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Data-Driven Dollars

Pal Mickey isn't the only effort on Disney's part to beef up results at the division. Under Destination Disney, the name for Disney's new customer experience strategy, the company intends to leverage technology, both up front and behind the scenes, in hopes of personalizing the park experience. It starts with an expanded uber-database of customer information that can be updated on the fly, giving Disney more insight about its customers. "Historically, if you went to a theme park twice in a row, Disney was unlikely to know that, and if you went to two different parks, Disney definitely wouldn't know that," says John Parkinson, chief technologist for the Americas for Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and a CIO Insight columnist, whose company has advised Disney on its customer strategy. Now, though, Disney will be able to slice and dice data to influence a customer's total vacation experience, from the hotel to the park ride. It can also make assumptions about visitors' buying behavior and personal preferences in real time, and refine those assumptions as it collects more data about customers.

Once in the park, the idea is to be able to give parkgoers up-to-the-minute information specific to their preset preferences via their cell phones. Got a restaurant reservation in a half an hour? Disney will remind you to keep it by sending a text message to your cell phone. Don't want to miss the fireworks? Your PDA will beep you.

Disney wants to make that data accessible across all lines of business, so that any employee at any given time can access or add information to a visitor's profile. For example, the same information that a visitor might give to a reservations agent when booking a vacation could be viewed later by the visitor's hotel concierge, who could then make personalized recommendations without having to ask the guest for any additional information. "If they know, for example, that I spent a lot of time in the Dinosaur exhibit at Animal Kingdom, because I bought a lot of stuff there using my park pass, the CRM engine could figure out that if there's a special-edition DVD coming out, they should tell me about it," says Parkinson. "And if there's a special screening of a Dinosaur II—if they ever made such a film—they might send me an advance screening notice and maybe an invitation to a first-run event in my town."

Another initiative that ties in with Destination Disney is a Web site called Magical Gatherings, specifically intended to boost new revenues and group business bookings by encouraging far-flung family members to collaborate online to plan their next reunion or group event at Disney World.

Jordan Rohan, an analyst for SoundView Technology Group Inc., an Old Greenwich, Conn.–based securities research firm, says that Disney's strategy appears to be on target with what the company needs to do to increase business, particularly during the lull in the summer and fall between the most popular winter and spring tourist seasons. "In the next few years, Disney needs to use the Internet to capture the e-mail addresses of every Disney visitor and potential visitor. With that capability, Disney can have more control over guest attendance by offering very specific promotions to highly valued guests," he says.

Destination Disney doesn't stop there. Berry and crew are also rolling out interactive, location-aware programs to help Disney executives cut costs on the back end, in park operations and logistics. The effort will include helping to manage the park's fleet of 267 buses, which shuttle an average of 150,000 parkgoers a day. GPS and mobile Internet technology let Disney run its fleet based on real-time customer demand rather than set schedules—helping to eliminate lines and wait times as well as cut excess operations costs.

Down the road? Disney says it is looking to expand its digital-imaging services. Executives won't elaborate, but insiders say this could include a program that may, for example, let visitors staying at a Disney hotel use their room television sets to review and buy photographs taken of them on rides during the day. Berry also says the resort is looking to improve Fastpass, a service that allows visitors to schedule ride times, thus avoiding long lines. And some Disney observers expect even more experience-driven pyrotechnics, including a form of pay-as-you-go pricing. Rather than charge customers one fee for the entire day, data-smart cards linked to Disney's customer database could help Disney return to a multitiered pricing structure such as the old A-ride, E-ride approach, which charged customers more for the best and most popular rides. The concept is just another aspect of the effort to use technology to attract people back to the parks and perhaps segment customers for customized rewards according to the frequency of their business. "I think what we're going to see is something sort of revolutionary," says Tim O'Brien, senior editor of Amusement Business magazine, which tracks the industry.

This article was originally published on 12-01-2003
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