Few companies are as celebrated for their ability to manage queues and customer waits as Disney. As we have posted about before, The Mouse has raised moving people through lines to a science (even as their Anaheim neighbors have screwed up queues). Now Fox News reports on a Disney program called NextGen that will take managing queues to a new level (Disney’s ‘NextGen’ plan is expected cut wait times for rides and more, Apr 18).
Outside of one announcement over a year ago, The Mouse has been pretty hush hush about their plans. That, of course, has left room for rampant speculation that one would usually associate with just how sharp the screen on the next iPhone will be. But here is the basic idea.
According to [entertainment blogger Jim] Hill, one major initiative of NextGen focuses on what is being called an xPASS, which would allow guests to book rides weeks or months in advance. Here’s how Hill says it will work: Visitors planning their trip would go on the xPASS website and use the free service which allows you to reserve experiences, including ride times, exclusive meet-and-greets with Disney characters, even viewing spots for the nightly fireworks. The xPASS system would also help to avoid lines at restaurants by ordering food in advance.
“This xPASS/NextGen effort is going to fundamentally change how people visit the Disney parks,” said Hill.
Currently, Disney’s line-skipping system called FastPass allows guests to book a time for an attraction, leave to do other things, and return at an allotted time. Last month, Disney began enforcing return times, which many Disney watchers saw as the first step to the implementation of the xPASS system.
A couple of things about this strike me as interesting. First, arranging meet and greets as well as saving spots for fireworks seems pretty easy to do but rides are something else. They are prone to breakdowns so actually getting everyone with a 2:00 reservation on Pirates of the Caribbean might be tough.
There is also a question of how much capacity one makes available for advance reservations. The article says that a concern is that people who book late may be unable to get on popular rides. That obviously is a problem, particularly if a park (like Disneyland in Southern California) gets a fair amount of local visitors. Even for those who plan early, it is hard to know what rides are most desirable. How do you tell a five-year old that they can’t go on a ride they loved a second time because dad only booked one reservation for it? Disney has to limit the number of reservations — both to buffer for downtime and to accommodate spontaneity.
A second part of NextGen supposedly is RFID — radio transmitting bracelets in lieu of tickets so Big Brother Mouse can track you through the park.
Another expected aspect of the plan is the use of a wrist bands embedded with radio-frequency identification microchips, or RFID, that reads your identity and acts as your ticket. Disney is already experimenting with RFID technology, for example, at Epcot. But the NextGen wrist band concept is expected to go further. It’s believed that guests would provide information — such as their names, credit card information and favorite attractions — ahead of their arrival. After they enter at the park, the RFID would interact with sensors deployed throughout Disney’s resorts and trigger interactive features. So for example, an attraction may greet you and your family and call you by name.
In effect, a Disney park would become a little more like a website, recording where you’ve been and choice you’ve made. Note that this could make running a reservation system a little easier. When the Jones party of four has not shown up for their 2:00 reservation by 2:05, it may be possible to see that they were on the other side of the park 2 minutes ago and don’t have any chance of getting to the ride soon. Their space could then be given over to stand by customers.
This also a big data boon. Knowing ages of the family and whether this is their first trip to a park could allow Disney to suggest itineraries of age-appropriate rides the next time a family with a similar profile books.