Disney World Parks and Resorts mines magic from business analytics

Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts in Orlando in the United States is using business analytics to increase repeat business from families for visit the hotel and theme park.

The organisation is using analytics to create targeted hotel offers and deploy the right Disney characters to interact with children.

Speaking at the Big Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence 2012 conference in Sydney, Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts director of data warehousing and analytics Juan Gorricho, told delegates that his company is in the business of creating what he referred to as “guest magic” using business analytics.

Based in Orlando, the World Parks and Resorts division is responsible for managing parks in the US, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and in the future, Shanghai, where a park is under construction. The Walt Disney Company is now a conglomerate of 60 different entities including recent acquisitions, LucasFilm and Marvel Comics.

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According to Gorricho, hotel management has been a huge source of business analytics.

For example, in the past when a family called the World Parks and Resorts call centre and asked about hotel accommodation, call centre operators were instructed to offer them the more expensive hotels in Orlando.

“Most families were declining the offer and saying `no thank you’ so some progressive call centre operator suggested a lower cost experience,” he said.

Using the customer data that Disney World and Resorts had on file from past visitors, call centre operators then decided to offer families the cheaper priced hotels on the list, leading to improved repeat business.

According to Gorricho, the call centre project paid for itself “10 times over” in the first year of operation.

Business analytics even comes into play when staff dressed as Disney characters are sent out to interact with children and their families.

Gorricho said that the company invests heavily in cast member training to ensure the right character is sent out and they can deal with any situation that arises during interactions with children and their parents.

He shared the story of a four-year-old girl who attended a character greeting event at the park in Orlando where Tinkerbell was making an appearance.

“When the Tinkerbell character asked the four-year-old girl, who was there with her daddy, where her mummy was, the girl replied that her mummy died. Tinkerbell immediately said `give me a hug and I’ll give your hugs to mummy when I see her.’”

Fireworks then exploded, some of which were in the shape of love hearts, he said. The young girl noticed this and said to her father that Tinkerbell had passed on the hugs and that her mum was sending the hugs back in heart shaped fireworks.

“That’s a magical moment and for that to take place, we needed the right cast member appearing with the right training to handle that situation,” Gorricho said.

Workforce management

Business analytics also helps Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts management handle staff workforce numbers. The US division employs 80,000 workers, or cast members as the company likes to call employees, with 240,000 shifts scheduled each week.

“Once we forecast the workload for the week, we need to work out if we have the supply of people to fulfill that demand,” he said.

“If we don’t have that supply [of workers], we need to understand how many we should hire and what skills/experience they need to have.”

To do this, the company uses workflow forecasting under a project called Workload Analytics for Labour Locations Everywhere or WALL-E for short, named after the CGI robot from the 2008 Pixar movie of the same name.

“The process [with WALL-E] is that we look at business drivers. For example, we look at park attendance levels, how many hotel rooms have been booked and what the weather in Orlando is going to be like as it is quite changeable.”

According to Gorricho, the workflow forecasting system produces more than 50 million data points for the 10,000 park worker positions and informs management how many cast members the parks and resorts will need for the next six weeks.

IDG Communications is an official media partner for the Big Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence 2012 conference.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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