Disney Genie: Four digital lessons attractions can learn from the world's biggest attraction operator

From imagineering to guestology, over the past 70 years, Disney has pioneered attraction management processes and the technology behind them. But, the Disney Genie app has been both celebrated and criticised.
Ellen Wilkinson
August 2022

Disney Genie launched in late 2021, offering guests a digital assistant for a visit to the global theme park giant.

While Disney Parks might be a multi-billion dollar enterprise, attractions of all sizes can learn valuable digital lessons from the Genie service. Keep reading to get fans, sceptics and attraction industry experts’ take on the experience platform.

How Genie and Genie Plus Works

Genie, and Genie Plus, are services offered to Disney Park guests through Disney's “My Disney Experience” mobile app. 

Designed to be a fun and easy-to-use concierge for guests during their visit, the free tier of Disney Genie is a powerful itinerary planning tool. Among other features, Disney Genie gives guests a tip board that provides information on live ride wait times and a platform to purchase ad-hoc queue upgrades, or in Disney lingo: “lightning passes." 

While the basic functionalities of Disney's Genie service are free, guests can also pay park-specific prices depending not only on the date of their visit, but the park they want to use Genie Plus at, which grants them access to priority queueing at some attractions (A.K.A Genie Plus lanes). With Genie Plus, guests can select their preferred times to use Genie Plus Lightning Lanes and skip slower standby lines on rides that do not feature standard lightning lanes. 

While the previous Disney FastPass+ service allowed guests up to three ride slots per day for free, paying for Genie Plus enables guests to book one queue slot every two hours.

What attractions can learn from Genie

From how to delight guests with powerful personalisation to why it's best not to levy extra fees for a service that was once free, attractions can learn plenty of lessons from Disney Parks’ digital journey with Genie. 

You don't have to run a theme park empire to put these lessons into practice, either. Here are four major lessons we’ve taken from Disney’s app experience:

Guests love being able to get real-time information in one place

“The ability to book fast passes and change them easily, check wait times, and plan your day in the park is the best!” 

Reviews of the My Disney Experience App, like this example above, show a clear trend. Guests love being able to see up-to-date information about their visit in real-time. For many people, having this information at their fingertips makes or breaks a visit.

Information is critical to the guest experience because a lack of visibility into common frustrations like queue times and ride status is a universal pain point for guests. No one likes turning up at a ride or experience to find the queue is an hour long or that it is closed for repairs. 

Sentiment analysis of guest experiences at one Disney Park shows that the words “time," "convenience," and "practical” keep popping up when guests are asked to review digital applications. 

Digital experiences work best when they make the guest experience as stress-free and easy as possible.

Galaxies Edge space ship attraction

… And personalise their itineraries

Real-time data by itself is not enough. Disney’s app experience delights guests because it lets them create personalised itineraries that reflect changing conditions.

By looking at where guests are in a park and what attractions are near them, Genie can recommend nearby rides and showtimes that match their pre-configured interests and have a low wait time. 

This is a powerful feature for both new guests trying to navigate Disney's ever-expanding ride offering and repeat guests looking to maximise their time at the parks. One on-the-ground report from thepointsguy.com shows that using Genie Plus saved him over three hours he would have otherwise spent waiting in line. 

Giving guests a digitally enhanced experience also has massive benefits for attractions. A study published in the Journal of Tourism and Leisure Studies found that guests who use virtual queuing and personalised experiences in attractions spend 25% more than those who don't. 

At Attractions.io, we are not surprised by this. Personalisation is one of the features that digitally native guests expect most from their online and offline experiences. As we reported in our Guest Experience Trends Report, over 91% of people are more likely to choose brands that provide relevant recommendations during their visit.

disney food treat as recommendated

But they don't love paying for a formerly free digital service

Not all Disney fans are happy with Disney's decision to replace the once-free FastPass+ service with the paid-for Genie Plus. Case in point: within weeks of the service's launch in October 2021, 100,000 people had signed a petition seeking to oust Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek. 

With the Genie Plus's ticket allocation system suffering from many of the same problems (i.e., rapid ticket unavailability, inaccurate wait times) that plagued its freely available predecessor, scores of Disney reviewers have described Genie Plus as "Not worth $15 on top of the already high ticket price." 

Although FastPass+ wasn’t perfect, many guests feel that Genie Plus does not deliver enough extra benefits to justify the additional cost. Tickets to Disney Parks cost between $109 and $159 daily. With the average family spending in the region of $4,700 for a typical Disney vacation, extra fees are not something that guests take lightly.

Research published in the Harvard Business Journal shows that making free services paid can destroy customer loyalty if ill-timed or done without creating noticeably better services or products. 

Disney founder and Mick Mouse

Or a new service that makes an old problem worse

Since Disneyland opened in 1955, Disney has had a significant problem across all its parks: queues. 

With almost an infinite amount of demand from guests, no matter how many more attractions Disney creates, the arrival rate (i.e., how fast guests arrive) at popular attractions has consistently exceeded their service rate (i.e., ability to process visitors). As a result, queues have been a feature of Disney Parks since year zero. 

From tiered ticketing to switch back queues, Disney has tried many different techniques to reduce the negative impact queuing has on their guest experience. But it wasn't until the launch of FastPass in 1999 that they found a solution that seemed to work.

Invented by former Disney Parks VP Bruce Laval, the FastPass system divides Disney queues into two. At popular Disney attractions, Laval divided the queue into a FastPass lane (today called the Lightning Lane) where guests who pre-booked their slot for a particular time could quickly enter the ride and a standby lane where guests without reservations could queue up for the opportunity to join the ride. 

FastPass created a virtual queue with tickets allocated to guests ahead of time. By removing the problem of unfilled slots in a pre-booked queue, combining a virtual queue with an in-person one was a wildly successful way for Disney to reduce queuing time. Laval told the New York Times in 2002 that FastPass had cut wait times by an average of 25% on participating rides.

large queue forming at Disney attraction

But FastPass had its problems, and with Genie Plus layered on top of the same system today, structural issues with how Disney’s virtual queue system works continue to compound. Kevin Perjurer's Defunctland YouTube channel has a fascinating video explaining this issue, but, in a nutshell, making FastPasses available at more and more rides has made it almost impossible for Disney Parks' queuing system to keep up with demand without actively discriminating against standby guests. And, just like FastPass did, because there is only ever a certain number of slots at any time, as more people use Genie Plus, it might even make queues worse for everyone. 

At busy times one report shows that over 93% of ride capacity goes to Genie Plus users. Many users also report that to ensure you get a space on a ride, booking a slot at 7 am (the earliest time the system allows) on the day you visit a Disney park is essential.

Final thoughts

With over 16 locations worldwide, Disney Parks are a multi-billion dollar industry and a hugely profitable business vertical. Genie has some great features, but, as some of the less popular parts of the experience show, not everything Disney touches turns to gold. 

Fortunately for Disney, the inelastic demand for the park's priority ticketing service, i.e., people having to use the service to avoid longer standby queues, means that Genie Plus was forecast to generate $300 million of extra revenue in 2022. With Disney parks setting record revenue figures in 2023, these numbers have surely gone up. Smaller attractions can learn a lot by looking at what Disney does right, but, as we've explained, they should not necessarily copy Disney.

The best digital transformations are ones that bring together operations and marketing teams to create experiences that are better for everyone. Guests love technology that improves their experience and creates a smoother visit through intelligent technology.  But digital technology should never get in the way of a guest's visit. At Attractions.io, this ethos is at the core of our platform. 

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Ellen Wilkinson

Head of Marketing
August 2022
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