Keeping “The Happiest Place on Earth” Happy

Will Disney's Parks and Resorts have a "great, big, beautiful tomorrow?"

Disney – the happiest place on earth? Not necessarily anymore. As technology facilitates broader forms of entertainment which are lower cost and easier to access, Disney’s amusement parks risk becoming relics. In studies performed in the mid-2000s, approximately 50% of first-time attendees “signaled they likely would not come back because of long lines, high ticket costs, and other park pain points” [1]. Yet, at approximately 30% of revenues, the Parks and Resorts segment is still critical to Disney’s business model [2]. Disney has committed to a $1 billion digitalization initiative that will hopefully enhance its operating model and save its amusement parks business from becoming obsolete in the face of emerging entertainment substitutes.

In 2013, with full backing of the Disney board, Disney CEO Bob Iger publicly announced a digitalization initiative to improve the customer experience, enhance operational efficiency, and increase interactivity and personalization. The multi-channel, multi-platform digital experience is named “MyMagic+”, a combination of a website, mobile application and digital wristband.


The real hallmark of the MyMagic+ experience is the Magic Band, a bracelet with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that can be tracked by several long-range RFID readers throughout the park. The Magic Band encapsulates the four hallmarks of Disney’s digital strategy:

  • Personalization: bands are uniquely colored and monogrammed with each family member’s name. Hidden sensors can read MagicBand data for further personalization throughout a customer’s visit. For example, a Goofy character can greet a child with “Hi Shane, I understand it’s your birthday.”
  • Interactivity: The MagicBand can also maximize interactivity with personnel throughout the park. Tom Staggs, previous head of the Parks and Resorts division and later COO of Disney, commented that the MagicBand “takes our cast members out of transactional mode with our guests and into an interaction mode.”
  • Improve Customer Experience: The MagicBand is meant, above all, to make the customer experience as seamless as possible. The Be Our Guest restaurant is one of the most successful examples. After making a reservation and placing food orders online, a family would walk into the restaurant where a greeter would “magically” greet them by name – “Hello Mr. Greenstein!” – soon after which food would “magically” appear at the family’s table.
  • Enhance Operational Efficiency: the improvements to the customer experience, in turn, provide Disney with a wealth of data that drives efficiency improvements. For example, data on ride usage can be used to better administer labor.

The Magic Band is integrated with a website,, and mobile application to facilitate reservations, eliminate the need for paper maps, etc.

Despite the promise of MyMagic+, challenges abounded in implementation. The infrastructure at Disney World, which dates to the 1960s, had to be overhauled—283 park entry touch points upgraded, over 30 million square feet of Wi-Fi installed and hotel, restaurant and ride designs upgraded to integrate the MagicBand technology with design [1].

Since its implementation at DisneyWorld in 2014, the MyMagic+ has succeeded in improving operational efficiency and the customer experience. Entry turnstile time was cut by 30% and park capacity increased by over 5,000 people per day [1].

However, the digitalization hasn’t fully delivered on its promise. The MyMagic+ team faced significant pushback from Disney Imagineers, who felt cut out from its development. As the “stewards of Walt [Disney’s] creative legacy”, the Imagineers are “responsible for the design and construction of the company’s theme parks” and are instrumental to the success of My Magic+. However, they have failed to buy into the MyMagic+ vision, torpedoing various concepts and failing to integrate the technology into the broader design of the parks [1].

To maximize the impact of the MyMagic+ digitalization inititiative Disney’s operating model, the responsibilities of the digitalization should be transferred to the Disney Imagineers. Ownership of the digitalization would incentivize Imagineers to fully integrate MyMagic+ into the park.

Additionally, MyMagic+ should be adjusted to respond to the proliferation of mobile. Although not a principal element of the original design, mobile is likely to surpass the Magic Band in adoption and versatility. Disney is already testing a more mobile-centric version of MyMagic+ at Disney Shanghai, and it should expand these capabilities to all of its parks to maximize benefits to the operating model.

With its MyMagic+ initiative, Disney has certainly hopped aboard the “carousel of progress”. Although there is additional work to be done to fully integrate digital innovations into its operating model, Disney has taken the right steps to ensure a “great big beautiful tomorrow” for its Parks and Resorts business.

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Student comments on Keeping “The Happiest Place on Earth” Happy

  1. Super interesting post! It is fascinating to think about digitization in the entertainment — and specifically theme park — context: it isn’t something I’d previously considered, but it’s so true that with technology making entertainment widely accessible and more efficient, tolerance for the long lines and crowds at Disney may plummet. To me, MyMagic+ sounds like a viable and interesting solution, and I’m sure there is endless potential to harness this technology to enhance visitor experience. However, one potential issue that came to mind while reading about MyMagic+ is that of privacy, which is a common by-product of the move towards digitization in many industries. I wonder how comfortable visitors to Disney World will feel knowing that they are essentially wearing a tracking device that enables Disney to monitor their every move. Will Disney require every visitor to its theme parks to wear these devices, and if so will this deter certain people from visiting? Though there may be some hesitation at first, it does seem to me that in general people’s tolerance for perceived privacy infringements is rising. In a way, MyMagic+ represent the world we are rapidly moving towards, where we are all constantly tracked by companies, the government, etc… and are okay with it!

  2. Like Sonia, I’m also interested in the implication of being able to track people’s movement precisely during their visit. On the one hand, I’m sure there are some exciting insights that can be drawn from studying the data that can lead to even more improvements to the customer experience. Here I completely agree with Sonia’s concerns over data privacy. On the other hand, however, being able to track movement will likely allay the fears of many visiting parents who want to balance giving their children freedom to explore, without worrying that they will get lost. Really interesting possibilities!

  3. Great summary highlighting was Disney is doing to keep its parks as up to date as its other media businesses! I think it is a great suggestion to involve the Imagineers as part of this digital initiative to give them sense of ownership and bring more creativity to this digital strategy.
    I’m curious to know, of the 50% of first time park-goers whom responded with ‘unlikely to return’, what else is driving dissatisfaction? The Magic+ band can help improve wait lines and enhance customer experience but is there anything else Disney Parks can do to increase return customers? Furthermore, with improved RFID analytics, what else can Disney gain in insights to differentiate itself from competition and elevate the ‘magical’ experience?

  4. It’s really interesting that Disney has finally decided that going digital is an important initiative and is willing to spend $1 billion dollars on it! Despite having ~$8BN in net income for 2015, that still seems like a huge number but I am also surprised that it had not been a thought sooner. My one concern though, is that they are just facilitating the process at restaurants / rides and making it easier to attend and more pleasant but not actually cutting out the lines entirely. This to me would seem like one of the biggest customer complaints so curious to see how they plan on shortening queues? When there are high volumes on a particular day, I still do not think they have found a way to improve on that issue.

  5. Interesting post — I had no idea about any part of MyMagic+, the MagicBand, or the MyDisney Experiences website. Similar to Eric above, I started thinking about the 50% of first-time park-goers who cited long lines, high ticket costs, and other park pain points that would discourage them from returning for a future visit. Do we know (or has Disney tracked) the proportion who cited long lines as the primary reason? I just wonder how many of the “pain points” can be addressed by MyMagic+ and/or the MagicBand, and I wonder which issues are the biggest obstacles for people making a return trip. Taking price as one example, a family of 5 may feel like ticket prices may be the biggest obstacle to returning, and reduced wait times at the gates/for individual rides may not be enticing enough to convince them to make the investment, especially given that trips to these parks typically require expensive plane tickets and hotel stays. On a similar note, I think Disney should consider the overall economic environment as it hones its digital and park strategies, especially since, again, visits to the parks require also purchasing plane tickets and making hotel reservations. In an era of somewhat stagnating wages for the lower and middle classes in particular — the majority of the population by number — families are cutting back on out-of-town vacation budgets.

  6. Really interesting article! I really like how they are attempting to integrate digitization into both customization of the experience and also operational improvements. I would like to know more about the actual operational improvements. How have they managed to improve traffic patterns? I think this is a major pain point and if they effectively communicate this improvements to the customers they can increase their visitors greatly.

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