Disney Sees Smartphones as Key to Better Guest Experience Both During, After COVID

Signage around Walt Disney World encourages guests to use features on the park’s mobile app that promote contactless experiences. (Photo Credit: Josh Mitchell)

As the COVID-19 Pandemic turned into a long-term event, theme parks were faced with the challenge of redesigning the guest experience to prevent large crowds, lines and congestion. A common solution to this problem: greater implementation of mobile devices and an expansion of smartphone app features. From advanced reservations, mobile food ordering, to virtual queuing, theme parks are using changing health and safety procedures as an opportunity to improve the overall guest experience.

Instagram content creator Chase Russell is a frequent visitor of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Russell admits he’s been impressed with how the most magical place on earth has been handling the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring guests are safe when they visit through his posts and story updates on @chaser22 and @imagineerinsta.

“Having visited multiple times during the COVID-19 pandemic I have felt safe each time. The parks do a fantastic job at ensuring distancing alongside mask compliance. Most of the time, guests are so distracted by the environments around them, the masks become the least of [their] worries,” Russell said.

In addition to the universal physical distancing and mask wearing, he found that Disney Parks have increased the use of their mobile app. One of the features introduced is virtual queuing, where guests can reserve a particular time to ride an attraction. Designed to help mitigate crowds and discourage long physical lines, this feature was implemented to help the parks manage their crowds in a safe, responsible manner that does not distract from the overall experience.

While virtual queuing has health and safety benefits that prevent large groups of people from congregating in a line, it also has proven to have benefits that improve the overall guest experience. Rather than physically standing in long lines, guests can utilize their time by enjoying other experiences, eating or shopping while they wait.

With these added benefits for guests’ safety and enjoyment, Russell believes these changes could remain even post-pandemic.

“I do believe virtual queuing will stick around as it is much more enjoyable to walk around the park while waiting to ride an attraction rather than standing in a physical queue,” Russell said. “Safety has always been a big part of the themed entertainment industry, so these changes are not surprising. I do think the implementation of technology will always be on the rise within the theme park setting.”

Virtual queuing on the mobile app is only a part of the multi-layered approach to the overall safety of guests visiting the park. Walt Disney World has also implemented a theme park reservation system that requires guests to reserve the park they wish to visit on a particular day, in addition to purchasing a ticket. This process helps manage the overall capacity of their theme parks and prevent overcrowding of guests entering parks at peak periods of the day.

For resorts, many are replacing the traditional front desk check-in with a virtual process done from the guests’ smartphones.

Wish Upon a Star With Us Travel concierge travel adviser Josh Mitchell explains Disney is using already-existing features such as the ‘My Disney Experience’ mobile app to help limit contact between Cast Members and guests.

“It’s nothing new, but online check-in at their resort hotels has been amazing as more guests use it,” Mitchell said.

With these implemented changes, many travelers are beginning to venture out of their homes to test the waters and explore how to travel safely again.

According to a survey obtained by Forbes from GetYourGuide, a booking and travel agency, U.S. travelers indicated that they plan to take more leisure trips in 2021 than they did in 2019 or 2020. As many trips were cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic, many are anxious to resume their travels next year. According to the survey, 67% of U.S. respondents stated that they are planning to travel for leisure within the next 12 months.

While Walt Disney World has not disclosed the park’s attendance or the resort’s number of reservations, visitors can gauge the availability of the parks by visiting Disney’s Park Pass Availability calendar. Disney began operating at a reduced capacity of 25% this summer and has recently increased the cap to 35%, according to the Q4 2020 earnings call with Disney CEO Bob Chapek.

“I think it’s obviously a really tough time right now, but this is not going to last forever,” Carmen Sognonvi, a family travel expert and the founder of Top Flight Family, a luxury family travel blog, said. “Travel is something that is not going to go away. People have a curiosity [of] learning about other places and so I think the leisure travel segment is always going to exist. I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand right now for travel. I do think once things get a little safer, there’s going to be a lot of people rushing to book plane tickets because they’ve had to wait so long.”

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