Pay through wristbands at Disney theme parks - a Disney initiative

During my last visit to Sea World in San Diego, I recall standing in a queue and waiting for my turn to buy the ticket and get a wristband strapped before I could enter. I also recall the temperature was quite high and people had to queue up to make it to watch The Shamu Story. Through out the busy afternoon, I wondered if there is a solution which could stream line the process of buying a ticket. Additionally it could also cut down wait times to watching the shows or gaining entry to a restricted area that requires authentication.

After several years I am writing this, really happy about the new development. Disney might have answers to some of the problems I stated above, by integrating technology and payments to solve this problem. They are testing out some thing called as MyMagic+ which is a wearable wristband. According to Disney, the bands can be used to buy gifts and services, order photos, serve as parking ticket, room key and book tickets for events like ‘The Lion King Festival’ or busy rides such as ‘Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger’ instead of waiting in a long queue. Features such as MagicalExpress voucher, PhotoPass identifier, resort entrance gate opener, attraction special effects activator, etc. might be added in future.

MyMagic+ is a rubber wristband that consumers can use for nearly all activities at the Disney World theme park. It is made up of a heat resistant, waterproof material and can be used to access credit card, park ticket, room key, Fastpass tickets, hotel check in, financial transactions, etc. The band communicates through NFC technology with hotel doors, payment terminals and the scanners installed at the theme park’s entrances and rides. MagicBand can also be used with Disney's smartphone app.

The MagicBand is fitted with short range RFID and long range Bluetooth technology. The RFID allows customers to access all features of the band. The Bluetooth technology enables feedback information to flow to Disney to help manage crowds and also for enhanced attractions. Things such as enabling the customer to have food ordered and paid for (say for a dinner) before sitting down. Disney is effectively trying to eliminate multiple, time wasting transaction processes for a customer during one’s vacation. Customers can make reservations from residence for the theme parks and Magic Kingdom and can also get personalized MagicBands shipped to their residence. Charges above $50 requires a PIN to complete the transaction.

Disney decided to upgrade by building on existing technology, rather than trying to invent a new payment system and the infrastructure required to handle NFC transactions was largely in place already. $1 Bn to $1.5 Bn were spent for the development and installation of the system. Disney has supported its new payment system with extensive marketing by adding T-shirts to advertise the wristband, charms and cases with Disney characters printed on them and a number of video screens demonstrating how to use the Magic+ wristband.

MyMagic+ though considered as a time saver has also boosted average spending among customers in the initial testing phase, according to Thomas Staggs, the Park’s Chairman.

Other competitors in the field of Themed parks include Hersheypark and Universal Studios (are you doing something?). Hersheypark tried its own wristband payment system called Easy Pay and was shut down prior to the announcement of Disney’s. More than 200 payment terminals were supported by Easy Pay and they also provided access to lockers within the park, but according to Hershey the adoption was very low. Lets see if Disney is able to pull it off.

LTP View: We at Lets Talk Payments believe that retailers and business adopting payments technology is a much better use case than payment start ups pushing it. The problem should look for and find out the solution. Apart from helping Disney’s management to handle crowds, the Magic+ wristband may prove effective in reducing long waiting lines and queues. These Cashless Magicbands may result in more money spent on food and souveniers, and provides data about the customer’s park usage which may be used by Disney to customize sales promotions. The usage of such technology may speed up transactions, enabling customers to make their holiday trouble-free and hassle-free and spend less time on payments and queues. The main advantage is that Disney may have made it easier to use the wristband than a user’s credit card to pay for all goods and services at the park which may influence the increase in adoption rate of Magic+.