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Disney fights attendance drop with 'three days free' deal

By Robert Niles
Published: November 6, 2008 at 11:05 PM
Disney, like many U.S. companies, announced a brutal quarterly earnings report today. Of interest to theme park fans is the news that year-over-year attendance dropped at Walt Disney World and Disneyland by one percent over the past three months, with income dropping four percent. Disney also announced that advanced bookings are down 10 percent at Disney World for the upcoming holiday season.

Now, a one-percent drop isn't as bad as some parks have faced, and the drop in the theme parks pales in comparison with the way that other Disney divisions are losing cash. ABC and the TV stations dropped $150 million over the three months alone.

But Disney isn't used to attendance drops at its theme parks. So the Mouse isn't taking this one lying down.

No, there's no new attraction development. But Disney is planning to offer a 'three nights free' deal to Disney World visitors who book a week-long vacation before the end of the year. You buy four nights in a Disney hotel with a four-day Magic Your Way theme park ticket and get the extra three days free.

Visitors can take their trip any time before next summer (excluding Spring Break). Details should be available on Disney World's website within the next day or two.

Readers' Opinions

From Corey Romberg on November 7, 2008 at 12:51 AM
Wow. That is certainly another bold move for the Mouse. But I like it. We continue to set ourselves so much better than the rest, as evident in such an amazing deal. And with the economy in the shape it's in, it was probably a neccessary move.

Come on people, come to Disney World!! This worries me, because the less attendance at the parks, the less hours and shifts there are available to work, which means less money going into my weekly paycheck...stupid economy!!!

From Tim W on November 7, 2008 at 7:03 AM
This is really bold of disney. I'm just upset that i made plans to go in february two months earlier....
From Derek Potter on November 7, 2008 at 7:59 AM
Disney has their hands in so many things in the entertainment industry, but it's interesting that there are big changes in the theme park division to drum up business. That tells me that it's probably a little worse in the parks then they are letting on. Disney's price of admission has caught up with them and the "magic" it seems... isn't economy proof. Good for them though, they are being proactive about it and giving customers a deal instead of just expecting people to get in the car and follow the yellow brick road. If anyone can afford it, they sure can.

Coincidently, Cedar Fair reported increases in attendence and several other categories. Six Flags releases it's report on 11/10 (hard to tell what that will say). The economic hard times are far from over too. The trend of the staycation may be around for a while, and the regional parks could reap the benefits.

From Mike K on November 7, 2008 at 8:50 AM
All summer long Cedar Point issued steep discounts and deals on their tickets. I wondered all summer long what they heck they were doing. All summer long Cedar Point/Cedar Fair Execs saw this coming, and they ended up with a 3% increase in attendance.
From Robert Niles on November 7, 2008 at 9:05 AM
Disney got bailed out early in the year by a weak dollar, encouraging Europeans to visit, replacing the Americans who couldn't afford the trip.

With the dollar strengthening, the Europeans are moving out of the picture now. Gas is down, but so is employment, investment income and job security, so the Americans are staying at home, too.

From Deidre Dennis on November 7, 2008 at 2:04 PM
I'm actually trying to talk to the Walt Disney Travel Company to see if I can get it at this new price. I had already booked it June 19 through June 29, but this new deal they have will save us about $400-$450! I'm waiting to hear back now so hopefully it'll be some good news. That is an awesome deal.
From Melissa Faulkner on November 7, 2008 at 3:29 PM
Why can't they lower the price of admission. They raised it a few months back to what, $75. Wouldn't more folks be willing to visit if they lowered the price? I know it would make our life easier for next July.
From Amanda Jenkins on November 7, 2008 at 5:20 PM
I just checked it out online. It is a great deal and it is even offered with the Deluxe Villas. And as an added bonus they give you a $200.00 dollar gift card at check-in. I'm impressed. As I started to close out my search of certain dates, they sent me a survey asking why I was not booking my trip. This is the first time that has happened when I have searched prices on packages, which tells me that Disney is starting to get a little on the panic side.
From TH Creative on November 8, 2008 at 5:51 AM
We were out at EPCOT last night. My wife demanded that we go see Night Ranger who played three sets in the American gardens theatre. She had seen them at Grad Nite in 1983.

Anyway the place was packed.

I have been managing a small project a DHS which had me in that pack most of last week.

Again, the crowds in the park were healthy.

Tomorrow we are taking our niece to the Poly for a character breakfast. My wife (a cast member) had to pull some strings to get a table. We tried booking it three weeks ago only to find all the character breakfasts that day were sold out!

All of this got me thinking (again) the article at jimhillmedia. The article reported that Disney's reservations center had started raising red flags about 2009 bookings as early as last January.

In my humble opinion the economic storm has yet to hit the Disney parks but that the company is already (and has been) preparing for months for its arrival.

From Robert Niles on November 8, 2008 at 11:47 AM
Night Ranger? (!)

You are a better spouse than many of us, TH. :-)

From M. Ryan Traylor on November 9, 2008 at 11:55 AM
Well, this is a deal guaranteed to help profits for Disney.

1) the base ticket price difference between a 4 day and 7 day ticket is about $7. so that "loss" will be made up with the purchase of one quick service combo meal during any of the three free days.

2) they will lose some money at the hotels, but again a family of 4 will probably spend more than the loss there during the additional three days.

personally, i will stick to the "value season" of september and october and get my free disney dining plan.

From James Rao on November 10, 2008 at 3:39 AM
Reading the earnings report a little closer...attendance was actually up at Walt Disney World by a small margin, but revenues were down by 4%. All the other Disney parks, including Disneyland, had decreased attendance and revenues, but all things considered, Disney did good in 2008. What has them really worried are their projections for 2009...which is why they are taking steps now.

Anyway, the deal Disney is currently offering was one they used in 2003 to increase attendance and it was a very popular deal. While M. Ryan Traylor makes a good point about the ticket savings (or lack there of), the real deal is the three free nights at a Disney resort + the $200 food/gift voucher. Had I any money left in the vacation account at all, I would be all over this deal. If you stayed at the Beach Club resort, you'd save over $1,000 with your three free nights. What an opportunity to try a deluxe resort for those people who have never had that chance!

Still, a very selfish part of me hopes this deal fails miserably so Disney has to dig even deeper into their vaults for even better deals!!

From Don Neal on November 10, 2008 at 8:02 AM
I checked on the 4/3 deal and it's of course cheaper. But I can still get a 1400 sq. ft. condo just outisde the south gate in a gated community for a week plus a 7 day ticket for my family of 5 and be $300 under their new deal. They aren't considering the fact that all the house and condo rental people lowered their prices ages ago. So this deal didn't do anything for our family but we were planning on going anyway.
From Deidre Dennis on November 10, 2008 at 11:02 AM
Finally got a response from them after calling and they switched us to this new deal saving us $484 without changing resorts, our ticket type or anything. I'm really excited about it. We always stay on site because it's really convenient for us and constantly surrounded by "the magic" our entire vacation. While it's expensive to eat out, I really can't see myself cooking most nights while on vacation, so the cost is worth it to us to stay on site and maybe not have the amenities of a kitchen. Besides, we really end up eating one large meal per day anyway, and we are (thankfully) able to afford to eat out.

We wouldn't have cancelled our trip if we couldn't have changed this, but we now have an "extra" almost $500 to spend somewhere else. Very excited that I got into this deal at no additional cost to us.

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