RFID bracelets a game changer for Disney

By Michelle Baran

In what is being hailed as a game-changing technology for the theme park industry, the Walt Disney Co. last week announced a new MagicBand bracelet that will enable guests at Walt Disney World to enter the parks, purchase food and merchandise, unlock their hotel rooms and access certain rides with a wave of their wrists.

“It’s going to reshape how the customer interfaces with the park,” predicted Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a Cincinnati-based theme park consulting company. “Disney always sets the bar for our industry. … This is the future.”

The MagicBand bracelet is part of a larger, technological initiative known as MyMagic+, which Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is rolling out over the next several months at Walt Disney World in Florida in an attempt to improve the overall guest experience.

Disney MagicBand“Imagine booking guaranteed ride times for your favorite shows and attractions, even before setting foot in the park,” Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, wrote on the Disney Parks Blog. “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.”

MyMagic+ includes a new website and a mobile app called My Disney Experience. The key to MyMagic+, both literally and figuratively, is an RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology embedded in each MagicBand bracelet. The technology, known as FastPass+, is an enhanced version of FastPass, the current system that enables guests to skip attraction lines.

FastPass+ will enable guests to book dining and other experiences and reserve times for certain attractions and shows in advance. Beyond the MagicBands, guests will also be able to use their smartphones to change their plans while at the park.

Additionally, they will be able to reserve fireworks and parade viewing areas, as well as schedule meetings with Disney characters. The MagicBand bracelets will provide access to all the FastPass+ experiences selected and will serve as a connection to Disney’s PhotoPass program, which enables guests to shoot, store and share photos.

The MagicBand will initially be made available to select Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests and guests who purchase other products. However, Disney didn’t elaborate on which products those would be. Other guests will be able to use their standard ticket to access the benefits of MyMagic+, such as making FastPass+ selections on the My Disney Experience website.

MagicBand bracelets will be distributed in lieu of the paper tickets currently used. The bracelets will also serve as an optional payment technology when linked to credit card information, if guests choose to use it.

Eventually, the MagicBand bracelets could also be used to gain additional personal information about guests that could then enable Disney to customize and personalize the theme park experience for each guest.

For example, guests who choose to have additional personal information encoded on their bracelet could have digital signage throughout the park interact with them, said Tom Foster, sales manager for RFID technology at Precision Dynamics. He noted that if it was a guest’s birthday, that guest could walk past a sign that reads that information off the band and creates a personalized birthday message for the guest.

“It’s a little bit of Big Brother coming to the theme park industry,” Speigel allowed. “But once people see the benefits … it really is going to give an interface with the family that they’ve never had before.”

In Disney’s initial statement about MyMagic+ last week, the company made certain to clarify that “the MagicBand does not store any personal information. It contains a code that securely links to an encrypted database that associates the MagicBand with the benefits a guest has purchased. Extensive measures are in place to protect the privacy of guests and the security of the personal information they choose to share.”

Foster, too, asserted that the information on the bands is very secure. He said that with RFID wristbands, which his company has created for events such as the Coachella music festival and other theme parks, the guest’s credit card information is on a back-end server and is not housed on the actual wristband. In other words, no one can scan the wristband and get the credit card information.

“There’s a lot of misinformation, with people suggesting they can track you once you leave the park or scan your wristband and get your credit card information,” Foster said. “No one is going to track you once you leave the park.”

But while guests are in the park, the bands will definitely help Disney keep track of them, their purchases and consumer behavior. Foster estimates that Disney is investing millions of dollars in the new technology with all its applications.

As for Disney travel sellers, they appeared last week to be excited about the new technology and its potential to improve the park experience for clients.

“It’s going to be a great benefit to our clients,” predicted Scott Liljenquist, co-owner of Draper, Utah-based Mouseketrips, an authorized Disney vacation planner. “It allows those people who really like to plan their trip well in advance to do so and avoid a lot of the lines and the waiting … and it’s a great thing, convenience-wise, because there’s not going to be any more tickets to lose or room keys to lose.”

As for whether the new technology will be an advantage or disadvantage in terms of bookings, Liljenquist said he could see it go two ways.

On one hand, he said, he could see the more hardcore Disney enthusiasts making more bookings on their own now that they can personalize their own Disney theme park experience online and at the parks.

But he said he could also see all the additional options and services being overwhelming for theme park goers, meaning they might seek out a specialist to help them sort through all the options.

Liljenquist said that Disney is planning to provide agent training on the new technology.

The bottom line, he said, is that the MyMagic+ program is “really a win-win for Disney and the consumer.”

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 

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