are the kinds of limits that
are dissolving so quickly that we can see being able to implement them in the
meaningfully near future."
Discussion Questions: What lessons does Disney offer to retailers in managing
crowds and line waits? What are some obvious and less obvious ways retailers
can better manage checkout lines? Do you agree that consumers are becoming even
more impatient over line waits?