When waiting is not a waste of time

September 11, 2014

September – end of the holiday season and time to go back to work. Or perhaps, let’s remember the fading warmth of the summer weeks.

Like some of you maybe, I took some days off to explore exotic European countries and, amongst those, I paid a visit to the home of Mickey Mouse in Disneyland Paris. Right in the middle of school holidays when most French people have deserted the city, the attraction park appeared almost empty – the golden towers of the massive pink castle glowing in the early morning. This was a peculiar experience, as I remembered the place of my childhood packed with people and the never ending queues to get on the small trolleys taking me to Neverland. This time I could enter everywhere without having to wait and I ended up half a day later having visited all the attractions.

And soon I realised: the entire park was meant to operate beyond what I believed to be the right number of visitors. In most places, engineers, planners and managers of all kinds would try to reduce waiting times by finding a compromise between offering the service wanted by customers and limiting the costs of running such service. Strategies would include the definition of optimal capacities and levels of service, and crowd management techniques, both physical and psychological. From designing perfectly ordered queues to distracting the visitor by distributing engaging media, everything would be done to accommodate both the objective and the subjective reality of the queue.

But not in Disneyland. Paradoxically, in Disneyland, queueing is an integral part of the attraction itself. You need to wait to see your expectations raised; you need to queue to fully appreciate a no-more-than-three-minutes attraction. The waiting time resulting from queuing serves not only the self-regulation of the park operations but also the self-regulation of authorised ‘fun’, allows sociability with fellow visitors and reinforces the feeling of experience.

So, Disneyland Paris, except in the middle of the summer, offers a contrasting example to traditional queuing management systems. Having guaranteed comfort and safety, they have also managed to transform a constraint into an experience: waiting in Disneyland is not a waste of time, it is being part of the collective appreciation of the magic.