Ambient Transformations: MyMagic+ at Disney

The hospitality and tourism industry has pioneered the use of ambient digital technologies to improve operations and enhance experiences. A previous post looked at the cruise lines, this reviews Disney’s MyMagic+, an award-winning suite of ambient technologies deployed to improve its parks. When Disney started MyMagic+ in 2007, it required billions of dollars in investment to transform the guest experience. Since then these technologies have spread. Now that our world has much of the same infrastructure many of the Disney strategies can be replicated by other businesses to transform and enhance their own unique magic.

Losing the magic

Every real-world business faces pressure from old rivals and new digital entrants. In retailing, there’s Walmart and Amazon. In hospitality, traditional chains now face boutiques and Airbnb. Restaurants must compete against each other as well as food trucks, gig-economy kitchens, and delivery services.  

Even Disney’s impressive moat does not insulate it from competitive pressure and cultural shifts. Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a hit. Cruises are destinations. Vacations are adventures. Social media consumes our attention. Video streaming and gaming create competing alternative worlds. VR is just around the corner (maybe this time!).  But these are new pressures.

In 2007 Disney faced a sobering reckoning with something worse, an indicator showing that “half of first-time attendees signaled they likely would not come back because of long lines, high ticket costs, and other park pain points.”  Disney discovered that some guests split their families and criss-crossed the park more than 20 times to reduce wait times. Steve Jobs, a Disney board member, told Disney executives that  “doing what you’ve been doing and believing that will remain the model for the next 20 years is not right.” (Fast Company)

Competition is one thing, losing your magic is quite another.

Past in the future

The challenge for Disney, as for many other real-world businesses, is how to cast new spells without forgetting the traditional magic. Nostalgia is designed into Disney’s parks. The entrance to the Magic Kingdom is Main Street USA. The rides are legendary. It’s A Small World is unchanged since 1964. Pirates of the Caribbean founded a film franchise. Older generations return with their children and grandchildren, expecting to experience the same youthful wonderment. So then, how to transform the Disney experience without ruining it?

MyMagic+: Ambient alchemy

The solution that emerged is a suite of technologies that has helped transform Disney’s parks and their profitability while reinvigorating its magical experience.

From the Wikipedia entry:

MyMagic+ is a suite of technologies first implemented at the Walt Disney World Resort that enable a number of services and enhancements to guests of the resort. Influenced by wearable computing and the concept of the Internet of Things, the system is primarily designed to consolidate various functions, such as payments, hotel room access, ticketing, FastPass, into a digital architecture consisting primarily of radio systems, RFID-enabled wristbands known as MagicBands, and features accessible via online services and mobile apps.

Image from Disney

Most of these technologies are ambient-- that is, they operate in the background throughout the park to provide highly personalized benefits and services without intruding into the experience. It is imperative that technology not insert itself into the guest’s perception of the world Disney creates. While the transformation depends on advanced digital technology the experience itself is, most emphatically, not digital. It reinvents and reinforces the old Disney magic yet remains in the real-world.

Conjuring time

One the spells MyMagic+ casts relieves a pain point found everywhere: wait times.

The solution harnesses MagicBands, mobile apps, and web applications to recognize, anticipate, coordinate, and guide guests to attractions with spare capacity or open areas of the park. FastPass schedules and coordinates access to high demand rides. Mobile notifications provide updates. Personalized park routes prioritize a guest’s personal interests and timing while coordinating with park capabilities. Real-time dynamic analysis of MyMagic+ location data reveals hot spots and indicates solutions. Crowds building near the castle? Dispatch a character parade to siphon them to open areas of the park.

The benefits come straight from an operations textbook. MyMagic+ has cut turnstile times by 30% while increasing park capacity. Even the wait at the newly opened Millennium Falcon ride is only 25 minutes. And when guests aren’t in line for a ride, that’s more time to buy gifts, keepsakes, and food. MyMagic+ eases a major pain point, improves the experience, maintains the Disney illusion, and increases the revenue potential of the entire park.

Image from Disney


Then there’s the data.

It turns out that the data to reduce wait times for its attractions in the real-world also reveals consumer sentiment in the digital world. Changing demand for attractions reveals shifting attitudes towards movie franchises. It’s better than a focus group. What do people under time, financial, and physical constraints really prefer?

The MyMagic+ data and flow patterns also help manage off-stage costs and resources. Higher precision demand forecasting improves employee distribution and shift allocation, no small task considering Disney World must schedule 80,000 cast members into 240,000 shifts. Knowing exactly who is needed, when, and where optimizes staffing costs and permits better scheduling for supporting services like laundry and dry cleaning.

Your adventures

MyMagic+ ambients also personalize experiences. They guide you to your must-see attractions, and insure you meet your favorite characters. Real-life Disney princesses wish children Happy Birthday by name. Your wallet stays in the hotel room and you pay for food and souvenirs with the MagicBand. Hotel keys? Just wear the MagicBand and walk straight into your room. Eat at the Be Our Guest restaurant and your favorite food finds you. PhotoPass recognizes your MagicBand, snaps your picture on on rides, and sends the images and videos to your account.

Images from Disney

Spinning gold

According to a Disney executive, MyMagic+ has allowed “north of 5,000 more people into the park for the same experience” in the Magic Kingdom alone. Just the marginal ticket revenue on that increase is $182 million per year-- then there’s the incremental per guest spend on hotel, food, beverage, and merchandise.

The net result of Disney’s efforts: operating profit for its parks increased 18% last year to reach $4.5 billion, a 100% increase in the last five years. Building on this success, Disney is investing a further $24 billion--  more than Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm combined-- to enhance and build physical properties and ships.

Image from Disney

Our Tomorrowland

The technology of Disney’s world is now in our world. What Disney spent $1 billion crafting is now commonplace. Smartphones perform the role of MagicBands at Disney’s other parks. So these same capabilities can be exploited everywhere in almost any demographic. Sensors are inexpensive. Machine learning is now a commodity. Sophisticated visual recognition systems are in phones and home cameras.  

There is life, and profits, in the real world physical space. While Disney parks are unique, they are unique by design. Real-world businesses are already unique by the nature of their location and role in the surrounding community. It is now possible to leverage technology to imitate the spells of MyMagic+,  to remove the pain and retain the uniqueness of your real-world experience.

To cast a spell

Disney’s success shows businesses should start with a few key questions.

Where do your customers spend time?

Many real world friction points can be solved by saving your customer time. Time itself is unique, a constantly fading asset that is irreplaceable. Do not let your customers wait for the experience your business provides.

What makes your customer unique?

Each customer is unique and always playing multi-layered roles. At Disney, guests are parents, children, spouses, friends, and newlyweds who in the blink of an eye become princesses, pirates, jungle explorers, astronauts, and river boat captains. Provide consistent yet personal experiences suited for your customer’s role in the moment.

What makes you unique?

You, and your business, are unique. Your products and services. Your location. Your community.  Your employees, your cast members.  Your culture. Like Disney, identify what must be reinforced and retained even as you find tomorrow’s magic.

You think about what makes your magic and your real world unique. At Rocket, we figure out how to tap that magic with the ambient technology now surrounding us all to help you cast new spells.

Long reads

FastCompany - Inside Disney’s radical plan to modernize its cherished theme parks.

Wired - Focusing more on the MagicBand