The world's most popular theme park turned 44 on Thursday. Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Magic Kingdom opened on Oct. 1, 1971, and 44 years later it has become the most visited gated attraction in the planet.
Disney's Magic Kingdom attracted 19.3 million guests last year, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association, 2 million more mouse ear-donning guests than Tokyo Disneyland. All but one of the 10 most visited parks in the world are Disney properties, including all four of the attractions at Disney World in Florida.
A lot has happened at Disney World since Magic Kingdom opened. Disney has been able to put massive tracts of land in Florida -- more than 40 square miles -- to good use in building out an empire full of attractions, resort hotels, and diversions. The first 44 years have been exciting. The next 44 could be mind blowing.
Technology is the future
Disney attracted a record 51.5 million guests to its four Disney World theme parks last year, and that tally is only going to head higher in the coming years, barring any global economic setbacks. The media giant has too many magnetic attractions coming to its parks in the next few years, and it continues to expand the capacity of its lodging, parks, and even -- reportedly -- parking lots.
However, the real driving force at Disney will be technology. Disney World raised the bar in 2013 when it introduced MyMagic+, a platform that finds guests wearing RFID-bracelets called MagicBands through the parks.
Right now, a MagicBand is simple. It stores admission media information, giving ways a seamless and turnstiles-less way to get into the parks. Rides reserved ahead of time through Disney's FastPass system that offers expedited queues can be accessed by scanning the bracelet. Guests staying at any of the resort's hotels can use the MagicBand to pay for food and merchandise at the park.
This is just the beginning. Information is everything. The reason Netflix, Amazon.com, and any other dot-com juggernaut worth its digital salt is so good at offering up recommendations is that they know their customers better than they know themselves. MyMagic+ is a gateway to information. It knows what rides its guests are making reservations for. It knows the early risers and the late arrivals. It knows when a guest prefers sit-down restaurants over counter-service eateries.
It's just a matter of time before Disney puts it all together. It's easy to see how MyMagic+ and smartphone-pecking guests using the official in-park app to tweak FastPass and dining reservations. It's only a matter of time before Disney begins flexing the information it has on its park goers. Early examples of the endgame of MyMagic+ were for costumed characters to address children by name and personalized dining and attractions recommendations. We're not there yet, but let's not assume that even those scenarios are doing anything more than scratching the surface.
Let's dream out loud to consider some of the possibilities that could enhance a day at the park.
- When just four of five guests that arrive together scan to go on a particular ride, it can reach out to that customer with a discount at a nearby shop or snack kiosk.
- Armed with knowledge of what guests rode or where they dined on earlier visits Disney can reach out directly to promote new rides, eateries, or even menu changes that may encourage a return visit.
- Certain rides such as Epcot's Spaceship Earth offer the opportunity for personalized narratives based on what it knows about guests to make the ride more interactive and warrant repeat visits.
- Social initiatives can make long queues more interesting, offering real-time games played on smartphones from guests it knows are in line.
The key, of course, is pulling things off without coming off as creepy. Disney as Big Brother is not a marketable image. However, we've seen dot-com titans show how information is power. Disney World has had a great run these past 44 years, and getting better in the next 44 years starts with the responsible acceptance of how to wield its new and powerful access to information.
Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com, Netflix, and 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.