Walt Disney on Feb. 12 will begin testing to embrace a cashless environment at its Animal Kingdom Lodge using options like Credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay and — of course — Disney’s MagicBands, which function as wearable payment devices, hotel room keys, theme park admission tickets and fashion accessories.
For a start, the testing will be limited to a single location, though Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is perhaps the most sprawling. The lodge is separate from the Animal Kingdom theme park, one of many resorts and theme Disney operates in Florida.
As with many Disney hotels, Animal Kingdom Lodge guests have free bus access to the theme parks, meaning they never have to leave the Disney ecosystem for the duration of their stay.
Though cash is still accepted at the rest of Disney’s properties, the company will be watching closely to see whether Animal Kingdom Lodge guests build habits that follow them throughout their vacation.
“Cash represents a larger problem for amusement parks than for many other merchant types,” said Rick Oglesby, founder and president of AZ Payments Group. “The nature of the amusement park, having huge crowds, wild rides and many opportunities to get soaking wet, makes it undesirable to carry valuables of any type, including cash.”
Disney Dollars, existed for about 30 years before being retired two years ago. Disney Dollars laid the foundation for a contactless Key to the World card that eventually became the wearable MagicBands in use today. Disney also pursued alternative “non-miles” travel incentives when the market was still dominated almost entirely by frequent flier perks, and was an early adopter of OEM mobile payment systems.
All of this goes back to Walt Disney’s original vision of E.P.C.O.T as a self-contained city that reorganized work, education, transportation and systems of commerce and ownership. The idea eventually inspired the E.P.C.O.T theme park in Florida, not far from Animal Kingdom Lodge.
“There are a few reasons that testing a cashless payment option in a campus environment like a Disney resort makes a lot of sense,” said Sarah Grotta, director of the debit and alternative products advisory group at Mercator, noting Disney’s experience with wearables.
Disney’s cardless and cashless MagicBand has enough of a track record to make a “no cash” requirement seem less risky than it may be perceived in other industries.
This move is in line with Shake Shack in late 2017 opened a cashless location in New York and Starbucks opened a cashless location in Seattle shortly thereafter.