Skift Take

Disney will likely need to find ways to publicize how it will do all of this while still giving guests both some level of privacy and actually be beneficial to the guests.

By giving visitors to its theme parks rubber bracelets embedded with microchips and encouraging them to plan minute details of their trips weeks ahead of time, the Walt Disney Co. expects to get a larger share of their total vacation time and spending.

It also plans to track how much they spend on Little Mermaid makeovers and Dole Whip desserts.

One of the central elements underpinning Disney’s MyMagic–project, the billion-dollar vacation-planning system being tested at Walt Disney World, is an unprecedented ability to gather reams of personal data about the tens of millions of people who flock to Disney World theme parks each year.

MyMagic–will allow Disney to track where visitors go across the vast resort; how they spend their money; and what and when they like to eat. Disney plans to use that information to devise more sophisticated and personalized sales pitches, in which everything from the message to the price could vary from one prospective customer to the next.

Jay Rasulo, the Disney Co. chief financial officer, recently told stock analysts that MyMagic–will allow Disney to sell “services that we can now offer on a personalized basis, because we know who you are, where you are and — if you tell us why are you are coming to visit Walt Disney World for this vacation — whether you’re a first-time visitor, a 50th-time visitor, it is your child’s fifth birthday, it is a graduation, it’s an anniversary.

“The more you share with us as a guest, the more we are able to tailor services and, we think, get a lift in selling those services,” Rasulo said.

Disney’s ability to profitably harvest that data will go a long way toward determining whether MyMagic–proves worthy of the enormous capital investment — about $1 billion — and whether it can be a growth engine for the company’s $13 billion-a-year parks-and-resorts business.

At the core of MyMagic–are wristbands, which Disney has dubbed “MagicBands,” that are equipped with radio-frequency identification chips and interact with RFID scanners installed all across Disney World. There are the obvious, short-range chip readers that guests wave their bands in front of — to pay for a souvenir, for instance, or open a hotel-room door — but there are also hidden, long-range readers that read the bands without the guest doing anything at all.

Rasulo has said Disney views the analytics component of MyMagic–as a secondary driver of revenue. The bigger drivers, the company says, will be getting guests to spend more time at Disney World by allowing them to lock in more of their trip ahead of time, and to spend more money while there by making purchases easier and cash-free.

But the marketing possibilities are vast.

For instance, Disney World is so big — with four theme parks, two water parks, retail areas, golf courses and more — that few visitors are able to do everything in one trip. Now Disney will be able to tell exactly what they have and haven’t done, right down to specific rides.

That will allow the resort to advertise existing attractions as new experiences for certain families when trying to sell them another Disney World vacation. It’s a powerful tool in an industry that has long had to continually build expensive new attractions to keep travelers coming back.

Because a major feature of MyMagic–is advance ride reservations, Disney will be able to tell ahead of time if a family has booked six nights in one of its hotels but only reserved rides for three days in its theme parks — a sign they might be planning to venture off property to Universal Orlando or SeaWorld Orlando. Disney could respond by sending them special offers to make a fourth or fifth day in one of its parks more attractive.

In addition to trying to generate more visits, Disney expects to goose people’s spending on current trips. One example: If a certain in-park restaurant has openings at any given time, Disney could send immediate discount offers to any visitors who its systems show are in that park and do not already have a reserved FastPass for that time.

The more information guests provide in advance, the more Disney should be able to drive in-park sales. For instance, one of the central entertainment features of MyMagic–is the ability to create personalized moments for guests — think Capt. Jack Sparrow greeting a young boy by name and wishing him a happy sixth birthday.

Though some such moments will be planned for all guests, Disney also plans to eventually sell some of those experiences. So a family might pay extra for a package of dozens of “surprise-and-delight” moments that will occur throughout the course of a vacation.

Such sales pitches will eventually extend even beyond the parks. Disney’s systems could reveal that a family had selected Ariel as a daughter’s favorite character and that the family rode Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid multiple times while visiting the Magic Kingdom — which might prompt Disney to email the family coupons for Ariel merchandise.

The concept makes some theme-park fans uncomfortable.

“Disney’s ability to do this — and do it in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the information of guests — isn’t something I’m entirely confident about,” said Ingram Connor, a 25-year-old accounting clerk from Casselberry who visits Disney World about twice a month. “Will Chevrolet know I was hanging around the Corvette in the Test Track post-show 66 percent longer than the average guest does?”

Aware that many consumers have privacy concerns, Disney says it designed MyMagic–to be optional. Visitors could choose to forgo MagicBands entirely, in favor of RFID-equipped cards that do not interact with the long-range readers.

Disney says it will use the data in MyMagic–for marketing only if guests agree to it. Likewise, it says it won’t share the information with other companies unless guests sign off first.

“We are fortunate that many of our guests want to communicate and have a relationship with us,” Disney World spokeswoman Kim Prunty said. “We are focused on sharing information with guests in a way that respects their relationship and enhances their experience.”

(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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Tags: big data, disney, theme parks