Très intéressant article sur l'avenir du système FastPass sur MiceAge: http://miceage.com/kevinyee/ky091307a.htm
A patent application submitted by Disney at the end of August has many online commentators and observers discussing the future of the FastPass (FP) program.
The patent mentions new technologies to put FastPass reminders (and possibly even the FastPass itself) onto cell phones, or give cell users the option to request a FP by text message rather than visiting a kiosk.
But most importantly, the patent mentions that patrons spending more money might be eligible for enhanced FP benefits. Reading between the lines, that seems to mean more FP tickets issued for those at Disney hotels, and a restricted number for those not staying with Disney.
In an Orlando Sentinel article on this subject, one Disney spokesperson mentioned not just hotels, but also shopping and dining. It seems clear that what's being explored is a simple formula: the more you pay, the more FP benefits you'll receive. The corollary will presumably be that those paying less will receive fewer FP benefits—possibly fewer than is true under the current system.
What's being discussed is a tiered system: the more you pay, the more FP benefits you'd receive. So All-Star Resorts visitors get more than Motel 6 visitors, and Polynesian visitors get more than either of those two groups. Perhaps Disney could fold in the ticket media too: those with ten-day passes might get the most benefits. Those with the least might be the one-day tickets (or perhaps the annual Passholders – more thought on this later).
Also on the table: what if FP reservations could be made ahead of time by those with the best privileges? Maybe even a day early, from the hotel room?
Folding in cell phones opens up the possibility for interaction. Perhaps you could switch your reservation. Or if the ride you wanted breaks down, they could offer a different one. Or they could issue a digital coupon to use at a restaurant or store near your desired ride. This last idea cuts close to the heart of FastPass, which was marketed as a way to skip lines but really exists to get people spending more time and more money in the shops and restaurants.
You can see why Disney would want to do this. If a perk like extra FastPasses were offered for staying at their hotels, many people would rush to book Disney hotels. Disney could enjoy 100% occupancy all the time (and, if I wanted to think cynically, they would not delay long before raising room rates all the more, since they'd have monopoly on visitors at that point).
While many have decried the ideas as creating a caste system or hierarchy among visitors, and others wonder about the privacy implications (for one thing, Disney would know where in the park those 'registered cell phones' are minute by minute), for the moment I am guardedly neutral on the whole matter. Given my anti-FastPass stance in the past, you might think I'd be adamantly against this new proposal, but let's go slowly and look carefully at the possibilities.
Disney removes FP rights to everyone except those staying at their hotels. They mimic the Universal-Orlando resort entirely (who only have line-skipping for those who pay extra or stay at their hotels). Result: at Universal, this means few people are skipping the lines, and the 'standby' lines move quickly as a result. No one loses at Universal. At Disney, however, with the much larger roster of hotels and impossibly larger number of visitors, this would buckle the system, and those without FP rights would complain loudly. Scenario Beta:
Disney rolls out essentially unlimited FP for hotel visitors at the pricey hotels and enhanced FP for hotel visitors at the budget resorts. All other FP privileges remain the same, so folks staying off-site and annual Passholders can still get FP from kiosks, as indeed anyone can. In this scenario, Space Mountain runs out of FP tickets by 9:30am, and loads of people will be angry if they arrive later in the day.Scenario Gamma:
Same as the previous scenario, but Disney puts limits on how much each of the 'classes' of guests can get tickets. Just to put numbers on this, let's say a premium resort earns you 10 FP per day (per person, of course), a deluxe gets you 8 FP, a Disney budget hotel gets you 6 FP, and non-Disney-hotel visitors can have 4 FP per day (or maybe even just two FP per day). This scenario introduces a ton of pre-scheduling into the system. You'd have to plan your rides the way we currently plan our sit-down meals (and that already doesn't sit well with some people, myself included), but at least the system wouldn't be overloaded. In fact, if done correctly, it could REDUCE the number of FastPass tickets issued overall in a day. Probably you'd have to tweak the fake numbers used above to make that happen, but it could mean fewer people in the "return" line and thus faster-moving "standby" lines. And because tickets are limited, it could mean that those arriving late in the day get a crack at FP also, since the Disney hotel guests aren't visiting the kiosks during the day (they've chosen their rides the night before).Clearly, I could sit here all day, spinning variations on the above scenarios. My bias is probably clear that Scenario Alpha seems like it will annoy a good many folks, and Scenario Beta would too. But Scenario Gamma intrigues me. If they did something like that, it would not only prevent doomsday that others are predicting, but it might actively make things better.
At the risk of flogging a dead horse, let's review what's wrong with the current version of FastPass:
- It only offers benefit (i.e., extra rides per day) because some people aren't using it fully, and thus isn't fair to uninformed tourists, some of whom paid the most for their Disney vacation. WE WANT THESE PEOPLE HAPPY, OR ELSE WE WON'T GET NEW RIDES IN THE FUTURE TO LURE THEM BACK.
- It clogs walkways
- Standby lines move slower than a world with no ride-reservation system
- It makes the day scheduled, not spontaneous.
- It creates different classes of guests based on how well informed they are about the park and how much 'homework' they've done.
In my book, Scenario Gamma would ameliorate or even completely fix numbers 1, 3, and 5 in the list above. It won't fix #2 (unless maybe fewer FPs are issued overall in the day, in which case it would fix #2 slightly), and it definitely won't fix #4.
But what about the primary complaint, that even Scenario Gamma creates classes or hierarchies of visitors? Yes, it does. But those classes exist now. Those who know how to use the system to its greatest advantage can reap multiple awards. Just where are the 'unlinked' FP machines? Which rides are OK to skip the kiosk and just stand in the fast-moving standby line instead? And so on. Frequent visitors and those with the best guidebooks at the moment have a leg-up. And in some ways, it's not fair to those willing to pay the most. Imagine you spent $1,500 for a room at a Disney's resort, but the guy who spent $132 at Motel 6's weekly rate is sneaking past you on all those FastPass lines more than you are sneaking past him. If you're Disney—a business, we have to remember—isn't it in your best interest to keep the highest-paying visitors the happiest?
Yes, Disney is a business. It always has been. They have a duty to maximize returns for shareholders. If it turns out that hotels aren't filling up as much as they could, it makes sense to offer perks for those willing to pay a higher price. In effect, Disney is selling FastPass benefits. You pay the higher price for the Disney hotel, and you get more FastPass benefits.
In some ways, this is a clever twist on what Universal-Orlando is doing. Uni gives away ride-skipping-privileges to all hotel guests and no one else. If you want to skip lines, you have to pay an extra $20 or $30 (it varies, based on the season and the day of the week). Disney couldn't give only its hotel visitors the passes – the issues of scale are off so much, that it would lead to problems. But Disney may, if they go with something like Scenario Gamma, have stumbled on a way to earn extra money via FP, without having to charge for it directly.
You have to admire the elegance, actually. Disney gets to continue to market FastPass as a "free Guest service available to anyone!" and at the same time, increase their hotel bookings to 100% and thus earn extra money they would not have. By leveraging FP, they make more money. In fact, they can not only continue the existing FP marketing, they can now market their Disney Resorts as offering extra perks. They just invented a new perk out of thin air. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
This isn't too different from what Walt put into place at Disneyland. In 1955, you paid (in coins) for your individual rides. Walt quickly glommed onto the ticket book system. But note that those E-ticket rides required you to buy an actual E-Ticket. It's no surprise that E-Tickets cost more than A-Tickets. Put another way, the person willing to spend more money at Walt's Disneyland was going to have a better time than the person who wanted to see it on a budget. How is this any different?
The advent of the 'all-inclusive passport' in 1982 made for a generation of "equality of outcome" in Disney parks. We all got used to the idea that Disney parks meant everyone got the same outcome and all paid the same price. If I wanted to be polemic, I could even toss political systems into this. Isn't a system that embraces "equality of outcome" more like socialism than the capitalism most Americans claim to prefer? It's a fact of life that those with more money get different experiences. Otherwise, why would some restaurants be priced so high? If you've got a bottomless checkbook, you can order the best wine, and so on. If anything, the idea that FastPass could be limited (and kept more in check by market forces) has me optimistic, not pessimistic.
But all of my optimism here is based on Disney choosing a system that fairly
addresses the various audiences. All of the audiences. So let's look at who visits Disney:
- Group A – tourists who stay at Disney hotels
- Group B – tourists who stay at non-Disney hotels
- Group C – locals and annual passholders
Just how Disney chooses to prioritize those groups will be interesting. Annual Passholders pay more in absolute dollars for their tickets, so should they be at the top? Another rationale to put them high: many spend a lot of money over the course of the year. Should FP be like a frequent-flyer reward to the best and most-returning customers? Of course, annual Passholders who don't spend much in a year would see fewer benefits. Having a tiered system means you can create infinite variations. Think of a sliding scale and a spectrum of possibilities, not just one or two price points.
But there could also be an argument for putting APs at the bottom of the list. They are the most loyal customers, so maybe they don't NEED this FastPass perk to be back, year after year. Or another rationale: they come to the parks so often, they don't NEED FastPass because they aren't rushing around to ride every ride. They aren't attacking the parks commando-style.
All I can say is: Disney needs to think about this very carefully. Annual Passholders are so loyal because they care about the product. Will they be loyal if they feel betrayed or unappreciated?
Just musing out loud here, but maybe this is by design. What if Disney wanted to return to the days of being known as a vacation destination, not for being a hangout for locals? (which is a bigger phenomenon on the West Coast than the East coast). If so, then a FastPass revision might be the way to gently encourage people to visit once a year instead of buying annual passes, and 'reap' better FP benefits as a result.
I'm a local and weekly visitor here in Florida. I use FastPass to ride some rides, like Splash Mountain, that I wouldn't really like to wait in standby lines for (as always, I'd rather have a world where no one gets FP tickets, but if the world as we know it does have FP tickets, I'm not foolish enough to not use it). But how often do I use FP? Once or twice per visit, maybe? Not usually eight or ten in a day. Of course, when I entertain out of town visitors, I do use FP to its fullest extent, so it's hard to generalize here. This is why Disney needs to think carefully about what to do with frequent visitors.
There's danger in alienating the APs, but the same danger exists for alienating the tourists who stay off-property. If they come and sense Disney is not fun anymore, they won't be back next year. Disney needs to find the right scenario—hopefully, some variation of Scenario Gamma above—that grants benefits everyone can live with. The best solution Disney could hope for is that such "off-property tourists" see the enhanced benefits of staying on property, rue their decision, and vow to next time book directly with Disney.
All of the above considerations get even more complex when you fold in spending on merchandise and at restaurants, which Disney mentioned when asked about this patent. And yet the complexity boils down to a simple truth: if you spend more, you'll get more FastPasses. Period.
From a corporate point of view, I can see why they'd do this. Accountants and prognosticators at Disney have drawn a picture of declining attendance next year—this is why parking rates were raised by a dollar recently. If they can't get more people in the gate, they need to find a way to have those visiting spend more money. That's the curse of a publicly-traded company: year-over-year results are supposed to look better, so they have to find a way to make that happen. And since they anticipate fewer visitors next year, they need to find a way to get people to spend more. Voila—the FastPass solution does just that. If they implement it correctly.
I'll admit it: I'd rather have a Disney theme park with no FastPass at all in it. But if we have to have a ride-reservation system, let's hope for one that fixes the problems, not makes them worse.
The possibilities are exciting. Disney could end up finally fixing the worst parts of the FastPass mess! But the negative possibilities are equally grave. If Disney alienates its audience, they will be learning a costly lesson: it costs ten times the amount of money to win back a burned customer than to entice a brand new one.