February 3, 2023

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Disney Revises Pricing Policies at Its Parks

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In an acknowledgment that it may have pushed too hard on its domestic theme parks for profit, angering some of its most loyal customers in the process, Disney revised policies related to ticketing, hotel parking, ride photos and annual passes on Tuesday.

Disney, for instance, will no longer charge $15 to $25 per vehicle, per night for guests registered at the 30 hotels and resorts it owns at Walt Disney World in Florida. The company started charging for hotel parking in 2018. At the time, Frommer’s called the move “a surprising money grab.”

Disney will also make Disneyland in California cheaper to visit by “significantly” expanding the number of days when adult tickets sell for $104, the lowest price, according to Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. He said the number of $104 days would now represent about two months of the year at Disneyland, which charges $179 for adults on the most desirable dates.

“We want to make sure our fans are feeling the love,” Mr. D’Amaro said. “We’re listening to them, and we’re trying to adjust.”

Disney is not reducing ticket prices — at least, not exactly — in part because demand has remained surprisingly resilient despite a slowing economy and recession fears. Disneyland, for instance, is sold out on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week. Disney also maintains that its ticket prices and varied hotel offerings are flexible enough to accommodate budget-minded visitors.

“None of these changes are about demand,” Mr. D’Amaro said.

He also said that the “enhancements” announced on Tuesday were not directly tied to a management shake-up at Disney late last year, when Bob Chapek was fired as chief executive and Robert A. Iger came out of retirement to retake the reins.

“This is not necessarily about a change in leadership,” Mr. D’Amaro said. “I have a lot of face-to-face conversations with guests when I’m walking the parks, and I read a lot of their comments online.

“If you move a tree, if you change a procedure, if you start asking for reservations — that’s a big deal to our guests,” he added. “They care. They really, really care. And if people care that much, then I have an obligation to listen and, when appropriate, to make some changes and modifications.”

Over the past year, some of Disney’s most dedicated theme park customers have grown indignant over price increases, some of which have been viewed as nickel and diming. At Disney World, for instance, annual passes used to include free photo downloads — such as digital snapshots taken by surprise during rides and images from character meet-and-greets taken by Disney photographers. In 2021, Disney started charging extra for the downloads.

Annual pass holders have also complained bitterly about a 2021 decision by Disney to require all domestic park visitors to have a reservation in addition to a ticket or pass. Pass holders were no longer able to drop by anytime they wanted, even if they paid $1,399 for the most expensive Disney World pass.

Disney began requiring reservations as a way to control crowds during the pandemic. But the reservation system also reflected a policy shift. To cheers from Wall Street — and boos from many Disney fans — Mr. Chapek pushed the company’s theme parks to focus less on maximizing attendance and more on increasing how much money visitors spend.

Mr. Chapek called this “yield management,” and it helped Disney recover financially from the pandemic. Increases in theme park profit also helped offset losses in Disney’s streaming division. For the 2022 fiscal year, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products had $28.7 billion in revenue and $7.9 billion in profit. To compare, the unit had $26.2 billion in revenue and $6.8 billion in profit in 2019.

The policy changes that Mr. D’Amaro unveiled on Tuesday will go into effect at varying times over the next couple of months.

In California, Disney will ease restrictions on guests with higher-priced “park-hopping” tickets, which gives them the ability to visit both Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure theme park in a single day. (Park hopping was previously restricted to 1 p.m. or later. The privilege will now begin at 11 a.m.) Disneyland will also provide free downloads of ride photos to all ticketed guests; that offering currently starts at $15.

In Florida, Disney will allow annual pass holders to visit theme parks after 2 p.m. without a reservation, except on Saturdays and Sundays at the Magic Kingdom, the busiest Disney World property. In another change, guests who pay for the smartphone-based service called Genie+, which gives them speedier access to rides, will receive attraction photos for no additional charge.

“We believe in the Genie product, which has been incredibly popular, but we’re going to continue to look at ways to add more value,” Mr. D’Amaro said.

In addition, Disney has been offering its usual array of January deals. On Monday, Disney World announced ticket and hotel discounts for Florida residents. Disneyland is offering a deal for California residents that can reduce weekday ticket prices to $73 until June.

In a discount available to anyone, Disney World is offering 25 percent off rooms at certain hotels. People who book five-night packages for summer can get up to $750 to spend on food. (Disney World stopped offering its popular Dining Plan promotions in 2020.)

Brooks Barnes

2023-01-10 21:08:47

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