Few things say “mass of humanity” like “Disney theme park.” Actually, that is what comes to mind whenever I think of going to an amusement park. I don’t particularly like roller coasters and the thought of standing in line for the privilege of riding one is really unappealing. Of course, it is unfair to pick on Disney too much. They are well known for their FastPass system, one of the more innovative queue management systems currently in use. Now the New York Times reports that Disney is doing even more to keep lines moving (Disney Tackles Major Theme Park Problem: Lines, Dec 28). Disney apparently feels compelled to do this because of cultural shifts. Apparently kids these days (as well as their parents) are not as willing to wait patiently in line as you and I were. The Mouse People are rising to the challenge by actively monitoring park queues and trying to respond before waits get too long.
Deep in the bowels of Walt Disney World, inside an underground bunker called the Disney Operational Command Center, technicians know that you are standing in line and that you are most likely annoyed about it. Their clandestine mission: to get you to the fun faster. …
And so it has spent the last year outfitting an underground, nerve center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella Castle, the new center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other whiz-bang tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures in real time.
So what kind of countermeasures are available at a theme park? There are a variety of things they can do to either speed up the line or to at least distract those dwelling in it.
If Pirates of the Caribbean, the ride that sends people on a spirited voyage through the Spanish Main, suddenly blinks from green to yellow, the center might respond by alerting managers to launch more boats.
Another option involves dispatching Captain Jack Sparrow or Goofy or one of their pals to the queue to entertain people as they wait. “It’s about being nimble and quickly noticing that, ‘Hey, let’s make sure there is some relief out there for those people,’ ” said Phil Holmes, vice president of the Magic Kingdom, the flagship Disney World park.
What if Fantasyland is swamped with people but adjacent Tomorrowland has plenty of elbow room? The operations center can route a miniparade called “Move it! Shake it! Celebrate It!” into the less-populated pocket to siphon guests in that direction.
It is also worth noting that Disney is not using this technology just for its rides. They similarly will monitor waits at restaurants and, for example, send out “greeters” with menus when the wait gets long. The pay off has been more rides for guests. In the last few months, they have been able to raise the number of rises the average visitors goes on from nine to ten. (Ponder that one for a moment; think about how long a typical theme park ride lasts.) Long term, there is the hope that less time in line translates to more time in shops and restaurants buying Cokes and mouse ears. (A Disney exec involved in the FastPass launch once told me that they saw a bump in in-park spending following the launch of that program.) Getting you to spend more on a visit to the park is only part of the reason to invest in these systems. Disney also wants you to come back. Increasing guest satisfaction and increasing the chance you will return is major concern.
The article also mentions privacy concerns, which also seems inevitable at this point. To me this concern seems misplaced. Disney is not tracking individuals but the overall state of the system. If anything, Disney is trying to do what big call centers do in terms of reallocating capacity and dynamically routing calls. A call center manager can get all sorts of information from her automatic call distribution system. Disney, however, needs to see all the queues. What I find impressive is the number of responses that Disney has managed to develop.