Next to Christmas, perhaps the most popular holiday in the US is Thanksgiving. For many, it’s a time to get together with family and enjoy a nice day of gorging yourself silly on turkey, dressing, cranberry-sauce shaped like a can, and assorted desserts. And that’s usually how my family does it. But this year, my wife’s family decided that a trip down to Florida to Disney World might be a nice change…*crickets*
Having three kids, I could see the attraction to the idea. And so, with as much enthusiasm as a person with an aversion to large crowds could muster, I dutifully planned for the trip and it wasn’t long before our departure day arrived. While I could detail—ad nauseum—the trip for you, for the sake of time, I’ll skip to the part that’s relevant to near field communications (NFC).
Earlier this year, there was a small flurry of news about Disney implementing a number of NFC trials throughout the park. For instance, at the All Star Sports Resort, they started putting RFID tags on the bottom of cups to track how many times visitors returned to the beverage counter for refills. And during our visit, I did see some of that result in use. When you check into at least some of the onsite properties (your hotel room), you are issued an NFC-based card, not unlike cards that other hotel chains use. To enter your room, you would simply place your card up against the NFC reader and in you went. That same card is also used as your park entrance pass and for getting those oh-so-popular “FASTPASS” tickets to help you skip lines at popular rides. However, in both the park entrance and FASTPASS examples, you still had to manually enter the card into a card reader. So while Disney is a far cry from being fully NFC integrated, it’s a start.
But as I pushed the stroller around Animal Kingdom, making that semi-circular walk between Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Expedition Everest roller coaster and the Nemo show (yes…*sigh*), I couldn’t help but think about…
A. How NFC didn’t need Apple to become a de facto standard for payments or anything else for that matter when it could legitimately gain a foothold in a place like Disney and B. How many more uses Disney could find for NFC in the parks.
Think about it. Almost 50 million people visit Disney World each year (source: Wikipedia). People love Disney. More importantly, people “trust” Disney. We talk all the time about NFC needing a number of things to happen before it can become commonplace and one of those things is user adoption. How much user adoption could a place like Disney foment among different social strata in a year when the average length of stay at a Disney hotel is 4 nights? This equates to probably 3 full days of a person using NFC technology in a fairly closed-loop, trusted environment. Considering how dependent you are on Disney facilities when you’re there, after three days of tapping your Disney NFC card at every kiosk, ride and restaurant you visit, you’ll likely be pretty comfortable with the technology by the time you leave.
And that’s without even bringing in a digital wallet. WOW! That would really ratchet things up. If there’s one thing that drove me nuts about the Disney parks, it was the number of people walking around (seemingly aimlessly) staring down at their smartphone where they presumably had a map of the park, or one of those apps that shows you how long the wait is for the Pirates of the Caribbean. If they have their NFC-enabled smartphone anyway, why not a Disney wallet tied to a credit card with which you could go around tapping for everything from souvenirs to snacks. Go cashless! And with the use of the wallet’s location tracking, the kinds of information they could provide visitors based on their location is simply staggering. And what could they do with all that data…hmm.
There are a number of apps like the one I mentioned above that estimate park attraction wait times based on users manually entering how long it took them to get from “Point A” at a ride, to actually getting on the ride. But what if there was an NFC reader you could tap at the beginning of the line and another right at the boarding area of the ride? They could track, down to the second, how long the average wait time is and plan accordingly.
I could go on and on. Apparently, Disney not only stimulates the imaginations of children, but of adults as well. And while I’ve surely not thought of anything here that the marketing minds at Disney haven’t already considered, I think the point is that NFC is still in its infancy—and payments, while certainly important for companies like VeriFone—are really just a part of what it can be used for. The argument that “NFC technology purveyors have to make their case” is moot at this point. The case has been made, and with a ready supply of NFC-enabled cards and a number of different types of NFC-capable VeriFone payment devices already in use around the various Disney properties, some of the infrastructure is already there. All that’s left is to put it all together.
“The Place Where Dreams Come True” indeed.