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DIsney has a new idea to help manage crowds at its theme parks. Image source: Walt Disney.
When it comes to visitor-experience technology in its theme parks, Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) already has a big lead over rival Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA) Universal Studios.
By offering its FastPass+, Disney lets consumers manage their theme park experience by allowing them to set reservations for certain attractions in advance of their visit. That guarantees a better experience because they enter the park each day knowing that they will have three ride, attraction, or show experiences that do not require waiting in line.
Universal Studios has nothing similar. Its closest equivalent -- Express Pass -- lets customers wait in a shorter line, but it costs extra (sometimes a lot extra depending on how crowded the park is) while FastPass+ comes with a Disney ticket. Of course, in addition to keeping people happy by letting them avoid standing in lines, Disney can also use their choices to gather useful information.
Now the theme park leader wants the ability to take things further and has received a patent for new technology that would allow the company to track the feet of each visitor to its parks.
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What is Disney doing?
The more Disney knows about what its guests are doing, the more it can manage their experience in real time. That can be as simple as allocating more personnel to an about-to-be-crowded restaurant or as complicated as using bonus FastPass+ choices to divert traffic from a too-crowded ride.
Now Disney is considering a new way to expand its capabilities to track visitors in order to create "a customized guest experience at an amusement park," the company wrote in its patent application, which offered up an example:
In one example, the method includes capturing by a foot sensor a first foot shape corresponding to at least one foot in a pair of feet of a guest and capturing by a camera a first foot appearance corresponding to at least one foot in the first pair of feet receiving guest data from the guest. The method also includes generating a first foot model using the first foot shape and the first foot appearance and tagging the first foot model with the guest data. The foot model can be used to identify a particular guest and the guest data can be used to output a customized guest experience to the guest.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Disney said there are no immediate plans to use the foot-tracking system, but it's easy to see how having real-time data on both where people are and where they are going could make for a better theme park experience.
Why would this be good for business?
The biggest challenge at any theme park -- be it Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios, or any of the others -- is managing lines. People do not like standing around and time spent in line not only lowers overall satisfaction but keeps them from spending money in gift shops and restaurants.
With real-time data, Disney would in theory be able to serve more guests in its parks by managing their experiences. This already happens to a lesser extent via third-party, crowd-sourced apps that let visitors track wait times for rides. Someone using one of those apps can plan their own park experience based on the behavior of other consumers. Sometimes that does lead to a lot of walking, but if used properly, the apps make it so you spend less time in line.
By tracking where people are going, Disney could take that a step further. The company should be able to not only move its personnel around but incentivize people to spread out. Perhaps that could involve getting them out of line by offering a FastPass+ later in the day or it could mean handing out a coupon to an underused eatery good for certain hours.
The more Disney can control its crowds, the more it can deliver a positive experience. In addition, if it can control where people are going and spread them out more evenly throughout its parks, then it can serve more guests.
There's no telling how far away this technology is from becoming a reality, or if Disney will ultimately decide to use it, but if it eventually comes to fruition, it would be a win for the company and for consumers. By tracking (and controlling) guest movement, Disney can increase capacity while delivering a better customer experience.
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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He plans to visit the new Star Wars Land at Disney World when it opens. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.