Disney seeks boost in parks bookings with seven-night deal

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Disney is seeking to counter the soft market by offering extra nights and park admissions in its four-day Magic Your Way hotel and ticket packages, essentially offering seven days for the price of four. 

And according to some agents, it's working like the proverbial charm.

"The last time that we had anything like this was 2003, and people are responding to this one like you can't believe," said Sue Pisaturo, owner of Small World Vacations, an authorized Disney vacation planner agency with 50 agents around the country.

"We were completely bombarded when it first came out. Within a week we had over 3,000 requests for a price quote. Agents for a week had no sleep."

The deal emerged earlier this month, only hours after Disney's parks and resorts division reported that its quarterly operating income fell 4%, to $412 million.

Clients who buy a four-day, nondiscounted Magic Your Way hotel and ticket package by Dec. 20, for travel between Jan. 4 and April 4 or April 19 to June 27, will receive three extra nights of hotel accommodations and three more days added to their theme park tickets at no additional charge (some dates are blacked out).

This particular deal, according to Pisaturo, helps agents extend Disney vacation stays, rather than shorten them, and to upgrade accommodations.

"The higher-end the guest is, the more they're going to save," said Pisaturo.

Pat Forrester, co-owner of the agency The Magic for Less Travel, said she did the math and this deal works out to the same price as the comparable deal in 2003, and may be even cheaper.

"This will definitely impact the number of bookings we had this month," said Forrester.

"Overall for the year, we'll still be ahead. We saw a little bit of a reduction around election time, and this really kind of peps things up, and we're finishing November and December ahead."

Disney coupled the offer with a conference for agents later in the month, offering tips on how to sell in a down market.

"The media keeps telling us that people are hunkering down, but agents should not let that become self-fulfilling," Sharon Siskie, vice president of national accounts and travel agency sales for Disney Destinations, said during the call.

The call was intended to help agents "prepare for the wave," according to Disney. The wave refers to the peak booking period that traditionally follows the holidays.

Both Forrester and Pisaturo said that once the seven-night deal ends on Dec. 20, next year they can still heavily market Disney's "Celebrations" campaign, which includes free admission on guests' birthdays.

"The wave is always insanely busy for us," said Forrester. "I'm not planning on the wave being less large than it has been in the past."

Disney's focus on boosting agency business followed a quarterly and fiscal-year earnings report that showed a net income drop for fiscal 2008 of 5.5%, to $4.4 billion.

Despite the bad quarter, operating income for the parks and resorts division still gained for the fiscal year, rising 11%, to $1.9 billion.

"At our parks and resorts, attendance has held up reasonably well, and thus far this quarter it is down only 1% versus last year at our domestic parks," Disney CEO Bob Iger said during the company's year-end earnings call. "However, bookings during the last month have fallen off considerably."

Said Iger, "In terms of what happens beyond Jan. 1, we can't predict right now."        

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