On February 11, 2018, prices were increased for tickets to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. While this is certainly nothing new and was to be expected, I wonder what the impact will be to ticket sales — after all, one of the biggest complaints I see from guests is the crowd levels at the park. If the lines that formed at the Disneyland Resort ticket booth the day after the price increases were put into effect are any indication, this price increase will do next to nothing to stem the crowds. These latest ticket prices represent increases of more than 50% compared to prices at the start of 2010. The 2016 park attendance (the latest available) showed a 14% increase over those 2010 crowd levels.
So what is Disney to do? With new lands being constructed on both coasts, the demand for entry to the parks will only increase — so here are five ideas for what Disney can do to help with crowds. (note: not all of these will make guests happy)
1) Continue raising ticket prices as they have been until a breaking point is reached
In the latest investor call (covering Disney’s Q1 2018) it was indicated that revenue and income were up sharply for the Parks Division, so continuing to do what they have been certainly is a sound strategy. But will it reduce crowds, especially with the expected increased crowds that will come for the opening of Toy Story Land this year or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge next? Likely not, but more and more families are reaching their breaking point for what they can (or at least are willing to) pay for a Disney Parks vacation, and this will only be amplified as prices continue to increase more than wages for most people. So there may be more people that can’t go (or at least can’t go as often), but I’d argue this will be more than offset by the people that haven’t been before but will be drawn by Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. There are also reports that Disney will move to a tiered pricing structure for multi-day tickets in addition to the single day tickets that currently see this. While this may help spread out crowds, I think that it will more likely result in the parks just always feeling crowded, rather than having some “slower” periods.
2) Drastically increase ticket prices and then reduce total park capacity
One way to directly reduce crowds is to lower the limit for the maximum number of people that are allowed in each park at any one time. Now, no one is excited about paying as much as $129 for one day at the Magic Kingdom (which is the new Peak price for an adult), so of course they won’t be happy to pay $200 or $250 a day. But what if that increased price came with 1/3 fewer guests in the park? This way you would be able to accomplish more in fewer days and it would likely lead to a more positive experience as you are spending less time in line or dealing with crowds on Main Street. From Disney’s perspective, they would likely see people stay for shorter periods of time (so less hotel nights) but would be spending more per day. I don’t think they would ever do this — at least not all at once (you see the outcry when they raise prices as is, I am sure it would be much worse if in one fell swoop they double prices) — but they need something to offset the reduced number of guests if they lower the cap on the capacity.
3) Build more parks in Florida
Walt Disney famously said “Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland…the blessing of size. There’s enough land here to hold all the ideas and plans we can possibly imagine.” Well, let’s use more of that size! While Disney cannot build up the entire property for environmental reasons (a 7,500 acre Conservation Area was set aside in 1970), only about 1/4th of the entire 47 square miles the Disney Company owns in Florida is currently developed. They could double that and still have a block of undeveloped land the size of the Manhattan! One way to spread out crowds is to give them more room to spread out to. Now, more parks and more attractions will bring more people, but I think it would take quite a while for those crowds to take up all that extra room. Issues with this plan are the capital it would take to complete all this construction (not to mention time — the crowds are there now!) and no matter how many other parks there are, people will still flock to the Magic Kingdom, meaning that specific park may still feel crowded.
4) Build another set of parks in the middle of the country
One way to help alleviate crowds in the Magic Kingdom is to build another Magic Kingdom. Now, building a 2nd Magic Kingdom in Florida is not likely, but what about a whole additional set of parks in, say, Texas or another state in the middle of the country that is warm? You can still get what you want out of visiting “a” Magic Kingdom, there can be new and different parks to attract people away from the coastal parks, and perhaps you can use more of that Marvel IP there than you can in the Florida parks. Obviously the issues are similar to above in that it would take a lot of capital and time, and I am sure the company would have much more difficulty in acquiring 27,000 acres on the cheap than they were able to do with the Florida project, but it is fun to dream!
5) Build micro-parks around the country
Rather than investing in one pick project, what about several smaller ones around the country? Perhaps some that are largely (or totally) indoors so you could build them near New York, Chicago, or other densely populated areas of the country that don’t have great weather year round. While this might not provide the same experience as going to Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort, could it satisfy some families so they would go less to the big parks? Could this enable families that currently can’t afford to travel thousands of miles to now be able to experience at least a bit of the Disney Magic? I don’t know if Disney would want to invest in “lesser” properties and there is some negative history with similar plans such as the failed Disney Quest Chicago, but I certainly think it would be an interesting experiment.
What other ideas are there for addressing the crowds that continue to come to Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort despite the price increases? Could Disney move to having multiple ticket sessions per day and keep the parks open 24 hours a day? Or is this not really a problem for Disney, and they are fine to collect more money per person and see attendance numbers continue to be high?
All I know is prices and crowds are something that affect every guest, and after witnessing the crowds that the opening of Pandora in Animal Kingdom brought, I am both interested and worried at what Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is going to bring!