Walt Disney World opened with an audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln at the Hall of Presidents, holographic hitch-hiking ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, and the feeling of flying across the Everglades in an airboat at Eastern Airline’s “If You Had Wings.”
It was the Magic Kingdom — and in 1971, the very definition of tourism technology.
While much has changed in the Theme Park Capital of the World®, one thing is constant: Bigger and better technology keeps visitors coming back.
These days, Universal has gone wet and wearable, SeaWorld and Fun Spot are taking thrills into virtual reality, and Disney is creating otherworldly experiences. And at Visit Orlando – the official tourism association – we’re reflecting that innovative spirit, having recently launched a first-of-its-kind mobile app that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to help visitors navigate our destination.
Here’s a closer look at a few ways theme parks are leveraging technology in the ever-changing tourism landscape.
Universal Orlando Resort’s Volcano Bay may be the most technologically advanced water park in the world. From induction magnets driving a gravity-defying aqua coaster to the Bluetooth and RF-connected waterproof wearables, Volcano Bay’s tourism tech is designed to create seamless transitions from the wave pool to shops and restaurants.
Upon arrival, each guest receives a TapuTapu waterproof bracelet that literally puts them “in touch” with Volcano Bay. By tapping the totem at a ride’s entrance, the TapuTapu holds their place in a virtual line — so guests can enjoy other parts of the park – and vibrates when it’s their turn. In addition to other cool features, these wristbands can also access lockers and make in-park purchases (no more hiding wallets in beach towels).
Another way Volcano Bay is leveraging technology is by cutting down on the number of stairs guests have to climb. On the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, for instance, riders board an inflatable, canoe-shape raft near the base of the 200-foot volcano, and a linear induction motor pulls them to the top. From there, gravity takes over. Along the way, magnets built into the track pull riders up through hills and valleys.
Virtual Reality Coasters
SeaWorld Orlando and Fun Spot are on the leading edge of tourism tech, too, with the reinvention of The Kraken and Freedom Flyer rollers coasters, respectively.
Retrofitted with virtual reality headsets, Sea World’s Kraken gives riders the sensation of traveling through a digitally immersive deep-sea mission that encounters mythical sea creatures, including the Kraken itself. On Fun Spot’s Freedom Flyer, VR goggles allow riders in select seats to battle robots in a dystopian, overgrown urban landscape.
Not intent to stop at the farthest reaches of our own galaxy, soon Disney will be taking us to a galaxy far, far away. Its planned “Star Wars”-inspired resort will be complete with immersive tech such as interactive droids, virtual windows and starship transportation.
“It’s unlike anything that exists today,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts. “From the second you arrive, you will become a part of a Star Wars story.”
Keeping with the theme of life far from Earth, the largest expansion in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Pandora — The World of Avatar) is wowing guests with tourism tech in an extraterrestrial setting that features floating mountains, soaring banshees, lifelike animatronics and the Na’vi River Journey. When launching this section of the park, Disney also debuted its Mobile One system, which allows guests to order remotely at the Satu’li Canteen restaurant and pay using the My Disney Experience app.
Looking back, the seeds of tourism tech were planted in Orlando nearly half a century ago – and they’ve been growing rapidly ever since. Today, the result is a bioluminescent rainforest of digitally immersive, personally engaging and fascinating experiences enjoyed by guests the world over.
President & CEO of Visit Orlando
Technology Changing Tourism at a Rapid Pace.
With so much exciting new “tourism tech” being rolled out by Orlando’s tourism partners, our industry is leading the way in exposing visitors to the future of travel.
So, what’s on the horizon?
According to Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager at Oracle Retail and Oracle Hospitality, seven game-changing technologies — wearables, facial recognition, voice activation, 3-D printing/construction, automatic or robotic services, artificial intelligence and virtual reality — stand to transform the hospitality landscape by 2025.
And in Orlando, there’s no time like the present to start leading the way with that transformation!
Disney, for instance, recently teamed up with major retailers on a mobile promotion for its “Last Jedi” merchandise, using augmented-reality “Star Wars” characters to attract shoppers. Being October, it’s also fitting to note that Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is making big strides into the intersection of horror and virtual reality.
On a larger scale, technology continues to change the entire travel and tourism industry at a rapid pace. Merely a decade ago, who could have imagined how smart phones would have revolutionized booking a flight, hotel and rental car? Or how those same devices would help tourists (and their Uber drivers) navigate Central Florida roads?
Even today, the thought of heading to Orlando International Airport on a light-rail train — or better yet, in a self-driving car — can be hard to fathom. But those things are in the works, and even more fascinating developments are sure to follow.
One of the best things about living in Orlando is that, thanks to tourism, we’ll probably get a first-hand look before anyone else.