A$1 Billion Disney Bet on Technology to Track Theme-Park Visitors

Description: Jason McInerney and his wife, Melissa, recently tapped their lunch orders onto a touchscreen at the entrance to the Be Our Guest restaurant at Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort and were told to take any open seat. Moments later a food server appeared at their table with their croque-monsieur and carved turkey sandwiches. Asks McInerney, a once-a-year visitor to Disney theme parks: “How did they know where we were sitting?”

Source: businessweek.com

Date: March 7, 2014


Change is always tricky for Disney, especially at its parks, where introducing a new brand of coffee can spark a revolt by fans. Unhappy mouseketeers last year began a petition drive to keep Disneyland in January from pulling the Billy Hill and the Hillbillies show after 21 years (it didn’t work). Others marched on the park’s City Hall in 2004 after recalibrations made to the Mad Tea Party ride in the name of safety slowed it down.

MyMagic+ promises far more radical change. It’s a sweeping reservation and ride planning system that allows for bookings months in advance on a website or smartphone app. Bracelets called MagicBands, which link electronically to an encrypted database of visitor information, serve as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards; a tap against a sensor pays for food or trinkets. The bands have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips—which critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.  READ REST OF STORY 

Questions for discussion:

1.  Why is Disney investing in this RFID technology and why is it important?

2.  What potential applications do you see for RFID technology and in what industries will this add the greatest value?

3.  Comment on the statement “critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.


19 thoughts on “A$1 Billion Disney Bet on Technology to Track Theme-Park Visitors

  1. Samantha

    The RFID technology Disney is investing in is the MyMagic+ system. It’s a reservation system that allows for bookings months in advance online or through apps. The key to the system is the MagicBands (which are the RFID). they are linked to a database of visitor information that can be used in admissions, or as hotel keys or even credit/debit cards for resort purchases. It is a true RFID system in that guest information benefits Disney’s knowledge of their guests. They can determine when to open/add rides, what souvenirs need stocking etc. It could even allow Disney employees to personalize guest experiences by calling children by their names and wishing patrons Happy Birthday.

    This is a competitive maneuver to keep guests engaged at Disney and not jumping parks to see other attractions. This technology can be used everywhere. As soon as you open up the idea of a debit/credit card as a bracelet the retail sector may perk up. But it also has its drawbacks. I could see real life applications leading to identity theft/fraud.

    I completely agree that this new technology is a further step into spyware. If we’re going to wear a chip with all our information and be OK with it then what is truly stopping us from just having a microchip implanted in our wrists?

    1. Katherine

      Oh Disney, you tech savvy mouse you!
      Already known for their groundbreaking guest service practices (17 steps to a garbage can anyone?), this cannot come as a surprise to fans of the company. Disney is king of utilizing any technology, or data available to maximize the experience and ultimately, their bottom line.

      RFID is now moving on from the magic kingdom onto the music scene. Festivals in both North America and Europe are using bands embedded with the technology to speed up purchases on their grounds. Imagine, the wait time for a much needed drink was just cut in half all because of a mandatory wristband given at the entrance.

      Just think of the possibilities!

  2. Jingyue Wang

    The reason why Disney is investing in this RFID technology is because Disney wants to provide a better experience for the customers. And this will let Disney earn more because “When you make [the logistics] easier, people tend to spend more time on entertainment and more time on consumables—be that food and beverage, merchandise, etc.”, said Disney Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo. This RFID technology can be applied in many industries such as restaurants. For example, when customers decide to eat ina restaurant, they can order whatever they want immediately without waiting for the waiter. This can save a lot of time. Also, it will benefit the waiters because they do not have to take orders, instead of deliver what the customers ordered.

  3. Waylon

    Disney invested into Radio frequency identification because it is an enabling technology, which means it doesn’t provide much value on its own, but it enables companies to develop applications that create value. The Internet is another enabling technology, and just as the Internet enables companies to communicate, collaborate, educate, sell, entertain and distribute products, RFID enables companies to do many different things.
    The program is called MyMagic+ and uses a combination of a website, smartphone app and bracelets called MagicBands to track a guest’s every movement at Disney World resorts. Guests can now book trips and even plan out their rides months in advance. The MagicBands store tickets, hotel keys, debit and credit card information and can be used anywhere just by tapping a sensor.
    The MagicBands also use radio frequency identification to let Disney track guests as they move around the park. It’s this feature that could ultimately determine if the MyMagic+ experiment is a success or failure.
    On the one hand, the MagicBands allow Disney to serve guests at restaurants, manage lines and direct employees. They can send custom notifications about restaurant changes or wait times for rides. Disney employees can address children by name or wish them a happy birthday.

  4. Danae

    Disney is investing in this technology to provide a more personal experience for its customers. Disney strives to be ‘happiest place on Earth’ and feels that making this change will allow them to provide the best experience possible. It will allow customers to feel like they are a part of the Disney family. In addition, this technology will allow customers to be more efficient with their time. Customers are limited with their time spent in the park and want to be able to experience as much as possible. By reserving rides, customers can ensure that they are able to experience all of their favorite rides.

    I feel that these RFID bracelets could be similar to spychips. I’m not sure I feel comfortable with someone knowing everything about me and where I am at all times. I was recently filling out a travel visa application and some of the information I had to provide (such as passport information, address etc.) made sense but other required information (such as all my family members and their occupations) didn’t make sense to me. That being said, I think that there are people who would enjoy a personalized experience and RFID bracelets could be a major step to providing the ultimate experience in the ‘happiest place on Earth’. I just personally am not one of those people who desire a personal experience.

  5. Ajay

    Disney is investing in this technology because it allows them to offer “a more immersive, more seamless, and more personal experience” Tom Staggs. This will benefit them in all aspects of business. First of all, in the restaurant industry it will allow a coordinated way for employees to know which customer is at which table, and which food they have placed an order for. It reduces the amount of time servers have to take to place orders; all they have to do is deliver it. Also since Disneyland is a “magical” place, it will allow an interaction with kids like never before. They would know if it’s someone’s birthday and have a surprise ready without them knowing. It would also help keep track of where kids are just in case they are lost.

    RFID technology would be used everywhere in Disneyland. From rides to restraunts, all employees can make use of the RFID technology.

    I agree with the statement to an extent because it is considered an invasion of privacy. They are looking into personal information without consent, which can create many problems. People are not aware of what the information can be used for, and who has access to this information. On the flip-side, it would create a unforgettable experience for anyone who visits Disneyland.

  6. Michelle

    Disney Theme Parks are investing in RFID technology for a number of reasons. With the vast numbers of customers and services they provide RFID technology can help them plan and process many of the services they provide more faster and efficient. The theme parks will be able to keep track of the number of customers they get on any given time and/or season, keep track of purchases and plan ahead for inventory and stock supplies. RFID technology can also be used by the customer to book reservations and purchase items which can be very convenient for customers. Customers are also able to ride with these bracelets, order food and items, and even use them as keys for the hotel rooms! It is amazing what this technology can do for both the enterprise and the customers.
    RFID also keeps track of every move the customer makes and leaves behind a trace of evidence of everything the customer bought and from where. In a way this “spy” technology is creepy but at the same time it could be very positive for many reasons as well, like say for instance, a child goes missing, or there is some kind of criminal on the grounds. I might be going over board with my examples but it is just to show the safety it could provide. It could also provide evidence and/or data for the company and/or customers if they would ever need it. Positive or negative feedback is to be expected from customers but for the business it may be more efficient and useful.

  7. Sheldon

    As I have been to Disneyland, I can attest to the claim that RFID wristbands will make the entire experience better for consumers. While the wristbands allow Disneyland management to closely track sales, employee performance, staffing, and so on, it allows seamless interactions to occur for the consumer as well. Things like purchasing food or merchandise rapidly, finding a lost child, or even having that special interaction with a character (on first name basis) is something many will surely appreciate. Privacy however, is a tricky and very personal thing to encroach upon. While Disney’s immediate intentions are very likely in line with increasing efficiency, effectiveness, overall experience, it is obvious that they pursue money as well. Being an enormous corporation, this is assumed by all, but the personal information loaded to each respective RFID chip is likely what all the fuss is about. Seamless flow of information throughout the park will surely improve numerous areas of consideration; it is the information flow out of the theme park that is almost certainly a cause for consumer resistance. Overall, Disney’s initiation of the RFID wristband will, in my opinion, drive profit and increase consumer experience quality. The worth of the information that Disney gathers is the true question, especially when there is always a 3rd party entity willing to pay a premium for ones personal information.

  8. Blake

    Disney is investing so much money into their new RFID tags because of the vast amount of data they can get from them. When guests are wearing the bracelets the park can know where they are, what they like, and where they are heading. By having this information they are able to know where people are going and they can make staffing decisions and put employees where they need to be to enhance the park visitors experiences. With all this extra data Disney will be able to know where they can improve their park and what to offer their guests that will create the best possible experience for them.

    RFID tags can be used and beneficial in many industries. The industry that I have seen it used in is agriculture for tracking livestock. When BSE hit Canada in the early 2000s it really hurt the cattle industry in Canada and it is just now recovering from. One of the major problems was that the infected cattle could not be traced back to where they came from so that the disease could be contained. Now with every animal having an RFID tag all the information about that animal can be traced and know where it has all been from birth up until it is in the supermarket. This has eased peoples fears of infected meat and allowed markets to open back up to Canadian beef. RFID tags could also be used in grocery stores. By having shelves that scan when an item is taken off the shelf the grocery store will be able to tell when they need more of a certain item and when re-ordering is needed.

    One issue with the RFID chips that Disney is using, is that some people call them spy chips. I feel this is a valid complaint because of all the information that the chip ahs about the person. By knowing where people will be and what they are doing at all times, it can make people feel uncomfortable and like they are being watched. Also with the RFID tags having credit card and debit card information for the person if that information was ever found out by cyber criminals it could cause major problems for the person who’s identity was stolen.

  9. Ashley S

    Disney is investing in RFID technology in their new MyMagic+ because of both the customer volumes and the wide array of uses it has in its parks. Because of immense volume of visitors to Disney parks every year, the technology can be used to track volumes at rides and shows, and adjust accordingly in order to increase customer satisfaction. With the amount of rides, food, attractions, etc. that Disney parks have, having all the data in one place to track customer trends would be extremely beneficial to Disney. On the other hand, customers can have the convenience of being alerted to attractions they prefer because of the data that has been tracked for them. Like the example in the article stated, tasks such as ordering food can be simplified with use of the wristbands, something that could take quite a while in such a crowded park.
    Critics call the RFID chips spychips because of their ability to monitor people. It is critiqued because the bracelets containing the chips (MagicBands) can link electronically to visitor info such as admission tickets, hotel keys, and credit or debit cards, which can feel to some as though privacy is being invaded. The bracelets can also show the location of individuals within the park. Although this may seem like a privacy invasion to some, I believe that the information would be available elsewhere in the park, so having it in one convenient bracelet is not terribly intrusive. For instance, credit card information can be found at the ticket booth, location can be tracked through cameras, etc. The convenience in one file for each visitor far outweighs the idea that customers are being “watched” by Disney.

  10. Jeff Fero

    The RFID bands for Disney provide two major advantages, as listed in the article. Pre planning the trip, which will most definitely have customers, especially children, choosing a Disney vacation over the competitors, as this feature can make the vacation start as soon as you make your purchase. Also mentioned was the ability to spend. Since customers have their day in the park planned out ahead of time, they have essentially freed up more down time, and with the new easy of payment, customers are more likely to spend on snacks and entertainment. These bands could of course gather some other extremely relevant information for Disney, and they could essentially be able to predict in park behavior with an almost algorithmic like accuracy. What age families split up on their own adventures, what time most small families eat lunch, where most impulse purchases happen, and about sixty thousand other trends will all be predictable if the information collected is used properly. The positive implications for this from a business perspective are basically endless, should you have the funds to implement. And there are also a lot of positive aspects in regards to being a customer, especially a child. When Mickey knows your name and birthday, your trip just became two and a half times better. However, as some of the critics call them “spychips”, they are gathering Big data faster and on a much more personal level than the Internet ever has. The wristbands are literally one step away from planting chips directly into humans, and as honest as this may be by Disney to improve the experience, it removes the portion of the marketing budget that should be allocated to creativity, and allocates to logic and strategy. Not to mention invading personal privacy on an entirely new level. Such a technology would face major backlash in other areas…. Ie paying taxes.

  11. Daljot

    1.Why is Disney investing in this RFID technology and why is it important?
    Disney is investing in this RFID technology because it is very useful to them, with this technology they know exactly where the most visitors at the park are and what they are doing this an important technology to have because then the people that run the park know exactly where to send more staff and exactly what most guests like to watch, like to eat and like to do while they are there. As well as the park can see which rides are the most busy and which rides need more staff. In a way it is making the visitors and the operations management of the park’s lives easier.
    2.What potential applications do you see for RFID technology and in what industries will this add the greatest value?
    RFID can be used in large corporate companies that employe a large amount of workers to keep track of what worker signed in or out of work, or what worker is still in the office at 2:00am. This technology will have the greatest value in places that a large amount of people go to such as Vegas, plus lots of money is being spent there as well.
    3. Comment on the statement “critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.
    This is a true statement it is somewhat like a spychip but it is not like you have to wear it all your life, you wear it for a few days and it makes our experience at Disneyland much better because you don’t have to wait in huge lines and everything is always shocked up and there is always enough staff employed.

  12. Denaye Corbeil

    Disney is investing in RFID technology so they can monitor and collect data on the visitors in the park. They are using RFID through bracelets called MagicBands which link to a database and contain data such as information about the individual, debit/credit information and hotel keys. The MagicBands also aid in determining when the theme park should add new rides, restaurants, and souvenirs that would make the Disney experience more enjoyable. I think that this is a great marketing method for Disney because they get direct information on what customers like and don’t like about the theme park. Also, since the MagicBands makes spending money very easy, customers are more likely to consume more goods and services than they normally would. A beneficial method the MagicBands could be used for is to track lost children in the park. Since the park is so busy, big and full of children, it is easy for kids to runoff from their parents. If every child in the park was wearing a MagicBand, than they could easily be tracked.

    At the same time, there are many privacy and security issues with the RFIF technology specifically with the statement “critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.” I think the MagicBands go to far with invading people’s privacy, especially since they contain personal information such as debit/credit card numbers. The bracelet could easily fall of or be lost, and be picked up by someone else. Also, if the database were to be hacked into, all of the customer’s information would be accessible and no longer private.

  13. Austin Smith

    Disney is investing in RFID technology because it allows them to easily record information about how their theme parks are being used. This technology allows the theme park to monitor the guests to compile data about situations like: when to add more staff at rides, what foods are the guests enjoying more than others, what souvenirs are being purchased, and how many employees in costume are and should be running around at any time. They do all this by having the guests wear a “Magicband” that you can make all your transactions with. This is the main tool that Disney uses to keep track of the guests and the applications mentioned above. RFID technology is already being used facilities such as fitness centers where you pay ahead of time and all you have to do is swipe your card and your info appears on the screen of the centers front desk. In the future this technology would provide the greatest value in airports and museums because it will simplify everything and provide prudent data for the companies. In the airport for example if you’re wearing a special “band” or other device that online with RFID, then airports will be able to track where the best stores are within the airport, the best coffee shops, etc. and will be able to speed up the process of entering the plane and going through customs.

  14. Dan Wilde

    Disney is investing in this RFID technology as a way to be able to collect data on the people who are in their park. If they are able to see the food that people order the most, what souvenirs they buy, when they buy these things, when their down time is etc. It allows Disney the opportunity to increase its revenue by offering the highest rated food items, or the highest rated souvenirs at more locations throughout the theme park in order to make more money. Along with this the RFID technology would also help Disney to improve their services, as well as making things easier on the customer. If they can just punch in their order on a touch screen, or pay with their wristband then they don’t have to carry any money around with them, which is a plus for a lot of people. It would also be beneficial say if their was a lost child, then they could easily locate them and return them to their families. This would also decrease the threats of predators if the child was able to be located instantaneously.

    This technology would be beneficial to other tourism attractions as well as to places like the airport where you would be able to check in, get yourself some food, and also it would allow the airport to collect data on how efficiently and safely they are operating.

    In a day where it seems like every aspect of every persons life is constantly being monitored through their cell phones, email, etc. this is another opportunity for another aspect of your life to be monitored and watched over. I think that people need to heavily consider exactly what they are giving up in the name of safety and in the name of making life “easier”.

  15. Tom

    The main objective of RFID is track all movements of the visitors to the park of Disneyland. This involves visitors wearing a small bracelets that has all the information that it has on a bar code and he/she have to scan their bracelets every time they want to eat or take a ride.Disney has recently incorporated this into their system because this is one way to maximize profit. How? By tracking every visitors’ movement Disney knows which rides are the most popular, by knowing this they can put more staff on this ride and make the line move more efficiently. By tracking where the visitors are eating they can determine which restaurants are the most popular and put more staff on these restaurants.
    Another industry that can use this application would have to malls. They can use this type of information to determine which restaurant in the mall is the most popular or which clothing store is the most visited. By knowing this information the mall can maybe open up more stores like that one and attract more consumers.
    “critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things. I completely agree with this statement because with this barcode it has all of your personal information that are now stored inside the Disney Corporation who knows what they will do with this information. I hate the fact that Disney knows my every movement within their land but that it does not mean they use this info. However, i do like that if there were a criminal in this land they can watch him/her at all times.

  16. Stephanie

    Disney is investing in this RFID technology because it allows them to easily record information about how their theme parks are being used. It can tell them what rides are popular at what times, when people like to stop for a lunch break, what vendor carts are the best placed to ensure maximum profit. All this information is vital to the development of a more profitable Disney Theme Park. Not only does it allow Disney to track the movement of their patrons but it also promotes people to spend more money on food and trinkets by allowing them to pay with their “Magicband”. Someone is much more likely to lose track of what they are spending if they do not have to pull our their credit card for every transaction.
    RFID technology is already being used in many businesses. 24-hour gyms only require you to have a card that you scan to gain access to the facility. In the future it could help speed up lines at airports and grocery stores. All you would have to do is walk through a scanner and all your personal information or grocery items as well and your credit card information pop up and off you go.
    This does bring up many privacy issues. RFID chips are often easy to hack into or scan remotely making information susceptible to theft. People often do not want a company to know exactly where they are going and what they are purchasing so it will be interesting to see how laws on the use of this technology develop as it becomes more common in the more personal aspects of everyday life.

  17. Meghan

    Disney is investing in the RFID technology as a way to help make the Disney experience more efficient and enjoyable for park guests, so they say. This technology allows Disney to monitor their guests and determine where they need to have more park employees at rides, Disney characters roaming around certain areas, what type of food is most popular, which souvenir shops are the most frequented and simply the movements of their guests. Disney claims it is a movement that is inevitable and that will be taking over parks and other amusement attractions soon enough. Disney allows states that the RFID technology which will be monitored on visitors through a bracelet can also hold and account for their identification, credit cards, ticket passes, hotel reservations and much more. They say that this will also help to increase efficiency and ease of park guests moving around the Magical Kingdom.

    However, not all applications of this technology is appealing to everyone. As stated in the article, “critics derisively call spychips because of their ability to monitor people and things.” Disney has the ability to virtually watch and monitor all movements of guests and get to know them personally. The article stated that park employees would be able to identify with guests by name – which is extremely creepy in my own opinion. Many people do not want to give out their real names at restaurants for reservations for personal reasons and this technology would cross the boundary. Also, the ability for the bracelets to hold financial and personal information would be an extreme security risk. Having all personal records in one simple bracelet could be disastrous if a bracelet was misplaced or broke without the persons knowledge and picked up by the wrong hands. Personally, I feel this would be similar to a encroachment on my privacy for a company that truly does not need to know detailed information about oneself for entertainment purposes.

  18. Ashley

    RFID is a tracking power which collecting intelligence from the customers. The bands that you wear when entering the theme park track your every move, they record your purchase, rides attended, food ordered…hmmm wonder if they know when you use the washroom?
    It’s important because the information they are gathering allows Disney theme park to improve their services, when to add more staff to a ride, what they should be serving at the restaurants, what souvenirs should be stocked and what costumes should be roaming around at particular times. The data collected about customer’s wants and things consumed helps them improve in all service areas. They can also craft e-mails and text messages letting regular customers know about promotions, events and other things of interest.
    I can relate to the comments about the bands being used as “spychips” it’s creepy knowing that you’re every move is being monitored. It doesn’t feel right and is an invasion of privacy. I understand how the information is useful, but I’m not ready for the pace technology and surveillance is moving. I’m not comfortable having my every move monitored. I think that Disney theme park valued at 14.4 billion dollars is doing just fine without this type of surveillance.


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