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Disney World Finally Lets Its Genie Out of the Bottle

Change isn't always easy to implement when you're a theme park operator banking on nostalgia. A major update to the official Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) app kicks in on Tuesday, and it will polarize guests as they tap into one of the media giant's gated attractions.

There are a lot of things that Disney Genie does well -- and I speak from experience after a hands-on demo earlier this month. There won't be a lot of debate about the merits of the real-time experience optimization tools included in the free Disney Genie app. Drumming up customized itineraries, streamlined meal planning, and even killing time in queues with augmented reality selfie filters and audio descriptions of park landmarks will be winners if the launch isn't buggy.

The real sticking point will be Genie+, the platform where any guest can pay $15 for access to a limited number of return times to expedited Lightning Lane queues. Then you get to Lightning Lane+, where two of the most popular rides in each of the resort's four parks command a surcharge for one-time access to the faster-moving queue. It's a game-changing moneymaker for Disney if it works. It's toxic pixie dust if it flops.

Image source: Disney.

A whole new world

If you're a guest spending at least $169 for a one-day park-hopper ticket to Disney World -- and perhaps another $25 to park -- opting for Genie+ is a no-brainer. You're already paying more than $15 an hour for an 11-hour stay. Why wouldn't you pay another $15 to make sure you save more than an hour in lines to get more done. The math for Lightning Lane+ gets a bit more dicey, but once you've gone down the Genie+ rabbit hole why not go all in to get on some of the rides with the longest lines as quickly as possible?

The math is naturally completely different for annual pass holders who pay between $1 and $4 a day for access to the theme parks with complimentary parking. Spending $15 on Genie+ and as much as $30 more for a pair of Lightning Lane+ attractions is going to be a hotly contested budgeting item for Disney World regulars. That's fine for Disney. If you don't want to pay for Genie+ then you will be one more person in the standby queue, making Genie+ that much more attractive for everybody else.

Disney World is going to make a lot more per person now, particularly in peak travel periods. However, don't underestimate the monetizing power of the free Genie features. The digital personalized tip board on the app will keep guests at the park longer with more opportunities to eat, drink, and buy merchandise.

You can refuse to pay for the premium features on principle, but you'll pay as you lose yourself deeper in the new or refined app offerings. Whether you pay the toll or take the longer path around on the free roads you're right where Disney World needs you to be for it to succeed in the new normal.

The top dog among travel and tourism stocks is going to be one step ahead of the boo birds that are no match for Disney's new machine learning tricks. It doesn't matter if you rub the lamp or not. The genie -- or in this case, the Genie -- is out, and there's no putting it back in the bottle.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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