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Tokyo Disney finally taps tech as visitors tire of waiting

Smartphone app lets guests do their souvenir shopping in line

Oriental Land hopes that the new app for Tokyo Disney Resort will alleviate crowding at a park that attracts 30 million visitors a year.

TOKYO -- Tokyo Disney Resort operator Oriental Land will roll out a smartphone app in fiscal 2018 to relieve crowding issues that have frustrated guests at the popular theme park.

The app will offer a single platform on which customers can buy tickets, book hotel and restaurant reservations, and view park maps with estimated wait times for attractions. It will also be compatible with the smartphone-based e-ticket system introduced Tuesday.

Another feature, in-park online shopping, should do much to help with the congestion problem. Visitors looking to buy souvenirs and the like tend to crowd stores after the park closes for the day. The app will let guests shop during their time at the park, such as while waiting in line, then pick up their purchases when they leave or have them delivered.

The app will initially be in Japanese, with Oriental Land to add other language options for international visitors later. It plans to collect and analyze data on users' activities within the park for use in developing new services.

Tokyo Disney is behind the curve when it comes to new technology. Disney parks elsewhere in the world already have official apps. Universal Studios Japan in Osaka introduced in 2014 electronic express passes that can be displayed and scanned on a smartphone screen, reducing the workload on ticket-takers.

Dutch-themed park Huis Ten Bosch, run by a unit of travel agency H.I.S., uses augmented reality. It is also testing smart garbage cans that monitor how much trash they contain.

But Oriental Land -- which owns and operates Tokyo Disney under license from Walt Disney Co. -- has steered clear of information technology, which it sees as an intrusion of the mundane into what is meant to be a fantastic place "where dreams come true." It worried that too much tech could change the feel of the park, putting guests off.

Now, though, the company considers IT investment a necessary step to keep visitors happy.

A survey by the Japan Productivity Center ranked Tokyo Disney Resort 27th for customer satisfaction in fiscal 2016 -- a precipitous fall from second place in fiscal 2014 and 11th in fiscal 2015. With attendance exceeding 30 million visitors annually since fiscal 2013, some argue that the park's image as constantly crowded is turning off customers.

Oriental Land is also investing in IT to cope with a labor shortage. It plans to boost productivity by spending 12 billion yen ($111 million) by 2020 to remodel the Tokyo Disneyland entrance as well as install automatic ticket machines and facial recognition systems for holders of annual passes. From next fiscal year, the company will also consider providing staffers with tablets.

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