Shortening Lines at Disney World: Technology to the Rescue
No one likes standing in line at Orlando’s Walt Disney World, least of all parents with several young children in tow. In recent years, the average Magic Kingdom visitor only had time for nine rides because of lengthy waits and crowded restaurants and walkways. Disney’s management is unhappy with these long lines as well, and is using information technology to change that experience.
Disney handles over 30 million visitors each year, many of them during peak family vacation times, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and summer vacations. Disney has been treating crowd control as a science for a long time, and now it wants to quicken the pace even more. Customers accustomed to video games and smartphones expect entertainment to be immediately available.
Disney World’s management would genuinely like to make its guests happier. In order to increase revenue at Disney’s theme parks, it must try to wring more expenditures from existing customers. So it’s definitely in Disney’s interest to invest in giving guests faster and better access to fun if that encourages them to return more often. And if Disney can also increase guests’ average number of restaurant or shop visits, this will boost per capita spending as well.
Beneath the Cinderella Castle lies a Disney Operational Command Center, which uses video cameras, digital park maps, computer programs, and other tools to spot gridlock before it forms and immediately launch countermeasures. The center’s information systems determine ride capacity in part by analyzing airline bookings, hotel reservations, and historic attendance data. Satellites supply up-to-the-minute weather analysis. Employees monitor flat-screen televisions displaying various Disney attractions outlined in red, yellow, and green. They are constantly on the lookout for ways to speed up lines or make more efficient use of Disney facilities.
As Bob Schlinger, a writer on Disney for the Frommers.com travel site notes, you only have so many options once the bathtub is full. So, for example, if the outline for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride changes from green to yellow, the center might alert managers to launch more boats. Alternatively, managers might choose to dispatch Captain Jack Sparrow or Goofy to entertain people as they wait in line. Video game stations help visitors pass the time at wait areas for rides such as Space Mountain.
If Fantasyland is overcrowded but nearby Tomorrow land has more room, the command center might route a miniparade called “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it!” into the less-crowded area to attract guests in that direction. Other command center technicians monitor restaurants to see if additional registers need to be opened or if more greeters are required to hand menus to people waiting to order. By using information technology to improve the flow of crowds, the Operational Command Center has managed to raise the average number of daily rides for Disney World visitors to 10.
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Disney has started to harness mobile technology. Disney’s own mobile application called Mobile Magic provides additional tools for guiding visitors more efficiently, including displaying wait times for rides and the ability to locate Disney characters, such as Sleeping Beauty, along with directions to where they are entertaining visitors.
Sources: Chad Storlie, “Walt Disney-Learning from the Military,” Military.com, January 4, 2011; Jeremy Olson, “Surviving Disney World,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 4, 2011; www.disneyworld.disney.go.com, accessed September 2, 2012; and Brooks Barnes, “Disney Tackles Major Theme Park Problem: Lines,” The New York Times, December 27, 2010.
The challenges facing Disney World and other theme parks show why information systems are so essential today. There is a limit to the number of people Disney World can handle at one time. In order to keep increasing revenue, Disney needs to find more efficient and productive ways to utilize its existing facilities. In Disney’s case, this means encouraging customers to spend more time on the premises and to make repeat visits.
The chapter-opening diagram calls attention to important points raised by this case and this chapter. To increase revenue, Disney management chose to use information technology to improve the customer experience. Disney uses video cameras, television displays, and specialized computer software to calculate visitor capacity, identify gridlock, and launch activities that will help re-flow crowds. In addition to reducing wait times, Disney uses information technology to provide new interactive services, such as video games, to guests waiting in line, and mobile applications to help visitors navigate the theme park more efficiently.
It is also important to note that using information technology for crowd control has changed the way Disney World runs its business. Disney World’s systems for managing people in lines changed procedures for ticketing, crowd management, and ordering food from restaurants. These changes had to be carefully planned to make sure they enhanced service, efficiency, and profitability.
Here are some questions to think about: How are information systems improving operations at Disney? Give examples of two management decisions that are facilitated by Disney’s information systems.