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Sunday, May 27, 2007
Disney bids to make the waiting fun
By TOMOKO OTAKE
If you are looking for some long, hot lines, Tokyo Disney Resort, comprising the Disneyland and DisneySea theme parks, surely beats all others as your destination of choice.
Contrary to appearances, obviously no one goes to a theme park just to stand in queues. But with Disney's two facilities here hosting some 25.8 million visitors per year — more than any other amusement park, museum or zoo in Japan — navigating the lines for an attraction, a parade or even a bucket of popcorn is a routine procedure that's almost become an art form at the 20-hectare Disney colony just east of Tokyo in Maihama, Chiba Prefecture.
Naturally, Disney brains have come up with a variety of techniques to make the considerable waits they face less stressful for customers — or better yet, less noticeable.
Park officials emphasize that lines at TDR are much shorter now than they used to be, thanks to a Fast Pass system originally introduced in U.S. Disney parks which debuted at TDR in August 2000. Now available at 15 attractions, Fast Pass allows visitors to return at a designated time to join a much shorter line later in the day. Apparently, this has shortened waiting times significantly, while keeping the park constantly crowded with visitors spread around its various attractions, TDR officials said.
Attendants (called "casts" in Disney jargon) also play a vital role in easing visitors' hard feelings and vexations. Many are experienced enough, they say, to be able to tell just by observing peoples' attire — or maybe even through some acquired sixth sense — which attractions will be crowded at around what time, intelligence they will generally share with anyone looking to optimize their schedule for amusement.
"A lot of my work involves intuitive thinking," said Kazumi Ogawa, a ponytailed woman dressed in a park ranger uniform in front of Big Thunder Mountain, one of the most popular rides at the park. "I sense the wind has changed its direction, and then I think, 'it might rain soon.' . . . Then I tell people to watch out as they might get wet."
Providing entertainment for line-makers also keeps them from getting too bored and helps them almost forget, for a fleeting second, that they are actually in a line.
One recent afternoon, an 11-member brass band came marching out of nowhere and stopped in front of Space Mountain, another popular attraction at the park. While visitors stopped to listen to the band's rendition of a number from the movie "Mission Impossible," few of them seemed to notice the subtle crowd-control by two young female staffers.
Walking inconspicuously ahead of the band, the two lured passersby so expertly through hand gestures that the visitors clustered on three of the four sides around the band. Then, during the performance, the pair stood quietly at the back — while at the same time keeping a traffic line open past them for people who, while enjoying the live music, could stroll unstressed to Space Mountain.
The musicians, called Galactic Rangers, are slated to show up several times a day near the most crowded attractions to entertain people in the lines. It's a psychological trick — their appearance is always a "surprise" for visitors as the schedule and site of their performances are not widely publicized.
Such a nice little spectacle is key to turning around people's mood, said Yoshifumi Go, creative management consultant at Business Brain Showa-ota Inc. in Tokyo, noting that more companies should learn from TDR's approach to keeping people happy in long queues.
"I wish restaurants with huge lunch crowds treated people lining up outside with a cup of beer or something," he said. "And I wish banks would give ATM users (who endure notoriously long lines, especially around many people's pay day on the 25th of the month) real-time information on which branch has shorter lines. Such things might sound trivial, but they would help tremendously to boost customers' satisfaction."
Until that day dawns, when pantomime artists entertain us at every rush-hour station, banks raffle Hawaiian holidays every pay day and pachinko parlors cater to waiting lines with liberal lashings of mind-sharpening espressos, it looks as though Disneyland will have to remain Japan's favorite lining-up experience.
Still, as the urban myth has it, a couple on a date might be advised not to stand in a line so long that they, while waiting, realize that they actually have nothing to say to each other.