Disney and Universal both are developing alternates to the traditional room key for guest access on their properties. Disney's already started rolling out its MagicBand system, which integrates a room key, theme park admissions, charging privileges, and reservation management in an RFID-enabled wristband. Meanwhile, Universal has filed a patent application for a system that could use cell phones and/or wristbands to replace theme park admission media and reservation tickets. (Universal Orlando's hotels are operated by Loews Hotels.) SeaWorld's also begun enabling the use of cell phones for theme park admissions.
But here's the question: Would theme park fans rather have a dedicated "thing" for admission access, such as Disney's MagicBand, or would they prefer simply to use their cell phones for those tasks? It's literally a billion-dollar question, as Disney's said to have invested that amount in its "NextGen" project, for which the new MyMagic+ access system is the centerpiece.
The answer to that question will help resolve whether Disney made a costly mistake in pushing ahead with MagicBands, rather than waiting for the hospitality industry to develop a industry standard for the use of cell phones as room keys. If Starwood's trail works well, the chain could move to implement the system at its other brands, including Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, and W Hotels, which likely would push other major hotel operators to introduce the same functionality at their properties.
After all, the upside for hotels in supporting phone-based key media is to get the hotels out of the business of maintaining physical key media, as well as to reduce the amount of labor hours devoted to checking in guests at each of its hotels. Hotels would need to maintain some on-site personnel to handle problems and other customer service, but much of check-in support could be automated or handled by a central office, as airlines now do.
Switching one form of hard media (room keys) for another (wristbands) minimizes that payoff for hoteliers. You can still handle some of the check-in arrangements in advance, as Disney does with MagicBands, but you're still paying for all those wristbands. Why would Disney spend a billion dollars to do this?
Let's go to the medicine cabinet and pull out Occam's razor. Either Disney is impatient and/or foolish… or MagicBands are intended to support much more than admission and key media, justifying the extra expense in developing this custom system.
That's a hypothesis we've offered before, but that sometimes get lost in fans' complains about MyMagic+. Sure, you could use a cell phone to get into your room, or a theme park, or to confirm your reservation time at a ride, restaurant, or show. But what if a theme park wanted to enable something to react to you, without requiring you to do anything more than enter a designated area?
Mobile technology experts long have predicted that manufacturers would equip mobile devices with RFID and NFC tags, and release programming structures to enable their use in applications. But who will makes the rules and exercise the control over that access? The manufacturer? The user? The application developer? The manufacturers, developers and/or users collectively, via government?
By developing its own system with MagicBands, Disney becomes the manufacturer and developer, consolidating its control of the use of the system. And Disney's limiting its users ability to control their MagicBands. You can make reservations, but can't turn them on or off or limit which readers can access them, they way you might with a cell phone-based system.
Fans can argue about privacy, though businesses long have tracked customers on their businesses property (say 'Hi' to the security cameras, everyone!), but fans also ought to admit that such as system opens immense potential for creative use by park designers. Imagine attractions, even landscapes, that adapt to the visitors within them. How about a Star Tours-like ride that, instead of selecting randomly from 54 potential ride combinations, is designed to deliver a combination that no one on the ride has experienced before? How about interactive park signs that change to point you toward the location of your upcoming reservation time? Or a Men in Black-like ride that offers more advanced levels of play for experienced riders? The gamification of theme parks could begin.
Would that be possible with an admission system based upon another company's cell phones, regulated both by industry convention and potentially more restrictive government rules? Maybe, but maybe not. That's something fans should consider as they look toward the future of theme parks, and vacation travel in general.
Let's get the conversation started:
I am sure the MagicBands technology can be integrated with cell phones. Today's cell phones might not be advanced enough since they don't have RFIDs. You can be sure that RFIDs will be standard with cell phones in a few more years. In the meantime, MagicBands will be the best solution. Eventually, I am sure Disney will phase out the MagicBands as the cost of $10 each will be considered to be an unnecessary expense.
Disney should be the leader with this. They should not be leading from behind.
The primary purpose of Disney leading with MagicBands is better integration with ticket media, FP+, room charges, dining reservations, and room access. Even if cell phone apps are prevalent in the future, it takes a few iterations to perfect the technology. MagicBands are NOW.
We don't know how much Disney could have saved by using visitors' cell phones in lieu of wristbands, but it likely would be only a small, small fraction of the NextGen budget... unless using cell phones kept Disney from being able to develop much of NextGen project - features that needed a custom, dedicated system (such as MagicBands) to implement. Then, Disney could have saved many millions more, but at what opportunity cost?
I don't know.... New technology is fine, but all of this just seems a bit too much to me.
Ask park visitors what their biggest complaint about Disney is, and most will say "The lines are too long". How does this "Next Gen" technology solve the long line issue? It doesn't add any capacity.
Maybe Disney needs to invest something in "Next Gen" technology, but why $1 billion plus? Why isn't Disney spending more money on ride capacity and new attractions instead?
Universal has announced that they are spending $500 million every year to upgrade their parks. Universal is also developing their own version of "Next Gen" technology. How is Universal able to finance both of these activities at a time when Univeral possesses a small fraction of the financial resources that Disney enjoys?
When i stay at hotels with my family my wife and i both have a key, something that could easilly be migrated to our cellphones. Our son doesn't have his own key for the room (normally).
At Disney, everyone in the part needs a "key to the world". I know the age of ownership for smart phones is dropping but i think it unreasonable to expect that the majority of young children will have a smart phone in the next few years. And even if they do, do you really want your 5 year old waving round an expensive phone in public all day with all the opportunities for damage or loss.
100% adoption of smartphones (even amongst adults) is unlikely in the next 10 yearsm if ever. So hotels and parks are always going to have to provide an alternative. The smart band is a souvenir providing options for customisation and personalisation (more things to sell) and is as suitable for walking round a park as it is for splashing in the pool.
On the technology front, ignoring the physical form, magic bands use fairly standard technology. RFID/NFC is present in an increasing number of smartphones (not apple) and so if disney did decide they wanted to allow people to use their smart phone instead it woudl jsut be a matter of publishing an app. The in hotel and park infrastructure woudl be just as happy talking to a samsung galaxy phone as it would a magic band.
You check in, register, give them your credit card and then you get a band to wear. The band even opened the locker door in the lockerroom when I went to change! I paid for certain spa services but not others, and the band would let me through some doors but not into the areas I did not pay for. It was really neat.
I could charge food, drink, and spa services with the band. Never had to carry my purse with me or worry about where to put money in a swimsuit. It was just heaven.
All these years I've been wondering why no one in the US has tried this, because it was such a dream experience for me in Iceland. And now I see the reason they have not done this is because there is a very vocal portion of the public who hates the idea. It's a cultural thing, I guess.
In Iceland, no one thought the bands were "handcuffs" or a way for anyone to track you. That's a unique hyperbole here in this country. In Iceland, people just saw the bands as a cool way to have fun at the resort without having to deal with all the hassles of the credit cards and the wallets and cash.
I know that the reason we don't go on a lot of the water type rides like Splash Mountain is because I don't want to get our stuff wet and don't want to trifle with storing my purse and my husband does not want to get his wallet wet. With the bands, I might leave my purse in the room and my husband would leave his wallet in the room. And then we can have fun in the parks without having to worry about anything in our pockets getting wet.
Cell phones are nice, but we have to reached the era to do that yet.
"In Iceland, no one thought the bands were "handcuffs" or a way for anyone to track you. That's a unique hyperbole here in this country."
That's because we're very good at denial. Out of sight, out of mind. While we all know we're being tracked 24/7, if it's not in our face we don't think about it and don't object to it. A wristband is a physical reminder that we're "on the grid", and we've been told to not like that.
I know that every charge I make on my credit card is being put on a list for my monthly bill...and every time I use my debit card it is on a list of charges. So, why don't people feel paranoid about that? My husband's grandfather only used cash for everything (even buying a new car...he literally took a shoebox full of hundreds to do that, back in the 80s). He was paranoid about credit cards and never had one.
I really don't think I am important enough to worry about being tracked. I also don't believe that anyone is capable or competent enough to track everyone to the point where I would be on the list of people being tracked. I mean, before they'd need to find out what I am doing at every minute they'd have to have just about everyone else in Illinois and the entire midwest tracked. I am a homemaking mom with two kids and the most interesting thing I do in the day is laundry. Track away!
My point is that the magic bands are really no different than using a credit card in terms of "tracking" you. People who are scared of being "tracked" should turn off, smash, and throw away their iPhones right this instant...because there is a GPS in that which is always recording where you are. On Dexter, the TV show, Captain LaGuerta got a subpoena for the phone records of Dexter and his sister and was able to show where they were on a certain day, using the GPS in their phones. Not sure how real that was, but I bet it's close to reality and I bet that judges can do that.
Sometimes I think these companies just sit around a big office table and try to outthink themselves for no reason.
These are just options / alternatives to paper tickets and regular room keys. Low tech is never going to go away.
Even at Starwood's hotel, this will only work with "specific" phone operating systems (Android 4.3 & later / Iphone 4s & later), but for those guest who don"t have those phones, or for those guest who simply choose not to use their phones, there will obviously be options.
I see it as an a customer service OPTION that's available to guest.
Similar to paying for a coffee at Starbucks via your phone.
I went for the bands just for the simple reason is that my phone runs out of juice with even the MyMagic+.
How do some people make theirs last all day. What am I doing wrong?
Maybe you don't care if the "powers that be" track you every second of your life. But others do care if they are constantly tracked and surveilled. And if you say "If they have done nothing wrong..."
With "NextGen" technology, Disney will know exactly how many times you rode each ride. Disney will know exactly how much money you spent shopping and eating within the parks.
Disney can use this Magic Band information to increase prices and reduce services for the middle class and anyone else who Disney feels is spending too little money or riding too many attractions.
Disney could have spent this billion dollars to increase ride capacity and new attractions for the benefit of all customers.
Instead they devised a high tech system that could benefit a select few and be a net loss for the vast majority of their customers.
Disney caters for international guests and families. For a phone system to work properly, everyone who wants to access the room must have a phone. Children by and large do not have phones, and not all international guests (or even domestic guests) have phones. This is a major impact for the room access issue.
The other main issue is on the park side. This is by my understanding of what Disney's future plans are for the RFID technology. Disney want people to interact with the park. To walk past an animatronic puppet and have it interact with them in a personal way. For a girl to walk up to a Tinkerbell and have it respond in a different at to an adult. for a particular song to play in the background when you eat lunch. Lots of atmospheric things to enhance peoples enjoyment of the park in queues or away from attractions.
Children without their own mobile phone cannot do this, so the whole argument becomes moot.
In an generalised sense, if I'm travelling overseas with my family, phone room access or ticketing is not my preferred option. Phones are cumbersome, don't like getting wet, need recharging. For international travel, I'm often leaving it in the room safe or off, being 'off the grid' is one of the small luxuries of travel.
I think Disney could do cool -- not evil -- stuff with the magic bands data. I'm picturing them sending me invites in the future for special packages tailored to things my family would like. For instance, we are big Haunted Mansion fans and try to ride that as much as possible...so I think it would be neat if during our Disney stay we got emails or even a recorded phone call from the "Ghost Host" wishing us more fun on our trip or something. Or maybe we would get notices of cool Haunted Mansion merchandise that's new. I don't know what they could do, but I think the potential is there for some neat things. Maybe one day the Mansion itself could be personalized and say our names or something...or maybe change the experience a little each time, because the band would know we had just rode it.
Like, I think that is an idea for Star Tours...to read the magic bands and change up what the guests see based on what they have seen before. I like that idea.
Full disclosure: I have a degree in communications and I worked in marketing before I became a mom. I worked in hotels and hospitality. This was back in the 90s, but we kept files on our all guests, noting things they seemed to like and we had a screen that popped up at checkin so that the front desk associate would be able to engage in conversation with the guest about past experiences or birthdays or whatever. So I kind of see what Disney is doing as just the 2014 extension of that.
Much as I have my reservations about My Magic+ I'd rather have that than phones any day.
1. If cell phone usage requires an app then the customer needs to have a smartphone to take advantage of it. only around 64% of the U.S population have a smartphone, and the worldwide market won't get close to the 60% mark until around 2019.
2. Even for those users who do have a smartphone there's still the issue of fragmentation through OS. The majority will have Android, a significant number will have iOS and smaller numbers will have BlackBerry, Windows Phone etc.
3. International visitors will struggle with data charges unless free Wi-Fi is available across a resort, which is a particular problem for the Orlando parks and Disneyland Paris who have a fairly high dependency on international visitors.
4. Hotels can still keep the small, cheaply made, keycards for when someone doesn't have an app to use, Disney would need to find an alternate to the smartphone if a customer couldn't use an app, which may just lead back to needing some wristbands anyway.
Personally I'd love to be able to use my smartphone for check-in, admission, reservations and purchases, but Disney's likely made the right choice in handing out wearables for the sake of inclusion.
The truth is cell phones are already designed to be used in international networks. Verizon or AT&T are not interchangeable with 3G, but the technologies are closer with 4G LTE. We are not quite there, but a few generations further, all data and voice plans should be interchangeable between networks. This will depend on whether the big carriers will obtain agreements with international cellular networks. Also, wi-fi should be more available so a person ought to be able to make phone calls using an IP phone service like Skype.
Thus, I still think MagicBands will prevail for at least 5 years and then slowly incorporate technology from the smartphones. Smartphones are not quite yet up to the task in most cases; however, many people are quite tech savvy and prefer to have technology at one location, which is their cell phones.
Alternatively, what if Disney finds a way to encourage guests to leave behind their cell phones. It will be even better. Too many times, cell phones disturb the other guests. People get totally immersed in their phones. Why not encourage people to be immersed in Disney's attractions in a more interactive way? A possible way to do this is getting people to an attraction more quickly. The guests do what they want and get out of the park, and do other things where they can be immersed in their phones.
Redefine what an attraction is. It can't just be a quick 2 to 5 minute attraction and then dumps people back into the park. It should be perceived as giving guests more of what they want at the moment. I can see that Universal's Harry Potter ride is quite innovative to take film and mesh it into a dark ride, while still keeping it thrilling. What if they take a ride, bring you to another land, allow some interactivity, and then return you back home. All without more lines and give you a solid one to two hour experience. Thus, I can see that MagicBands is the solution. It can help you keep track of your experience with intelligent computing in the background.
The Forbidden Journey ride at IOA in Hogsmeade really was the first ride in my opinion that redefined what an attraction is. To me, going on that is not just waiting in line to board a ride. The line itself is an attraction. It's a tour of Hogwarts. I enjoyed every minute of being in that line. I felt like I was really in Hogwarts, more or less. I wish it had been like 20% bigger, sure, but I gave it an A- for making me feel like I really visited the Hogwarts from the books. The only way it could have been better was if it was built as a hotel I could really stay in.
I would not jump the line at Hogwarts if I could. I love taking in all the details. The line is part of the attraction. I wish I could linger. The Gringotts ride in Diagon Alley is going to be like this too. SO detailed and elaborate that the ride is redefined as being the actual time on the vehicle plus the setup time in line.
Disney ain't got nothing like that. Haunted Mansion's queue is fun, I guess, but do people really want to linger. It's better than nothing...but it doesn't make me want to move slowly taking in all the details. I can't think of another queue in Disney that makes me want to do what the Forbidden Journey queue does. The Dumbo circus area is cute, but dumb in the end. No one plays in that play area, but it's better than not having something or just having old fashioned ropes or chains for a line.
I don't want to be playing games while in line...but I do want what Forbidden Journey has...the feel like you are walking through an elaborate scene from the movies or a real place in the movies, and at the end of your tour of this marvelous place you get to go on a ride. THAT is the future, I think. The redefiniton of what an attraction is.
but why don't people get paranoid about using a credit card and being "tracked"?
Some people do get paranoid about using credit cards. But a lot of people I know, even a few I work with, don't think twice about using a credit card but are all up in arms about RFID because one of their Facebook friends reposted an out-of-context quote from a random blogger that told them to be outraged about RFID. They even protested having to use key cards at work, despite specific threats from crazy people that made tighter building security necessary, because of RFID in the cards and they have somehow made the leap of logic that "the government" is tracking their movements around the building. I didn't say it was rational. People aren't rational.
Privacy will continue to be a growing issue for customers. Obama recently stated "we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States". But who defines radical? Given this, I want to control what info I am sending and when. Excessive snooping leads to distrust whether government or commercial.
2014 should only voluntarily be just like 1984. Though failing to volunteer seems to be like pleading the 5th. I choose old school unless I understand what info I am trading and what I am getting. Today, very few companies want to communicate those trade offs. Why?
Also, on the phone-idea, speaking as someone who has done development, you are asking for more issues. With the Magic Band, Disney is able to set the platform (the band itself) and any backend software just deals with the hardware they send out. With cell phones, there is no guarantee of anything. A customer could have an older iPhone or Android phone, and with how the Android OS has fractured (if you run Android, you know what I am talking about) then that puts in a ton of options to make sure to get working. And that is not even counting on people who either do not own a smart phone, or are international, or are just plain old technologically illiterate (like my mother, who has an iPhone but no clue how to use it to it's fullest.)
There are a lot of improvements the Magic Band system needs, but a pure cell phone only idea would just not work as I see it. I do think, though, that Disney has put too much money into a next generation ticketing system all while Universal's ride technology has surpassed theirs. People go to parks for the rides, not for the cool tickets.
I'd like to remind everybody that all of this "NextGen" technology is what we're getting INSTEAD OF MORE RIDES AND SHORTER LINES.
The Orlando Sentinel has reported that Disney has spent anywhere from $1 billion to $1.5 billion on this "NextGen" technology. THIS $1 BILLION TO $1.5 BILLION COULD HAVE PAID FOR 6 TO 9 YEARS WORTH OF IMPROVEMENTS AT DISNEY'S PARKS: new rides or even new parks.
Let's add up the reported costs of all major Disney USA park improvements since 2002: California Adventure renovation ($1.1 billion), New FantasyLand ($425 million), Toy Story Midway Mania Orlando ($80 million), Mission Space ($100 million), Expedition Everest ($100 million), Soarin' (under $100 million?). Round it up and call it $2 billion. That's your new attractions and major park improvements in the 13 years from Jan 1, 2002 through December 31, 2014.
Do you still think it's reasonable for Disney to spend $1 billion to $1.5 billion on "NextGen" technology when they've reportedly spent only $2 billion on new attractions in the last 13 years?
First off, good read and I question why any "real" journalism/media outlets haven't picked up on this story (in particular the Orlando ones). Now to my opinion, no wristband or cell phone for me. Just give me an RFID card like what's being used now as the alternative to the Magic Band and I will be satisfied. So you ask at what opportunity cost? Simple, saved many millions= more rides(lets say 2 for each) in Epcot, DHS, and AK (1/2 day parks that desperately need them).
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