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The smarts behind the magic bands are clear, but Disney’s ability to execute on the giant scale necessary to make it a success have come into question.
Walt Disney World has begun selling “MyMagic+” to television viewers even though the reservation system isn’t yet available to all of the giant resort’s visitors.
A new commercial launched this week encourages travelers to book rooms at Disney World hotels so that they can reserve ride times using the resort’s new “FastPass+,” one component of the system. The 30-second spot depicts a young girl wearing a red, microchip-embedded “MagicBand” on her wrist and using it to enter the Magic Kingdom and a ride queue.
What makes the commercial unusual is that Disney acknowledges in the spot that MyMagic–isn’t yet fully rolled out. A narrator tells viewers that the systems are available to them “during our test.”
It’s the first time Disney has widely marketed MyMagic–to consumers. It comes as Walt Disney Co. faces growing questions from Wall Street about when the company will see financial returns from the sweeping technology project, which Disney hopes will ultimately get visitors planning more of their vacations in advance and spending more time and money on its property. MyMagic–is designed to allow visitors to book ride times weeks before their vacations, and the MagicBands act as all-in-one park tickets, room keys and credit cards.
Some analysts estimate that Disney has spent more than $1 billion on MyMagic+, which Disney once hoped to have fully launched last year. Yet Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger said during a conference call last week that “we’re not even close to being able to quantify it in a public sense.”
“In fact, we are actually just learning more about how it’s working and what impact it’s having on our business today,” Iger said.
Disney spokeswoman Marilyn Waters said Wednesday that digital streaming of the commercial began in late January and that it began airing on TV this week.
Waters said the ad campaign has a “national reach.” Viewers reported seeing the spot in markets ranging from Tampa, New York and Baltimore to Duluth, Minn.; Fayetteville, Ark.; and Brownsville, Texas.
So far, only guests staying in Disney World’s 27,000 company-owned hotel rooms and time-share suites are able to take full advantage of MyMagic+, which allows them to reserve up to three rides a day starting 60 days before their visits. Day guests, by contrast, may reserve ride times beginning the morning of their visit.
Disney would not say when it will begin offering reservations to nonhotel guests. Waters said only that it will happen “in the coming months.”
The early advertising could help Disney boost its hotel business. Occupancy at Disney’s U.S. hotels — the vast majority of which are at Disney World — was 81 percent during the October-December quarter, which was unchanged from the same period a year ago. Per-room spending was up 5 percent from the quarter, from $265 a night to $278 per night.
Disney said last week that hotel bookings for the current quarter are up 7 percent on prices that are 2 percent higher.
Abe Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said it was “quite unusual” to launch a national advertising campaign while still referring to a new product as being in a testing phase.
Pizam said the decision suggests Disney may still be uncertain about how well MyMagic–will work with a growing volume of guests using it.
He said Disney could be hoping to blunt any customer backlash if the systems don’t work as expected. “The thought behind it might be, ‘OK, we might fail. But if we say this is a test, the damage will not be as great because we have admitted this is not a finished product.'”
Although they have been hesitant to quantify MyMagic’s impact or set target dates, Disney executives have nonetheless said that they are pleased with the early results.
Iger, for instance, told analysts last week that Disney was able to accommodate an extra 3,000 visitors a day in the perennially packed Magic Kingdom during the holidays, thanks to MyMagic+. Disney would not elaborate on that comment Wednesday.
“What we are seeing there is substantially higher utilization of that product among our guests than we saw with a traditional FastPass — by the way, by a wide margin,” Iger added. “And since the goal of this was to make the guest experience better, enable the guest to experience more, to do so more efficiently, and, essentially, to be able to customize, we think that these are very, very good signs for us. Because clearly guest satisfaction is very, very important to the value equation for us, both how they spend their time when they are with us and [as] a determining factor in terms of whether they come back.”