With as bad as our economy is right now, there sure were lots of people out spending money like crazy on Black Friday. Perhaps it just hasn't really hit yet...
I am holding on to what little I have, hoping for an upturn in 2010 and some sweet deals from the House of Mouse when they are completely desperate.
Robert, will I lose my coveted TPI Membership if I only visit one park next year?
If(when) the economy really dives, I think that a lot of people may ditch the higher priced Orlando vacation in lieu of a low cost getaway or a staycation. Bottom line, Disney is expensive. Even the cheapest of Disney getaways is expensive, especially when compared with the regional amusement parks around the country, many of which offer far more attractions and an entertaining couple of days worth of activity for about the price of a one day admission to one Disney park. I'm not trashing Disney, I'm just saying that they aren't cheap, and the international travelers won't save them forever.
If I'm Disney, I'm looking beyond my hotel reservations for next year. That's a good start, but it would be wise to examine everything, from the deals on tickets to food and gift prices, and all the other little experiences they offer. It may or may not be a necessity to cut prices in those departments, but I'm sure that the last thing Disney wants is for people to not spend money inside their park. The same goes for Universal and Busch. If the economy continues it's trend, they simply won't get away with some of those prices.
While it is nice to see the Orlando parks working together on marketing, let's not forget that they are trying to take that market share from other vacation destinations. Some of which, one presumes, will fight back with increased marketing as well.
The relevant analogy for the 2009 economy is one of my favorite dark-humor stories: Two hikers walk into the path of an angry bear, deep in the forest. But instead of slowly backing away, the first hiker calmly opens his backpack.
"What are you doing?" the second hiker whispers, through clenched teeth.
"Putting on some running shoes," replies the first, while slipping on his Nikes.
"What are you doing that for?" screams the second, as the bear charges. "You can't possibly outrun a bear."
"I don't have to outrun the bear," the first replies. "I just have to outrun you."
I believe the next 18 months are going to be brutal for Orlando's own Big Three (Disney, Sea World and Universal).
Having said that, it seems reasonable to believe that Summer/Winter 2010 has the potential to become the beginning of a rennaisance among the Orlando parks -- with Potter opening at Universal, likely new attractions at Disney.
In the meantime, watch for all the attractions to ramp up aggressive marketing for local guests (like the Disney birthday and hotel promotions, drop layoffs and (perhaps) early retirement offers on employees and negotiate corporate partnership arrangements.
If we were at a point where we had to start looking at cutbacks in our own budgets, definitely we wouldn't be making these same kind of trips.
Last year the Disney Cast member Main Gate Passes had black out dates. For example, the WDW cast members could not sign family and friends into the Magic Kingdom during the entire month of July.
Wonder if Disney will (or has) decide(d) to waive that restriction this year. Fact remains, cast members with friends in the park will drop a little dough.
As for the rough ride that the Central Florida parks are going to experience over the next 18 to 24 months, I would advise the marketing teams to focus on an amended version of the political cliche from the 1992 Clinton campaign: "It's the local travelers, stupid."
There are just too many other better deals out there for lodging. The 4/3 offer is good but I ran the numbers and it was still cheaper for us to stay off site at a nice hotel or condo.
We are waiting to book our Disney trip in June until we can see how things fall out in the next few months. There has to be some deals in the works.
As far as waiting to book until you see if Disney has any special offers in the coming months, we had booked our trip already and when they advertised the 4/3 deal, I called right away to see if we could be switched over to that deal and we were, with no additional fees. If something else comes up that is in the same timeframe as the deal we're in, I'm sure I'll be calling them back again.
I do forsee more discounts and perhaps a drop in ticket prices altogether. If one of the parks does get into trouble, they are bound to start a "price war", causing admission fees to drop everywhere...just as they have increased everywhere. Disney has the added advantage of discounting their hotels, but that will only go so far until they start taking losses. With all that the Disney hotels offer, the profit margin for them can't be that big even without economic troubles. They can only go so far with discounting hotel rates, unless they want to sacrifice a little of that Disney quality of experience.
The park with the decided advantage in Orlando right now is Universal. The Harry Potter project...as much as I loathe it, will be big, and may be the thing that gets them through the lean times without too much harm done. They have the advantage of offering hotel rooms, yet don't have as many to fill as Disney does. They are able to offer a more complete experience in a shorter, less expensive amount of time than Disney can.
In short, the size and scope of Disney, which has made them a lot of money in recent years, could be a huge disadvantage, because maintaining those large numbers and profit without cannibalizing some things will be next to impossible in the coming months.
It really is gut check time for Orlando parks, because soon the money won't be flying around as much. I think that most of the seasonal parks will be just fine, because they have the advantage of the staycation (provided they use it), and the good ones know how to run a tight ship and operate (and sometimes thrive) in subpar economic conditions. I guess my theory will be put to the test.