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 pricing platform. 

"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 strategies."

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 information. 

"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."


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