Discussions about booking Disney-related travel make his agents and clients quiver, Jack Ezon told Disney's top travel sales executive, Randy Garfield.
The quivering is not from excitement, but nervousness. Ezon, president of the leisure division of Ovation Travel Group, said his luxury agents found it "challenging" to work with Disney to ensure enhanced service levels his agency hopes to deliver to high-end clients.
He found it "uncomfortable" not to be able to call a resort's general manager to check on how his clients were being treated. His clientele, he said, would be willing to pay more -- a lot more -- to have a tailored, concierge-style VIP experience at Walt Disney resorts, theme parks and cruise ships.
"Our VIP clients aren't used to rules," Ezon said.
Garfield responded that Disney resort general managers are used to dealing with people who want to be recognized, whether by an amenity in the room or bypassing the check-in desk and being taken directly to the concierge lounge. On ships, if a client is on a suite level, the concierge can get them dining reservations. Every resort has a VIP list, Garfield said, and if a client is truly a VIP, the sales office can help.
But, he added gently, not everybody is a VIP.
Ezon wasn't reassured. "These are CEOs," he said. "I need someone to help work the wait list for me."
Ezon's comments and Garfield's responses were made collegially and politely at a lunch for high-producing Disney agents in New York. After the event, Garfield told me that people who require high levels of security, or VIPs whose very presence is disruptive, will be offered a private Disney activity guide. And these guides are currently oversubscribed.
"Do I want to double the number? No, I don't," he said. "It's a fine line balancing how we treat people who expect affluent services and the tens of millions of people who don't want to feel disadvantaged. Regardless of whether you're sleeping in a presidential suite or a double room, in the parks you're all going to be treated the same."
Garfield said Disney would rather put its resources into making its long lines entertaining than in creating additional VIP programs. "If some people are treated special, others feel something has been taken away from them," he said.
Disney has, of course, institutionalized a form of line jumping: its Fastpass program. But Garfield said it's executed in an egalitarian manner. Initially, there had been discussions about whether to restrict it to people staying on Disney properties or perhaps link it to what level of room a guest had booked.
"In the end, we decided to make it available to everyone," Garfield said. "These are strategic decisions. They may not be the best decisions for [every agent's business], but we want to make the parks accessible for those who save all year long to come, for whom it's a big deal to come. The result of our focus on the needs of the overall guest population speaks for itself."
So, is Disney's approach refreshing or restricting? Democratic or frustrating?
I was in California with my family shortly after the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage had opened at Disneyland, and I contacted Disney to let them know I wanted to see it. A press liaison came out to the attraction with us and walked my family to the front of a very, very long line to board the sub.
I'm not sure how "uncomfortable" Ezon's agents feel when trying to ensure special consideration for their clients at a Disney resort, but I'm guessing it wasn't a fraction as uncomfortable as we felt cutting in front of hundreds of young children and their parents. While I realize the press officer had the best of intentions, overall I'd say Disney is doing the affluent a favor by not putting them through that experience.
As for resorts and cruise ships, well, it does seem that Disney's best properties should have the capabilities to make Ovation's clientele feel very, very special within a hotel environment. Garfield seemed to believe they already can do that, but Ezon clearly thinks that a higher level of attention can be provided.
Regardless of whether Disney decides to do more, help is on the way for luxury agents: Ground will soon break for the first Four Seasons on Walt Disney World property. If Disney magic cannot calm the quivering in Ovation's offices, Four Seasons' magic certainly should.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.
The FastPass program at Walt Disney theme parks is complimentary. It was incorrectly stated previously that there was a cost associated with the program.