In a world where social media is the new black and the economy is driving even mass market retailers to offer an “individual customer experience,” creating a guest-driven, personalized experience has become the holy grail of the theme park industry. It is no longer enough to dazzle guests with technological spectacle. In the age of a customized internet, theme park magic is in making every guest feel special and unique.
An understanding of the importance of customized experience and of making each guest feel special has been at the heart of the Disney parks’ success since Disneyland opened in 1955. Disney customer service training is legendary, and many Cast Members are still beloved because of their ability to treat each guest interaction as a special encounter. But park rides and attractions have not been able to achieve that same level of personalization and interactivity. Guests have been immersed in fantastic environments and shown dazzling spectacles, but the experience has always been a communal, rather than a personal one. But, as technology progresses, parks are trying more and more to edge toward making every aspect of guest experience more personalized.
Not surprisingly, Disney has been working toward that goal for a very long time. From the customized futures of Horizons, chosen from guest votes, to the hitchhiking ghosts in the haunted mansion, Disney has always attempted to make guests feel an active part of a ride experience. But with the rising tide of technology, more and more of that personalization and interactivity is becoming feasible. Turtle Talk, the Kim Possible adventure, and the new hitchhiking ghosts all reflect Disney’s ongoing commitment to targeting technology to personalize customer experience.
And, it appears, that use of technology may soon become even more intense.
At the 2011 D23 Expo, amidst the pageantry and digital ride-throughs of the Parks and Resorts presentation, Disneyland Resort President George Kalogridis appeared on stage to discuss the Fantasy Faire addition to the West Coast park. Before that, however, Tom Staggs mentioned fans’ desire to “Interact with their favorite attractions in a whole new way.” The two men briefly proposed a strange series of “what-if” scenarios to the audience that included things like dinner in the Haunted Mansion with the Imagineers and the opportunity to once again experience closed attractions, promising “anything is possible at the Disneyland resort.”
Some of the items on the list sound like straightforward high-end offerings. Dinner with Imagineers in the Mansion or a tea party with 2 princesses, while personal and magical, are not going to stretch technological offerings. Re-creating defunct attractions, however, may be a hint at new purposing of technology.
Certainly, Disney has been investing developing new offerings. Discussing Disney’s lower than anticipated profits, Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo cited $1 billion budgeted for “spending behind our NextGeneration work in Florida.” Although that spending may certainly include work on the new Fantasyland with its proposed transformation from Maurice’s cottage to the Beast’s library and its spectacular, interactive Lumiere animatronic, the size of the expenditure hints that something else may be upcoming.
Although what that “NextGeneration” technology may be remains a mystery, it is a safe bet that it will be targeted at increasing the customization of guest experience and making Disney magic more “personal.” The question, for theme park fans, is how that new technology will manifest. With the price tag for development sporting nine zeroes, it promises to be something groundbreaking. Rasulo’s statement specifies it is headed for Florida, suggesting that it may be separate from Kalogridis’s proposed Disneyland experiences.
Some fans have speculated that the technology may be tied to recent rumors about the use of RFID in Disney parks (more on that tomorrow), but the pricetag seems to hint at something else – RFID is already in use and would not require such hefty development.
Whatever Disney has in store, guests can only hope that it will focus on using technology to make magic for guests rather than showcasing the technology itself. Technological integration can be spectacular, but without a strong focus on the human connection and the people whom Walt always kept at the focus of his projects, technology, no matter how advanced, can fail to serve its purpose. As long as Disney’s imagineers keep the guests at the center of their new technology, it will pave a way to new Disney magic.
What do you think? What is the new billion dollar technology going to offer at Walt Disney World?