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Vote of the week: Should theme parks change the way that they sell admission tickets?

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Published: June 11, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Ever since I visited Universal Studios Singapore this winter, I've been following the Facebook page of Resorts World at Sentosa, the entertainment complex that houses Universal in Singapore.

Universal Studios Singapore front gate

This week, the Resorts World page reminded readers to book their Universal Studios tickets in advance, as the park was selling out and no walk-up sales would be permitted.

Plenty of theme parks sell out certain nights of "hard-ticket" events, such as Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Disney's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. But I'm not aware of any major U.S. theme parks that have sold out in advance a "normal" day of operation. Visitors' habit of buying tickets at the gate is simply too strong. (Despite our best efforts to break people of that horribly inefficient habit.)

Parks would love for more visitors to buy their tickets online, in advance. That would give the park a much better sense of what attendance would be like on a given day, allowing them to more accurately budget labor hours. Advance sales are "money in the bank" for a theme park, too, and allow parks to cut (or redeploy) staff from the ticket booths.

Orlando and Southern California theme parks often close their parking lots and suspend ticket sales on busy days during the Christmas holidays. As a customer, frankly, I'd rather see those parks demand visitors buy their tickets in advance, so that no one has to show up at the park to be disappointed.

The flip side is that advance sales limit your flexibility. I've got a 10-day Walt Disney World park hopper, with no expiration, that I use when I visit Orlando. With that ticket, I can visit a Disney World park any day that I please, with no need for an advance reservation, and no danger of being shut out on busy days. (Unless the crowd's so large that a park actually close the turnstiles, which happens very rarely.)

I might not get to enjoy that flexibility if parks moves to a true advance sales system, with hard caps on the number of tickets sold for particular dates. Either I'd have to make a reservation to use one of my days, or parks would stop selling open-ended tickets altogether.

An advance sales system like Singapore's also wouldn't work at a park like Disneyland, where hundreds of thousands of locals hold annual passes, and come and go as they please (provided they're not blocked out on a given day). An AP system such as Disneyland's would need to be modified to support advance ticket sales and scheduling.

So here's our vote of the week. Should parks move to an advance sales system for tickets, like Universal Studios Singapore?

A yes vote means that parks should sell tickets for specific days in advance, with a hard cap on the number of tickets sold. The park would either set aside slots for a limited number of AP holders, or require AP holders to make a reservation on days when the park expects to hit the cap.

A no vote means to keep the system the way that it is now in the United States, with tickets available for advance purchase, but with no specific dates for use and no hard caps on attendance announced in advance.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, in the comments, on theme park ticket sales system. Thanks again for reading Theme Park Insider, and I'll be seeing you next week in Orlando for the Harry Potter grand opening!

Readers' Opinions

From 173.65.217.40 on June 11, 2010 at 12:18 PM
The only USA park that works for is discovery cove.
From Brian Emery on June 11, 2010 at 12:27 PM
Should be a combination of Both… For certain days like the Opening of HP, there could be a black out day or week… You would have to buy special tickets for that event during that time..

Any other time the advance purchase of tickets would be fine…

From Bob Miller on June 11, 2010 at 2:38 PM
I voted no, leave it the way it is now. I learned a number of years ago not to cram to much stuff into one vacation, especially if you have young children with you.

So when Zachary and I go down to Disney, I purchase a 10 day Magic Your Way ticket with water parks and Disney Quest for the both of us. Because we don't cram in everything, we seldom use up all the park ticket part of it. We didn't use 2 last year and 4 the year before, but that was my choice. Next year, I plan to use all of them.

Now, why I don't buy in advance, last year was a prime example. My ex-wife (Zachary's grandmother) passed away just days before we were to go on our vacation. And thanks to all the TPI members who encouraged us to go, we chose to continue with our plans.

But what if we had decided not to go and I had already purchased my tickets, what would I have done with them? I realize the 14 day expiration doesn't start till the first day you use them, but would they honor them a two or three years later? I think not.

So what happens if you purchase tickets in advance and can't use them as you planned to because you had to cancel your trip. I had to cancel vacations at the last minute a number of times. That's one of the reasons I started to get annual passes, until the prices got so high.

Still haven't figured out what to do about Universal since they changed their ticket prices.

From Eric Malone on June 11, 2010 at 2:38 PM
Frankly, not everyone's moved up to the 21st century, so while advanced purchase tickets seems like a good idea in writing, you're losing a large chunk of your audience by disallowing ticket sales at the front gate. For those of us who know their way around a computer or their iPhone or other such internet-capable gadget or gizmo, this idea sounds great. Then you remember about the individuals who still have trouble turning on their computer, or who have planned last second to go to those parks, and you've potentially alienated quite a few potential individuals.

It is indeed 'money in the bank', but it doesn't seem like it would matter much if you effectively lost a quarter of your sales, since the money all gets put into the bank eventually.

Simply put, they shouldn't completely abolish the ticket booth in favor for advance purchases, but simply scale down the ticket booths and start encouraging advance purchases.

From Sylvain Comeau on June 11, 2010 at 2:38 PM
Unless the park is closed during the day because they have reached maximum capacity, I don't see why they would require an advance reservation. i think most people know to buy in advance anyway, because you can get better prices that way.
From Sylvain Comeau on June 11, 2010 at 2:44 PM
If you buy park tickets in advance and can't use them, I would recommend calling the parks and trying to get some kind of credit or reschedule the reservation. You would probably have to return the tickets to them, or, if the ticket admission was on a room key (like when staying on site at WDW) you can have it rescheduled along with your hotel reservations.
From Robert Niles on June 11, 2010 at 3:05 PM
With so much outstanding ticket media at the year-'round parks, I don't want to imagine the headache of converting one of them to a advance sales/reservation system. But if I were starting a new theme park with an established brand name (i.e. Disney or Universal), that's the way I would go from the start, as Universal did in Singapore.

For seasonal parks, I'd strongly consider blocking out the park's most popular dates (e.g. July 4, Labor Day, etc.) from seasonal passes, and selling those days as advance-sale-only hard tickets. I'd also limit the crowd size on those days to something reasonable (i.e., no more than 60- to 90-minute waits for anything), and charge the full, undiscounted day rate, if not $5-10 more per ticket so that the tickets don't sell out immediately.

From 97.104.146.192 on June 11, 2010 at 3:41 PM
I cannot understand why someone would go to a Disney park without buying their tickets in advance. Whenever we arrive at the gates at opening we pass by ticket booths that have a line that's (let's say) 20 people deep. If each transaction (ticket purchase) lasts two minutes, the guest in the 20th spot will be standing in line 40 minutes ... just to buy the ticket to get into the park.

Sigh ... rookies.

Perhaps the consideration should not be based upon a concept of overall park admissions, but rather portions of the park experience. An incentive, of sorts. Purchase your tickets on line and be given the option to RESERVE a fast pass. Parks could allocate a LIMITED NUMBER of fast passes that could be purchased in advance (for a small fee [$5.00 per guest]) to one or two of the most popular attractions.

From 71.191.56.11 on June 11, 2010 at 5:06 PM
It would be way to complicated for the parks that allow park hopping. Would you have to register your ticket with each park and what time you were going?
From TH Creative on June 11, 2010 at 5:07 PM
Previous post was me ... my ego is sizable enough to believe I o not have to log in ... ah well.
From Mike N on June 11, 2010 at 6:59 PM
I think the better question to be asked is if parks should put more focus on the guest experience and limit the amount of guests in the park each day, such as Discovery Cove.
From 220.255.7.169 on June 11, 2010 at 7:41 PM
I guess it's different for USS since it's a rather small pack and the maximum capacity is much smaller then the theme parks in US. The chances of tickets selling out on weekend is rather hight. As such, to keep disappointed and disgruntled park goers to the minimum, this system works.
From Deidre Dennis on June 11, 2010 at 9:30 PM
Mike N,

Great idea.

From 98.121.217.220 on June 12, 2010 at 5:48 AM
I voted "no". One thing to consider is the habit people have of buying advance tickets and not showing up. This happens with sporting events and concerts and could very well happen with theme parks. Granted it's less likely since for most of us getting there involves extensive planning and arranging, but like it's been pointed out things happen or some people change their minds and can afford to eat the cost w/o a second thought.
From Luis Rodriguez on June 12, 2010 at 6:15 AM
What happens if you are visiting from outside the States? Travel days must be flexible, moreover if you are traveling in Summer. If I decide not to visit Epcot on a stormy day, Would I lose my ticket?

Leave it as it is.

From 64.102.254.33 on June 13, 2010 at 5:19 AM
Someone else mentioned it...USS is very different, with a true limited capacity. It is like the difference between a movie theater and a town center.

At Disney World, on the rare occasions they turn guests away, the World has other places that can be visited and generate income for Disney (including many hotels). A guest has one option removed but has many others left.

When a place like USS turns guests away, guests are left to decide on something else not USS related while they fume about their impacted vacation plans.

So no, advance dated tickets make no sense in WDW. They might make sense at other medium sized parks. They make perfect sense at isolated, high-demand, smaller parks.

From TH Creative on June 13, 2010 at 3:39 PM
If you limit the number of guests coming into the park (as Mike N suggests) you limit the number of employees needed to run the park ... which means layoffs and cut hours.
From Rob P on June 14, 2010 at 12:59 AM
Despite a few advantages, mostly for the banks, I'm against the inflexibility of advanced ticketing for a specific nominated day.
I , like Robert, usually have a 14 day pass anyway for WDW ( and I still have 1 day unexpired on a 5 day world hopper from 2002 ) and always get a similar pass for Universal and Seaworld. So it wouldn't affect me.
So why am I against advanced ticketing for single day users ? Well it's simple really. Many contributing factors, not least of all the weather, can influence whether you actually get to the Park or not. But that's not the main reason. I've seen a similar thing happen with sports events in the UK like soccer for example. Once again I have a season ticket now but when we were kids we could decide, on the day, if we wanted to go and see a game. People today cannot. They have to carefully plan weeks ahead.
Same with the theme parks. People should be able to decide, on the day,that they'd like to visit a Park. Not be frustrated because they didn't plan their lives in advance.

Spontaneity is fast being eroded from our lives and that's sad on all levels.

From Joshua Counsil on June 14, 2010 at 2:53 PM
In addition to a lack of spontaneity, what if my parents wanted to visit? They don't mind advanced dining reservations since restaurants are small and dinner reservations have existed for decades, but a theme park advanced reservation system would only make matters more confusing for them. And, knowing how these companies function, I guarantee most of the process would be automated, further upsetting them.

Advanced purchasing benefits the tech savvy and obsessive planners, but not the spontaneous or simple travelers.

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