The global pandemic first forced Walt Disney World to close, and now that it’s open, things are far from the way they were before the closure. A host of new health and safety protocols have been introduced to try and keep guests safe, and a collection of new technologies have also been introduced to help keep park capacity at appropriate levels and to make social distancing between both guests and cast members easier. Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Josh D’Amaro thinks that, while some of these changes may have made due to the pandemic, they won’t be going away when the danger has passed.
Appearing on the Dow Report, Josh D’Amaro talked about how many of the changes made to Disney Parks on the technology front were actually things that Disney was already working towards and that he expects many of them, most notably the reservation system, to continue forward even after social distancing measures are technically no longer needed. According to D’Amaro…
We figured out a way to really push hard on technology, really accelerate some of the ideas that we’ve had for a long time. So you think about things like reservation systems in the parks that we can manage capacity and therefore guest experience a little bit better. It’s working exceptionally well for us. Things like mobile order, Roger. So you can walk up to a restaurant, have your meal ready for you when you arrive. Things like queue reservations systems that we’re executing in different ways. Or even how you might pay for merchandise but without transacting with a credit card. And this technology, it doesn’t only help us during a time of a pandemic, but I think it actually leads to a better cast and guest experience. And so, these are things that are helping us now, but I think they’re here to stay.
While this is the first time anybody in a position of authority has implied that the reservation system might now go away, it’s not all that surprising, I suggested reservations would become the new normal back in June. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World have been moving toward keeping a tighter grip on attendance in recent years. Tickets purchased used to be good for basically any date a guest wanted to use them, but in the last couple of years tickets have shifted to variable pricing based on the dates tickets were purchased for. In addition, Disneyland began offering an annual pass that required making reservations for some dates.
Theme park attendance is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, of course, Disney wants to sell lots of tickets and annual passes. At the same time, if the park is too crowded, then the guests have less fun, which frequently translates to spending less money. Somewhere there’s an equilibrium point where the parks can actually make more money by letting fewer people in, if the people there spend more cash. Even if there’s no worry about the parks getting too crowded, knowing exactly how many people will be in the park on a given day can help Disney manage those crowds better, potentially making the parks feel less crowded.
The biggest question that a permanent reservation system leads to is exactly how Annual Passes will be handled. Certainly, when the park is back at full capacity, there will be more reservation opportunities for both AP holders and normal guests, but if the possibility exists that an AP holder won’t be able to literally go to the parks on any and every day they want, then Disney can’t sell APs that offer that option.
While Disneyland Resort has no expectation for reopening yet, it’s a foregone conclusion that those parks will require reservations as well when they do finally open up.
The other items Josh D’Amaro references, like mobile ordering and virtual queues, were already implemented in the parks to some degree, but it seems we can expect these concepts to expand where possible.