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OM in the News: Smart Queues at Disney

October 13, 2014
Toy soldier characters greet Disney visitors

Toy soldier characters greet Disney visitors

It’s one of theme parks’ biggest challenges, reports the Orlando Sentinel (Oct. 12, 2014): finding ways to ease the pain of waiting in line. Disney tried something unusual last week, when it required FastPass reservations for anyone boarding the Toy Story Midway Mania ride. Amusement parks have plenty of motivation to lessen waits, or at least make them less boring. Guests leave happier — and are more likely to return. Shorter lines at popular rides mean tourists have more time to visit secondary attractions. And time not spent in line means more cash at the registers in a park’s shops and restaurants.

A few years ago, Disney created a new underground center here in Orlando in which employees monitor crowds via computer and video camera, then decide which congestion-fighting weapons to deploy. A ride might launch more vehicles, for example, or a restaurant could open more registers. The parks’ arsenal of crowd-control tactics also includes distractions, which have grown increasingly elaborate. At Disney World’s Fantasyland, for example, kids frolic in an indoor playground until buzzers alert their families it’s time to board the Dumbo ride.

Disney has also encouraged more widespread use of the passes through its MyMagic+ billion-dollar technology project. Guests can now reserve rides and shows up to 2 months before their visits: 75% of Walt Disney World guests use FastPasses now. But don’t expect to see a lineless theme park anytime soon.Ushering guests through too many attractions too quickly, and a new set of problems is created. Visitors might get bored if they see everything too fast. “The flow within a park assumes a certain number of people will be standing in line, more so during peak periods than nonpeak periods,” says a former Disney VP. “You take them out of line, and where do they go?”

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why are queues such an important OM issue at all theme parks?

2. What other options does Disney have for capacity planning?

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