With all the great things that are sure to come out of the D23 Expo, from park announcements to new film projects, the single announcement I want more than anything is one I do not think will occur. I want Disney to announce they no longer look at their visitors as potential violent criminals and will remove all of the security kiosks that are in place in front of its parks.
I am sure some people will disagree with me, but I think some 8 years hence, it is time to return certain vestiges of our society to what they were originally designed to be – specifically the Walt Disney World Resort needs to remove the security kiosks in front of their parks. From the time that these were installed, it has been a bad idea offering little visible benefit to the guest or the company.
The original design of these parks was one of a welcoming place for families to come and enjoy themselves in the welcoming arms of Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald and the rest of the gang. It makes incredibly difficult to sell that illusion when one has to run a gauntlet before entering the magic of Disney’s world. These searches have eroded the good faith of guests who come to the Walt Disney World Resort to escape the real world, not be confronted with it via a search of their bags.
Over the decades, the Imagineers had developed enormous skill at moving larger groups of people through space. From the wide open breezeways of Magic Kingdom entrance to the enormous landscaped entry way that welcomes guests to Epcot. The design of the parks has always been to create a sense of fantasy to envelop the guest in the stories and characters of Disney’s vast library of characters and stories.
Each park got better at moving people, with the exception of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. That park has a much smaller feel to it, in large part to the effect they were trying to create as they designed an intimate natural world for the guests. Despite the great skill of Disney’s Imagineers, the Animal Kingdom has some issues that even the executives poked fun at during my days with the company.
Nevertheless, this skill at moving guests was refined over the years and you can see that evolution in design as form followed function at Epcot as a prime example. The futuristic entry plaza had an ability for enormous capacity of people moving throughout the day. Epcot is now subjected to the most extreme constrained entrance out of all the parks. Looking at the photo you can see an enormous area that used to welcome guests, has now been shrunk to a few tables next to the monorail exit, eliminating any of the benefits of the original park design. These security measures are a breach in that faith, trust and illusion that Walt Disney worked his life to create.
Rather than the lush welcoming designs that were designed to move the maximum amount of people through a space in an efficient manner we now have velvet-rope security applied in a manner inconsistent with instilling confidence or security. Instead of welcoming the guests with the well-designed wide landscaped entry ways that provided the bridge between the real world and Disney’s world, we are now subjected to haphazard searches that offer merely window dressing while breaking that fantasy the parks were so good at offering to its guests.
I understand the whole security concerns in this post 9-11 world as well as anyone. Having lived in a foreign nation as a child at the height of some of the worst terrorist warfare in the mid 20th century I always knew that someday that hatred would walk our shores. Despite that, we were not subjected to searches or other invasive activities during my days there. I think it is a misguided venture for any entertainment company to place their security detail in the place of policing the guests.
When Walt started the park he was aware of the potential issues of having a private security force. He stressed throughout the development that the guards are not in the security business but rather the guest relations business. The current airport security behavior reinforces the cause for concern Walt had when creating the Disney security force.
Despite the uncertainty of times today, there is no reason to vacate the primary role of the guards in the parks and resorts at Walt Disney World – to enhance the guest’s experience while visiting the Walt Disney World Resort.
Security need not be visible to be present; I learned this on one of my first visits to the park as an adult. Wandering the parks, we stopped and asked a man sitting on a bench on Main St. U.S.A. to take our picture. As he chatted us up, I learned he was a security guard and his job was just to wander and keep an eye out – unobtrusively so as not to negatively impact the guests’ experience.
I know what dedicated folks work within Disney security – having done a large amount of work for them during my time at the company. I have seen firsthand how dedicated they are to the task of helping to make a great experience for the guests in the park.
However, key to Disney’s great success in theme parks over the years is the safety and security people feel when wandering through one of their parks. Ultimately I think it is never a good idea to approach your customers as potential violent terrorists and subject them to humiliating searches of their personal property. There are better ways to insure safety and security within the confines of the societal conditions we live in today.
Here is another key fact to support my premise, suicide bombers usually have the explosives on them – they do not carry them in a bag; especially if they fear they will be stopped.
I have spent an enormous amount of time in the parks; from the days of working for the company through today and covering all things Disney for this site. In that time I have never seen an issue that would lead me to believe I am safer in the park due to the security checkpoints. These security kiosks are no more than window dressing that offer only a false sense of security. It is time to remove them and return the entryways back to the way they were designed; a bustling breezeway to welcome Disney’s guests into the park.
[EDIT 2009.09.11 5:27 PM]
Seems that the destination tourism industry isn’t the only place that may need to rethink this topic. Today on NPR they have been discussing similar topics for the airline industry and how unneeded it may be today and how it may be diverting energies from other critical tasks.