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3 Ways Disney World Is Cashing In on Your Smartphone

By Rick Munarriz - Dec 23, 2018 at 7:00PM

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Mobile apps are making a trip to the theme park more exciting and convenient for you -- and more profitable for Disney.

Smartphones have made a day at a theme park easier than ever. Visitors can stay connected with loved ones, entertain themselves in long queues, and check on everything from wait times to weather updates. 

Walt Disney's (DIS -0.70%) sprawling theme-park resort in Florida is at the forefront of smartphone tech, spending the past few years beefing up its mobile offerings and fortifying its Wi-Fi to give guests consistent connectivity. And Disney World benefits as mobile tech introduces new ways to cash in on its growing attendance. With theme parks and resorts accounting for 34% of Disney's revenue and 28% of its segment operating income, there's a lot of money at stake.

Let's consider the ways Disney's turning your phone into its personal ATM.

Mobile ordering 

Disney rolled out mobile ordering at some of its counter-service locations in the springtime of 2017, and it's been gradually adding locations across its four Florida theme parks to the app. That process has been a success. Disney announced late last month that it has now received a million mobile orders. 

Still, mobile ordering at Disney World isn't perfect. The platform doesn't accept Disney's own gift cards, and much to the displeasure of the resort's regulars, Disney World passholders need to go through the traditional ordering queues if they want to use any relevant pass discounts.

However, at its core, the platform does offer Disney a way to monetize convenience. Ordering directly to the kitchen, for example, translates into shorter queues for all guests, less staffing requirements, and one more reason not to wait until leaving the park to eat. Disney isn't divulging the metrics that accompany its first million orders, but other online restaurant systems have experienced an increase in average order size as a result of mobile ordering.

The magic of My Disney Experience

Disney's mobile app started out as a way for guests to check on attraction wait times and reserve FastPass expedited queues, but it's a stealth moneymaker these days. My Disney Experience now lets smartphone users buy tickets and renew annual passes. They can make restaurant reservations across the entire resort. Now they can even buy in-park merchandise directly from the app. 

Disney created a smartphone app that's essential to optimizing the theme-park experience and eventually incorporated revenue streams. The app does so many things that folks can't complain about the no-brainer monetization that turns it into a printing press for money.

Let's play a game

Play Disney Parks is the latest stealth moneymaker. Visitors to Disney World and Disneyland can download the free mobile app, unlocking ride-specific diversions across the parks. Play Disney Parks made its debut this summer, and the monetization opportunities may not seem apparent at first. 

Aside from the theme-park music playlists that nudge users to free trial subscriptions of Apple Music to check out full songs, it may not seem there are a lot of revenue streams for Disney to paddle here. Trivia contests and casual games that are unlocked in the queues don't have ads, corporate sponsorships, or virtual trinkets to purchase. That could, and probably should, change over time. But overall, Play Disney Parks is still a winner.

Disney World regulars will tell you there's no longer a slow season at the resort. The shift to tiered pricing is spreading heavy crowds across the entire year, and that means waiting in long lines most of the time for the most popular rides and attractions. Play Disney Parks makes the time in the queues more enjoyable, and it does so with a Disney-branded experience that it can control and update. The app will get better over time, and even if the clear-cut monetization opportunities don't materialize, it will keep guests coming back to a place to experience the interactive fun. And that, at the end of the day, is what's driving Disney's theme-parks business.

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