Disney dove deeper into dynamic pricing last
week, unveiling a date-based ticket-pricing system for its Florida theme parks.
Though other theme parks and attractions have dabbled with
similar pricing models in recent years, Dennis Speigel, president of
Cincinnati-based consulting firm International Theme Park Services, said Disney
is the first major player to roll out such a comprehensive demand-driven
"Disney, which is nearly always at the forefront of our
industry, is pioneering this pricing concept, just as they did with fast-pass
tickets," Speigel said.
He added that while competitors such as SeaWorld, Cedar Fair
and Six Flags have also begun exploring or implementing dynamic pricing, most
of their systems are "not as sophisticated" as Disney's.
Set to go into effect Oct. 16, the online platform will
initially enable bookings through 2019 and includes an interactive calendar,
which will be available to consumers at DisneyWorld.com and to agents via a
corresponding trade portal.
The system builds on Disney's more simplified version of
date-sensitive pricing that the company launched two years ago. That model took
seasonality into account and charged differently for "peak," "moderate"
or "value" admission times.
The new platform, however, is much more granular, with
ticket prices varying according to date. Using the calendar, searches can
request the lowest pricing for various lengths of stay in various months, and
price breaks will be given for longer stays.
Concurrently, Disney will no longer charge a premium for
one-day entry to its Magic Kingdom park. Pricing for single-day tickets across
all four Disney World parks will be the same, ranging from $109 to $129,
depending on the date.
"The airlines, hotels and car rental companies have all
mastered dynamic pricing, and it's slowly been creeping into the theme parks
and attractions," Speigel said. "People like this type of pricing
because it allows them to choose their visits based on their situation and lets
them find the best deal. In the end, the consumer wins because they get that
level of choice, and the park wins because they get people to buy tickets and
visit during periods that they normally may have difficulty filling."
While the pricing model could certainly help grow ticket
sales, Duncan Dickson, associate professor at the University of Central Florida's
Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said he believes that Disney's new
system is primarily intended to help ease park congestion during peak periods.
"Whenever you get above a certain number of guests in
the park, you've got diminishing returns," Dickson said. "Your guest
experience declines because people are waiting longer in lines, they can't get
into restaurants, and they're not buying merchandise because they're spending
too much time in line."
He added that overcrowding has been a major concern of
Disney's in recent years. "If you can keep attendance levels below that
threshold, everyone is happier. Disney's use of dynamic pricing is more focused
on enhancing guest experience than the airline or hotel industry pricing
Unlike airline or hotel revenue models, Disney's pricing
will not "surge" in response to heightened demand. It will instead
use historical data to predict demand at parks. According to Dickson, peak
times at Disney's parks typically include the period between Christmas Day and
Jan. 2 as well as the summer months between the end of May and Labor Day.
Helen Papa, president of TBH Travel and a Disney specialist,
predicted that guests on a budget will appreciate the more detailed pricing
"Disney vacations can be expensive for most people, and
our clients are always looking for the best value or trying to figure out the
best time to go," Papa said. "This provides another level of detail
to help them if their dates are flexible, and some guests may be able to stay
longer because they're able to find a lower ticket price. It adds to this part
of the conversation and will help us make it clearer to people that they're
getting the best value."
Likewise, Lisa Wagner, an authorized Disney vacation planner
for Denville Travel Co., said she believes that agents and guests alike will
take the transition in stride, noting that most travel advisers "have come
to expect these pricing changes."
"Guests who are unable to travel during a value season
have come to expect paying higher prices, particularly during peak season,"
Wagner said. "If they have their heart set on a Disney vacation, chances
are they're going to continue with their plans."