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How do we stop the price wars?

We spend a lot of time complaining about the prices we're supposed to pay to get into the park, so let's find some solutions.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted January 10, 2003 at 3:43 PM
Disneyland has just increased its prices, so has Universal Studios Hollywood. I work at a theme park and our prices have gone up to around $35 for an adult. Single daily admission to most parks now costs more than a decent meal for two!

What can we do to stop the price wars? Or should we even bother?

Will you stop going to your favourite park when the price reaches an extravagant amount? Have you stopped going to your favourite park, or gone fewer times in a season because the price is too much.

We spend a lot of time complaining about the prices we're supposed to pay to get into the park, so let's find some solutions.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Jason Herrera
Posted January 10, 2003 at 6:22 PM
Simple don't pay to get in. But, many enthusiast are suckers and will pay an outrages price to get into a park!

All in all the only park that's been semi-decent is six flags. Season passes for marine world were at $50, now there's a deal. But still they gauge you with $10 parking!

There's ways of defeating Disney at it's own game, but unless robert allows me to post them, I'll not type a thing. ( my 5 yrs of reserach into the amusement park industry has pulled up some interesting things, from emergency responses times to major weaknesses concerning ticket policies.) When money's tight and the mouse wants to rip every last dollar out of your wallet, you've got to do what you've got to do!! These tricks work at all other theme parks as well. People who've pulled them off were amazed on how well they worked and how much money they saved.

As far as my stance, I DID NOT renew my season pass to disneyland. Will renew with Six Flags though. The parking is a rip-off, but that's why you go with other people or better yet park somewhere and walk :-) I hear the santa clarita metro system is GREAT!

There are two ways in getting free parking at disney as well (and no not through an annual pass), but unless robert gives me the Ok, I will not post them. These two ways are legal too.

Jeez, maybe I should write a book on how to get the most out of Disney, without draining your life savings!

From Ben Mills
Posted January 11, 2003 at 4:18 AM
When I went to MGM, we went through the staff gate at the entrance to the car park by accident. The people on the booths for normal customers didn't do a thing, so we got through without paying.

From Jason Herrera
Posted January 11, 2003 at 11:11 AM
Interesting... But this doesn't even involve staff gates or anything like that.

This is a lot more convenient. No need to sneak around or hide. It's about finding ways to save a dollar or two in an already over priced disney resort, without resorting (no pun intended) to running and hiding, and hoping no one sees you. :)

From Anonymous
Posted January 11, 2003 at 12:33 PM
How about just paying and getting over it.
Inflation is a reality.
Disney is not greedy, everybody involved in a ligitimate business is. Busch includes parking with their season passes. Rent a handicap van ... free parking right next to the main gate.

-spongebob

From Anonymous
Posted January 11, 2003 at 7:59 PM
OR YOU COULD JUST GO TO THE PARK AFTER A CERTAIN TIME WHEN THEY DON'T MAKE YOU PAY BECAUSE THE PARK IS GETTING READY TO CLOSE. THE N YOU COULD ALSO GO TO ONE TO THE RESORTS AND CATCH A BUS OR A BOAT!

From Anonymous
Posted January 11, 2003 at 8:20 PM
I work at Cedar Point. Do you guys have ANY idea how much overhead there is at amusement parks? EVERY SINGLE RIDE is insured. Ya know how much you pay for a car that you and maybe a few others drive? Yeah. Now imagine what it costs to insure a 300 foot coaster that millions ride every year. Imagine the bills for electricity. Imagine the water bills. Imagine maintenance.

You know how much money those coasters cost, right? Between 15 and 25 million. How do you think they're paid for? How do you think they pay for the incredible amounts of employees that work there?

Is 35 bucks or whatever REALLY a lot to ask for considering you get an entire day's worth of world-class entertainment? This is why prices are so high. Before you guys can complain about amusement park prices, you'd better also take a few seconds to think of overhead costs. If you want lower costs then OK, but don't complain when you don't get new rides, every ride is not staffed for you to be able to ride on, and the park starts to look like crap.

From Matt Brown
Posted January 11, 2003 at 8:41 PM
I definately don't complain. I think 35 bucks is very very cheap for a theme park. I definately don't mind plopping down 50 buck for IOA (well, actually I have a season pass, but...I didn't mind plopping down the money for that) I've always thought about how much overhead there is. I mean think about how much it costs to run a ride like Spiderman. I think most parks have very reasonable prices.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 11, 2003 at 8:41 PM
I think the larger issue is that theme parks appear to be moving toward an airline model of pricing -- a high "walk-up" rate, with a variety of discounts available, based on many criteria.

No, I'm not happy with that. As a visitor, life was much easier when there was one rate to pay, no reservation systems to deal with, and an obvious order in which to ride the various rides.

But theme parks are much more complex these days. Which makes me happy, as a Web publisher, because that creates a huge audience for sites like this one, where people go to help make sense of the expenditure they are about to make.

So long as parks continue to make a wide variety of discounts readily available to all consumers, I'm not that concerned about the size of the "rack rate." Let's be sure to keep in touch with each other about those discounts, so none of us ends up at a front gate paying the sucker's price.

From Anonymous
Posted January 11, 2003 at 9:06 PM
I'd like, to know Jason's methods,they legal?

From Jason Herrera
Posted January 11, 2003 at 10:19 PM
Renting a handicapped bus, come on steve, that's below the belt.

No need to get to the park when it's about to close either. Just go about your regular routine. Never a need to alter your plans, or to alter anything.

The parks pay some good money for insurance, never a doubt about that. Are there ways to lower insurance cost for these rides, and the park as a whole? You bet there is! But the amusement park industry is so hard headed, that they never look at the obvious,and that's what makes the amusement park industry such a unique industry.

And $50 to enter a park is a lot of money to today's american family. What a lot of you fail to realize is this, a lot of people aren't as enthusiastic about roller coasters and theme parks as you!

From Noel G
Posted January 11, 2003 at 11:18 PM
As a suggestion to the group what if suggested to Theme Park operators they used alternative energy sources ie solar power or kenetic energery for every time a roller coaster runs a coaster track energy is captured via battery and gets used elsewhere in the Park or pur back into the power grid. Sounds to be on the greenies side but hey if it is to cut costs so be it. Or do as suggested here in the land of Oz, a price freeze for a commited period of time ie 36 months etc. Or do as suggested by a good friend of mine lower the front gate admission ticket price thus allowing more ppls to enter the Parks gaining more revenue? Or dont charge a front gate admission and charge for shows as you go see them. Like you would do when u go to a travelling fair ground.

Cheers Noel G

From Philip Curds
Posted January 12, 2003 at 8:48 AM
THEMEPARKS HAVE SEVERAL REVENUE SOURCES

Every amusement park in the world has several sources of revenue, many of them are obvious, others are highly difficult to analyse without significant financial background.

1. Gate Admission
This is the direct way of raising cash, and often the most important way of raising revenue for park expansion, however as I will demonstrate it is not the only way forward.

2. Season Passes
Season Passes were begun by Six Flags in 1996, they have proved extremely popular for themeparks, supplying a lump sum up front for the rest of the year whilst some themeparks depend too much on season passes, like Six Flags, others do not, such as Parc Asterix. The last financial figures from Six Flags revealed season pass sales last year were down across the country.

3. Advertising
This is done through either direct sponsorship, or combined marketing ventures. Many parks ignore this vital source of revenue stream, most have sponsorship, but marketing schemes and music video advertisements could raise huge sums, if management were willing to investigate.

4. Corporate Trips
These attract good sources of revenue, but if a park must close to regular guests at the same time as having corporate events, the park may find it unwise to do such deals. However, these are a good source of streams in the off-seasons.

5. Parking Admission
Parking is becoming increasingly important across the world, but many themeparks have still not seen the advantages in automated ticket machines, adapted from car parks, instead they rely on expensive human deployment ticket staff.

There are others, but cost reductions can be made throughout the business, I personnally prefer spending on advertising than rides, they are increasingly more likely in an economic downturn to become more dependable in future growth.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted January 12, 2003 at 11:38 AM
Of course we would like to see the price of admission to theme parks be lower!!! But as one posted every park has fixed costs, be it employee's/insurance/ride maintence etc. i think the parks use discounts too spur more visits in a down economy but of course if the economy was different their would be less ways to get into the park other than paying full admission. I have no problems with the parks using various methods to discount admissions because i do my homework to save money when i can and feel no sympathy for those who dont and pay the higher fee's. I have no problems with the price of admission but feel much different for parking where there are no alternatives and food etc. if you spend a full day in the park you can easily get your money's worth(the only exception may be SF when they intentionaly operate rides at less than capacity in a attempt to force one to pay for a fastlane!!)

From Marty Bartholomew
Posted January 12, 2003 at 1:58 PM
If you are planning a trip and you pay full one day admission prices, you are a fool. I'm going to 5 parks this year for 10 visits and full daily admission is $420. I will instead pay $195, a savings of $225. You have to use season passes, multi day tickets, coupons on the website, check the parks local grocery stores for discounts and check this site for people posting park discounts. Simple homework will save you money. I have never paid full price yet and have no remorse for anyone who cries about paying gate prices.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted January 12, 2003 at 10:51 PM
Noel: I think you may have come across a great idea. The idea of having parks generate their own energy (at least a portion of it) would save parks a lot. Energy is one of the most expensive overhead expenses for a park...it costs a lot to run Dueling Dragons, or Millennium Force. There are numerous ways that this could be done:
1) Solar Power: Most parks have many buildings with flat roofs that aren't being used for anything, would the cost of installing photovoltaic (Solar) panels be worth the savings?
2) Hydro-electric: Could water rides have hydro-electric generators to generate their own power. They could use power off of the grid to start, and then switch over to the generators once the water is flowing?
3) Kinetic power: I don't see a way to do this. How do you get the Potential energy to create the kinetic energy without expending the same amount of energy you're creating?

If we can convince parks to do this, how do we make that translate into lower prices at the gate? Or would most people be happy to get more for their money, to see the parks re-incest the money in more/better rides/shows?

Ideas?

From Kevin Baxter
Posted January 13, 2003 at 1:50 AM
Inflation? CRAP! Overhead? More CRAP! I heard it takes less than 2000 people to enter the gates at Disneyland before they are making money. They get that many on SLOW days, so how much are they making when attendance is about 50K? And inflation has not risen more than 10% in the past year!

I honestly think Disney wants to raise prices to encourage people to buy their multi-day passes, which are overpriced too. Who needs three frickin' days at those two parks?

From Anonymous
Posted January 13, 2003 at 8:30 AM
Baxter the know-it-all. What you heard is wrong. Take it from someone that works in Finance and Ticketing at DL Resort. 2000 guests isn't even payroll for the day's cast. Blah blah blah out your butt every post. I'm sorry, but I listen to you folks complain and complain and complain about how expensive it is and how a park is only worth X amount of dollars. Compared to other forms of entertainment, even DCA is a great value. I'm not sure what qualifies you guys to be "enthusiasts", because you seem to forget the big picture when it comes to admissions as a revenue stream. Profit is almost never made at the gates! Consider the reasons behind that as an exercise posting topic!

From Anonymous
Posted January 13, 2003 at 8:52 AM
I've actually always found it surprising how cheap amusement parks are, compared to other forms of entertainment. Theater, musicals, sporting events, rock concerts - they're priced almost the same as theme parks, but you only get a few hours of fun. Even going to the movies now costs $8 or $9 for just two hours of entertainment.

12 or more hours spent at a theme park for just $50 or less seems like a good deal to me!

- J

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 13, 2003 at 9:42 AM
The prices are warrented as long as the park is kept in good condition. It's up to the park to strike a balance between adding new attractions along with maintenance and themeing for existing attractions. If a park is anticipating adding future attractions and giving its employees pay increases, then an admission hike is the easiest way to accomplish that. The parks will continue to raise prices until they can longer stay in the red. It's a very delicate balance that parks must reach, but the best(Disney and Busch) do a great job and are able to keep top employees and add world class rides. It requires a bit of a crystal ball also, because you aren't quite sure if your admission increase will hurt your attendance, and how much new attractions will cost after all is said and done. As much as I hate it, the new trend of rides and attractions being sponsored by corperations has become a great tool for theme parks to balance the books.

However, the newer trend of allowing outside food vendors into theme parks is something that should end right now! It doesn't benefit anyone. The theme park doesn't get the full concession profit because they're purchasing the brand, the brand doesn't benefit because they have to charge extra for their concessions to offset the cost of leasing the pavillion, and the guest doesn't benefit because they're getting the same food they can get outside the park at a 25% or more markup along with eliminating traditional theme park fair.

In the end, theme parks will only go as far as the guests are willing to go, so if they can get into the red with admission prices at $60, that's what they will charge. It's all supply and demand, and as much it may seem to suck, most theme parks are actually worth the cost of admission, especially if you buy a season pass.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 13, 2003 at 11:14 AM
Excellent point, Russell, about outside vendors. It's typical myopic, MBA thinking: reduce the upfront expenses by bringing in "partners." And forget that such deals choke off your revenue in the long run.

Many of the problems we see in the theme park industry today, and in the economy in general, are due to the proliferation of MBAs in companies' management ranks.

Sorry, management is not a distinct skill that can be separated from knowledge of what a company produces. Attempts to do that inevitably reduce managers to spreadsheet jockeys and number crunchers, who gut a company's long-term position for maximum short-term gain.

An experienced manager, who gained his or her position by working in the company rather than going to a business school, would know that bringing in a bunch of outsiders would hurt the company's revenue in the long run. That's why the Disney company (who had such managers back then), spent the 1970s and '80s buying out all the outsiders that Walt had to bring in to get the Disney parks launched.

Another point to consider, here -- insurance. Theme parks are trying to pass along higher insurance premiums through admission increases. Long term, prices are set by customers' willingness to pay, and not sellers' production costs. But theme parks are going to this airline-style multiple pricing system in an attempt to fleece a few suckers, while not driving away the hard-core fans who are likely to find discounts.

That said, I think we'll soon find out that the insurance industry is pulling the same sort of scams that Enron and the energy industry were pulling two summers ago. Don't believe anyone who tells you that larger court judgments and increased claims are driving premiums up. Nope, it's insurance companies trying to cover their losses in the stock market and a few players in a consolidated market trying to exert market power that's too blame.

If we had real anti-trust and securities enforcement in this country, the insurance industry wouldn't be able to pull this off, and theme parks would have one less expense hurting their bottom lines.

From David Harrison
Posted January 13, 2003 at 11:43 AM
I think if the parks are going to keep building bigger, better, and more expensive rides, then we have to expect to see prices go up!

If you get a season's pass, then your locked in with a good rate for a year, and the renewal rate is usually cheaper than the current going rate!

Yes, it is a pain to shell out $50 for the Orlando parks, and to pay anything for SF Over Georgia. But they continue to build, and we all have to eat, therefore the prices to up.

If you complain about paying, that's your problem. Just remember all the moaning and groaning your doing when your on the newest and fastest coaster with a big smile on your face!

By the way, I DO NOT work at a park, I just understand business!

From Kevin Dreyling
Posted January 13, 2003 at 12:18 PM
Higher prices are justified under these terms: Keeping building more world class rides and run them at MAX capacity except for very slow days otherwise don't raise them unless a new ride is built. The STUPIDEST thing is raising prices during the middle of the season like parking prices. If you need to raise parking do it at teh beginning of the season. I've heard SFGAM pulled that crap a few years ago. You can charge premenium prices if the have premium qulaity rides and service otherwise go screw yourself if you want to screw the customer!!

From Anonymous
Posted January 13, 2003 at 12:43 PM
I agree with David Harrison.Just buy a season pass at the end of the current season for next year.You'll save a ton of money and if you like to visit often, it's worth it. By the way, solar panels and crap like that only go over big in places like CA, where folks really give a damn about the environment. I work at CP, and we have enough trouble just getting enough ride maintenance mechanics, carpenters, plumbers and electricians to keep what we already have in working order. We certainly don't need more work for them. I get into the park free, so I can enjoy the rides whenever I want to; but I know that it can be really hard on families to fork over all that dough. Our customers are loyal, though, and come back year after year. After all, we have a great park!

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 13, 2003 at 1:19 PM
The only problem with APs is that some parks are so outrageuosly priced, you have to live within 100 miles of the park to redeem the value of the pass(Disney and Universal(somewhat)). Most other parks APs are great. This season, I'm probably going to have 3, maybe 4. Most APs break even at 2 or three visits, so if the park is big enough(Cedar Point) even if it's outside of you region, it is better to get an AP just for two days, especially since it's good at other parks owned by the same company. For instance, I live in the Washington D.C. area, but plan on going to Cedar Point this summer. I'm going to make a run up to Dorney park for a day in May(120 miles away), just to get a Cedar Fair season pass for later in the summer, and possibly a trip to LA in November to Knotts Berry Farm. The one day to Dorney and two days at Cedar Point and the possible day at Knotts will allow me to save almost $40, and that's assuming I could find 20% discount coupons for every park. Some parks even offer multiple year passes that allow you to lock in the price for 2 years(Busch's Platinum Pass) Also, if it hasn't been said before, whenever you go to WDW, you should buy the biggest multiple-day pass you can, because the days NEVER EXPIRE, and 50 years from now that $50/day ticket is probably going to cost $200/day or more.

From Anonymous
Posted January 13, 2003 at 9:51 PM
Does anybody have a list of expenses for, let's say, WDW's Magic Kingdom? Things like popcorn and Stouffer's Mac 'n' Cheese are provided either free (the popcorn) or in exchange for advertising (like Stouffers's logo next to their items on WDW menus). And on the flip side, I would imagine the cost of cleaning and painting that park as often and as thoroughly as they do a HUGE expense.
A simple list of money made at the gate/food/merchandise vs. money spent on rides/employees/upkeep would really help any debate on rising costs...

From Kevin Baxter
Posted January 14, 2003 at 2:58 AM
Ummm... anonymous goober up there... they don't mean that 2000 people PAYING ADMISSION is enough. There is some number somewhere as to how much the average guest spends in a day at the park. So I'm sure someone has figured out how many people are necessary to enter the park to get into the black. Overhead divided by Spending per Guest equals Number of Guests Needed. Considering DCA turned a profit and they get under 5000 guests on a regular basis, I am sure the correct number is in the low thousands. Yes, DL has more attractions and CMs, but they also sell WAY MORE merchandise.

David, so what has Disney built that is "bigger, better and more expensive?" They haven't built ANYTHING like that since Indy in 1994, so that excuse goes right out the door. What about DCA? That park's barely WORTH a couple bucks. I clearly stated elsewhere that rising prices are fine, if the parks are giving you something for those extra bucks. Of the parks who have raised prices (USH, DCA, DL and SWO) only USH is offering up a substantial attraction this year, and even theirs won't show up for another 5 months or so!

As for the costs to run the parks, you could probably find that in a Disney financial report, if you can slog your way through that thing. Problem is, the parks are ALL profitable as is. Disney's are so profitable that they are the largest moneymaker in the world of Disney. So this has little to do with needing the money as it has to do with seeing if they can get away with it.

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 14, 2003 at 8:17 AM
So a park is NOT allowed to raise prices to fund future attractions? A park must have something new in their park before incurring an increase? That seems kinda backwards to me. A park should be able to raise prices to fund something in the future, and in the case of DL, all of the 50th anniversary makeovers are comming, so DL is anticipating a drop in attendance due to marque attractions being closed (Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Haunted Mainsion, etc...), so in order to offset the anticipated decline in attendance and to partially fund future improvements, an admission increase seems more than warrented. I see the arguement that a park cannot expect patrons to pay more for fewer attractions. Disney should do a better job of letting people know what's going on with attractons, especially the fact the Space Mountain is closing at the end of the month, so that the guests know what to expect from their next visit.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 14, 2003 at 11:25 AM
Actually, a park can raise prices whenever it wants. And it ought to raise prices whenever demand increases to the point where the park's approaching capacity on a regular basis.

If a park wants to use the extra money from a price increase to fund new attractions -- great. But, as I've said before, price is a function of demand, not a park's expenses.

That said, I think that much of the opposition you're seeing here to Disney's price increase is due to frustration with the company over the past decade. Russell, you say that the 50th anniversary rehabs are coming. But word from inside the company suggests that many of those proposed rehabs are being scaled down or eliminated entirely.

Many theme park fans simply don't trust Disney anymore, after debacles like Light Magic, California Adventure and Tomorrowland. They want to see Disney deliver a real improvement before forking over any more admission money. Promises of future improvements from Disney won't cut it with those consumers anymore.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted January 14, 2003 at 11:56 AM
I would agree with Robert in that disney has used up alot of the godd will they have built up over the decades and have squandered it with their recent actions,escpiecally with AK/DCA where they intentionally gave their guests substandard parks with the belief that if they build it people will come.While i still love the disney theme park experience they have done little of late to improve it and have done alot to diminish it.

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 14, 2003 at 12:33 PM
So the ultimate question is...Where in the world is all of that money going? Is Disney so obsessed with customizing attractions that they are wasting money that could be used for new attractions? Should Disney built a lot more fully themed stock rides like Mulholand Madness/Primeval Whirl or throw tons of money at few massive custom attractions like Mission:Space or Tower of Terror? It's a balancing act that I don't think anyone has the right answer to. Guests want to one-of-a-kind experience that only the custom attractions can provide, but they want lots of them(they want to have their cake and eat it too). Having never been to DCA, I'm somewhat polarized by the constant bashing of that park that occurs here and other sites, not to mention its poor attendance figures. But, that park could not have been cheap with its many custom rides and attractions, and the more custom the ride, the better it seems to rate on this site(California Screamin' and Soarin' Over California). So if the park doesn't have enough attractions, but the one's people want cost tens of millions of dollars, what is Disney supposed to do?

Animal Kingdom is another story. That park is just totally lacking in attractions. It is relying on it's animals to provide the entertainment, and aside from the bird show, there are no formal animal shows. That means Disney is counting on kids to sit still in the hopes that a sleeping animal will do something cool. Disney definitely should have planned at least one more e-ticket attraction prior to opening AK, but they took the gamble, and they are having to pay for their decision. AK was a nice park, but having the National Zoo(free admission) 20 minutes away, I don't see myself paying $50 for that park again until one or two more rides are added. But again what should Disney do...Do they plunk $200 million into a brand new park for two custom attractions that will most likely be big hits and a new land(assuming the beastly kingdom rumors), or a few well themed stock rides that everyone on this site will grumble about for one tenth as much?

Sometime I wish I was an insider and knew some of the reasons why decisions are being made, because it is very possible that we are missing the boat on a lot of Disney's reasoning, and they think that they're doing what best for us, but are relying on bad sampling data that doesn't represent the majority of guests who visit their park, or maybe we don't represent the majority of the people who visit their parks. It is possible that the growing popularity of Six Flags and Cedar Fair has lowered most people's standards and don't expect as much out of Disney as some people do. I would be willing to guess that about 50% of the people who visit Disney parks weren't alive when WDW was first built(that includes me), and about 25% weren't alive when EPCOT was first built. So a lot of people who are visiting their parks do not fully understand Disney Magic. I think it's still there, but Disney's attempt to cater to so many different people, they have lost what was essential to their success. They are also trying to stay current but still providing "family entertainment." What was cool to us as a kid is not cool to kids of today. Disney is faced with the dilema of pleasing the purists who want to keep old "classic" attractions which cost increasingly more money to maintain and rehabilitate(Matterhorn), and youngsters who are looking for more exciting and more thrilling attractions then we ever experienced as a kid. So what do you do, do you tear down Space Mountain and build a new Space Mountain which pisses off the parents and pleases the youngsters, or do you spend almost as much money to rehab the Matterhorn to please the parents and the kids go to Six Flags to ride something more thrilling?

From Anonymous
Posted January 14, 2003 at 12:41 PM
Russell, the ultimate answer is: into the bonuses of the CEO's and major shareholders! At a lot of parks, they get absolutely immorally HUGE bonuses if the park turns a profit(which they almost always do). As far as designing attractions, I think the folks in P&D (that's Planning and Design) have good intentions when they come up with some of this stuff, especially the WDW folks who like to use popular movies as a basis for attractions, but they sometimes fail to take into account the "amusement park mentality", whereby people expect every single thing to be wildly exciting and fun, and something as mundane as watching animals in a "natural" setting is too tame for them. Hell, when I worked in Yellowstone National Park, people used to ask me all the time where the rides where!!!

From Robert OGrosky
Posted January 14, 2003 at 7:26 PM
The pay of the CEO's while it may be high(escpecially if one follow's liberal class envy) i dont think has much affect on the parks at all. What is hurting the parks is ABC/Disney Stores and other failing ventures that causes money to be siphoned from the theme parks. Not to mention the debacles like the ovitz firing/katzenberg lawsuit/go.com portal/Winnie the Pooh lawsuit among a few of the recent events that has cost the company hundreds of millions to a billion dollars. Its obvious its time for Eisner to leave due to his mismanagent of the company.

From Kevin Baxter
Posted January 15, 2003 at 3:07 AM
Robert is absolutely correct. The massive profits from the Disney parks has long been used to make up for profit problems in other areas of the business. And that simply doesn't cut it.

As for DCA, Russell, you have no idea how cheap that park is. Put it this way... IOA cost just over a billion to build. DCA cost the same, if you include Downtown Disney, the roadwork and the new garage. I would guess that DCA itself cost no more than 600K. Which means it cost HALF of what IOA cost. And the vast majority of the money went into shops and restaurants and not into rides. For every Soarin' Over California, there is one clone and one off-the-shelf ride. And their allegedly "custom" attractions are basically three: Soarin', Screamin' and the Grizzly River Rapids. I wouldn't even count Golden Dreams, since it is just a film, or that Limo thing, since it was cheap and closed so quickly. The park is ugly, cheap and there are few attractions of any worth inside it. At least AK is pretty and has animals.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted January 15, 2003 at 9:34 AM
Robert: you have a point about the effects of supply and Demand, but what about a park which has anually raised prices, while only meeting 50 or 60 percent attendance (on average) or lower? What about current economic factors? The US is in the middle of a depression, is this the time for Disney to be asking people for even more money, when there is less of it out there?

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 15, 2003 at 11:18 AM
Matthew, what do you mean by 50-60% of park attendance? Do you mean the park is only at 50-60% capacity, 50-60% of last years attendance, or 50-60% of estimated attendance increases. If the parks are only at 50-60% capacity, and they still seem rather crowded, then maybe they should raise the prices to thin the parks out or adjust their capacity numbers. I'm pretty sure that the parks did not report attendance figures 50-60% less than last year, so that's not possible. If the parks are only getting 50-60% of estimated attendance increases(which is what I think you meant), then we have a problem, and there are many ways to solve it.

First, you can hire new forecasters that are more able to predict trends in the industry, currently most parks are gaining 1-10% each year in admissions, so to predict anything more than that would not be a sound practice. Forecasting is a difficult job, but forecasters know that its better to error on the side of caution, and if that's not being done, then new forecasters are needed.

Second you could lower admission prices/keep them steady. This will allow the parks to maintain the status quo, and theoretically gain at the same rate as the previous year. That also asumes that the previous year was an "average" year. Obviously if a park is nearing capacity on many days throughout the year, then lowering prices would be out of the question, because then the quality of the experience would be deminished.

Finally you could raise admission prices. This is course that many parks are taking. Comming off a year where many parks are still trying to find their identity after 9-11, most parks experienced modest growth. Additional growth is expected in the comming year, so it seems logical to raise prices, not only to maximize profits, but to manage growth. If a park grows 20% in the next year, how is it supposed to come close to matching that growth the following year? Most parks don't have the ability to expand to meet that kind of demand, so by raising the admission, you control the rate of growth while increasing profit margin. It's been proven that many people will still go to the parks regardless of the price, so why not make the most out of the situation while creating a "nest egg" for future expansion.

If your park is having trouble handling the crowds today, as evidenced by Marc-André Routhier trip report over New Year's week, then raising the price can control the growth tomorrow and allow time for the park to expand. It's all about "growing pains," and I think Disney is experiencing them, especially in the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland(more so because of the closing of marque attractions).

From Matthew Woodall
Posted January 15, 2003 at 6:40 PM
Thanks Russell, I was actually talking about 50-60% of estimated total capacity...but I better understand the reason behind the continued price increases. You are obviously someone with a lot of experience in the industry.

Thanks for sharing!

From Marc-André Routhier
Posted January 15, 2003 at 7:54 PM
Hi folks!

I would like to present a different perspective on pricing. Pricing in every business is hot issue. Nobody likes to spend a lot of their hard earned money.

Problem #1 : The average family income in Canada and the US hasn't been soaring over the last few years. Inflation was controled. Many people have even lost a lot of their retirement money invested in stocks.

Conclusion: People don't have more money to spend on entertainement.

What do people do when prices are moving up but not at same rate as their income? They think twice before spending it? Are they making the right decision? Can they have as much fun while spending less on some different experiences? If i still want Disney would I go as often?

Also: We are all making one crucial mistake when taking only the admission price into consideration. A 2$ increase seems like nothing but we are forgeting that, for most of us, going to a theme park means hotel, airfare, food,...

The actual price of a one day experience at Disney cost me : 300$US/day during the holidays. Not 50$. This price includes food, air fare, hotel, park hopper.

People are not complaining about the 2$ but about the overall cost/day.

When I went to WDW on dec 28th and realised that every key ride was packed, it pissed me off to pay 300$ US that day just to make 4-5 rides and eat hotdogs/fries.

The theme park offering for travelers is so much expensive that people will look for altenative entertainement. This opens the market for new comers and reduce, to my opinion the long term growth of this industry.

Finaly about Disney strategic thinking

Russel,

I disagree with your reasonning about family entertainement. You are saying that parents want to keep old rides and youngsters want thrill. To me it's not showing on attendance figures. MK has much more visitors then any other park. Even today. This means old and magic is still prefered (2 times more then thrill parks). What does it mean?

We are still hit by the techno wave. Theme park executives are fascinated by technologies and are replacing creative content by it. It's easier, take less time and less creators.

Problem:

Thrill without content is empty, doesn't touch people's heart.

Thrill has no lifetime (thrills rides are obsolete very quickely)

Thrill is only a trendy thing. Now weightlessness is hot. In 10 years it will be something else. In 10 years they will have reinvested and reconstruct everything.

In 20 years Peter Pan will still be magic. Not Mission Space.

So overall I think they should go back at making great stories and making rides with them instead of try to please thrill seeker that will never, anyway, be satisfied completely.

Have a good day
MA Routhier
Montréal Canada

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 16, 2003 at 12:53 PM
Magic Kingdom has the highest attendance because it has the most attractions and is the most difficult park to complete in one day. Therefore, MK gets more admissions because of the shear size and scope of the park. Not to mention when a family goes to Orlando on vacation, who is in charge of where the family goes, the parents. Parents who were kids during the birth of the Disney theme parks, they will naturally be drawn to the Magic Kingdom above any other park. You also have to take into account the universal appeal of the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The other parks are targetted at different groups of people, and do not contain the same universal appeal that MK and DL have. This universal appeal however, is declining as people are being given more entertainment options, and technology affords us more exciting and thrilling options to MK and DL.
The first time I went to WDW at age 6, I found it terribly exciting, because there was nothing else like it in the world, and there was so much stuff to do. My opinion of WDW at the time was that it was the most amazing place on earth. As I grew older, I outgrew the rides, but still returned to remember my childhood, but the thrill was gone. Did WDW change? Not really, I changed, and my tastes adjusted to want more thrilling attractions that I had experienced in other parks. Not only have I changed, but the tastes of younger children have changed. 6 year olds today want something more thrilling than a dark ride, and Disney is trying to accomodate the changing tastes(Aladin's Magic Carpets, Indiana Jones, etc). Disney's is still trying for the kids, but a 6 year old kid today is not the same as a 6 year old kid 25-30 years ago. Disney needs to recognize this, and tailor attractions to meet the desires of today's youth, while still attracting the people who bring the kids into the park(parents). It's a Catch-22. because you leave an outdated ride in place for nostalgic reasons and the keep the parents comming back, but the kids, who have had thrilling experiences, want and need something that means something to them.
We have been innundated with so many ways to entertain ourselves that Disney is having trouble keeping up, while still offering the "Magic" that they promise. If heart warming stories are so critical for success, then why is Disney loosing market share? The classic rides are still there, but society has changed, and Disney should and will invest in more thrilling attractions that appeal to current theme park goers.
Buzz Lightyear is a perfect example of Disney meeting the needs of today's kids. Kids today, need to interact with things, and using characters that they can relate to makes the ride thrilling to them. The competetive aspect appeals to adults who will continue to bring the kids back for more. Sitting in a car and watching animatronic figures is loosing out, and Disney needs to find a compromise, and I have faith that the admission increases are going towards creating new experiences for todays kids.

From Jason Moore
Posted January 16, 2003 at 12:53 PM
so are you saying that one of Disney's most popular "thrill" attractions, TOT, would be just as successful without the excellent theming and Twilight Zone story? You can have both thrills and story telling. They work hand in hand to create the overall experience. One without the other CAN be GOOD, and appeal to the masses, but it's when you get creative and put them both together that you get GREAT rides that remain classics for longer periods of time.

From Marc-André Routhier
Posted January 16, 2003 at 12:40 PM
Russell!

First of all thank you for your kind and gentle response.

I would like again, to express my point of view. When you say : "If heart warming stories are so critical for success, then why is Disney loosing market share?" there is a logical answer to it which is: " Because Disney's stories are no longer heart warming"

Most of their stories are predictable, standard predesigned scenarios (just read books on the matter you will see, it is stuning) that deliver standard movies. We haven't been touched deeply by Disney in many years. Yes, Toy story was good, but heart warming? The only thing that touched my heart recently was The Lion King. But again a sad story of a baby lion trying to survive in the evil world and eventually by miracle achieve freedom and social power.

I sincerly believe that the trend in screenwriting is way too psychological. Always someone trying to overcome personnal problems, loneliness in such a dramatic way that i wander where is the entertainement. Peter Pan use to fly. Who would't like to fly by magic power? Ok he needed to face the cruel capitain but it was in a fun, childish environnement. In today's movies we see too much super hero like Buzz Lightyear in real environnements reminding us of a tough life, a tough world. This is where I think most screenwriters are making a big mistake. Entertainement serves escapism of everyday problems not virtual close up of problems.

To move people you need to put them in a world where they would dream to live, dream to experience things. They don't want to be reminded that life is a bitch and that if you transform yourself you will succeed. (LIFE AS A BATTLE). Do you remember the following song in Mary Poppins: "Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medecine go down...."

We are far too serious and psychological today in entertainement or too funny without good heart warming content. This observation is based on my personnal values. You may think differently but in my opinion nothing will ever beat warmth, caring and love in entertainement.

I strongly believe that Disney's problems are related to the fact that they are no longer able to touch us deeply, to make us forget the present in order to enjoy a happy moment of life.

Have a nice day

MA Routhier
Montréal Canada

From Marc-André Routhier
Posted January 16, 2003 at 1:18 PM
Hi Jason!

All i'm saying is that i'm not attached to the twilight zone story. OK the ride was a physical thrill to me and attractive. But there was so much people on my last visit that i decided not to go. Was I greatly dissapointed? No. I was much more pissed off not to be able to go again in Peter Pan the ride because it was too crowded. I'm attached to the magic of the story and to fly in the air.

Teen and young adult will love TOT. But in 10 years will you still want to go to WDW to ride TOT? Is this what you will be looking for? Or will you demand newer more thrilling rides? Will i still want to see Peter Pan in 10 years? Yes!!!!! That's all I'm saying. I think very great stories will last forever and their rides too. I guarantee you will see the Pirates of the Carrabean ride in 20 years. I doubt you will see TOT in 20 years when you will be able to fly over the earth for 500$/ticket. TOT thrill will be nothing compare to this incredible experience. As you know, US companies are building planes right now to fly over the earth atmosphere in the next 5 years.

Thrill will kill WDW. They will fight whoever has thrill including a 1/2 hour flight over the earth. Do you think that they will beat that?


MA Routhier
Montraél Canada

From Robert OGrosky
Posted January 16, 2003 at 2:25 PM
I think TOT measures up against and all disney rides ever made and will stand the test of time!!! The ride has a thrill element to it but tells a great story in typical disney detail thatit will be around as long as past classic's and while some may not get the story line, most do!!

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 16, 2003 at 4:08 PM
I agree that Disney has yet to produce any new material that matches up to their "animated classics." Maybe their out of recycled fairy tales, or they just don't have the same creativity they did 30 years ago. I still think it's becoming more and more difficult for entertainment companies to cater to children, because children are being raised differently then we were raised. Everything is a fad in a childs world, and to find a character that has not already been exploited beyond belief is nearly impossible. Children are tough to please, and their ever shortening attention span makes it difficult to find something that will last. I actually think that if Atlantis and Trasure Planet were released on the day that development started, they would have made a lot more money than they actually did. It's hard enough to figure out what a kid wants today, so you might as well forget trying to predict what a kid want 3-5 years from now.
Disney's products have lost a lot of their charm, but so have a lot of things in the world today.

From Robert Niles
Posted January 16, 2003 at 5:29 PM
Actually, I've waiting to jump on someone for mentioning the allegation that kids' attention spans are diminishing.

(So... sorry, Russell.)

On June 20, walk past any bookstore in the English speaking world, and you'll likely see dozens of children lined up, waiting for the chance to buy a book.

Not any book. A 1,000-page book. And, come midnight, when those kids can buy the book, many of them will sit down and read the entire volume, cover to cover. Tens of thousands of children will stay up, day and night, reading, until they finish the thing. Kids' attention spans are just fine, thank you. It's the quality of so much of the stuff they are given to watch to that is diminishing.

Disney, Universal or any entertainment company can command an unbelievable amount of attention and focus from the world's children. And its adults. All they need do is quit churning out garbage and instead invest the time, money and talent to find the next Harry Potter.

From Russell Meyer
Posted January 16, 2003 at 6:20 PM
I contest that Harry Potter is a fad...As evidenced by the movie sequel doing far less at the box office against lesser competition. JK Rowling is merely the CS Lewis or Judy Blume of the present. Harry Potter has been able to capture a very wide audience, and because of careful marketing strategy, Rowling has been able to capitalize. Children have paid attention to the series, but only when something new comes out. Once the newness fades, so does the interest. If not for the movies, this fad would have died 2 years ago, shortly after the release of Goblet of Fire. However, a book that is over 50 years old(LOTR) is currently outselling Rowling's works, thanks to movie publicity.
Everything marketed to children is a fad nowadays, including Harry Potter, with companies trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Just look at children's entertainment...There are more children's programs than there are days in a year, and they're always changing. The Disney Channel alone debuts new show about every other week it seems. There is no longevity among children's programs which leads me to assume that children's attention spans are growing thinner and thinner. I think I am younger than many people who post here, but when I was young(early 80's) there were at least 5 programs that I watched for more than 5 years of my childhood. Maybe I'm just strange, but today, it seems there are very few things that can hold a child's attention for more than one year.

From Marc-André Routhier
Posted January 16, 2003 at 8:22 PM
Now Russel I must jump in again!

My little 12 year old has read these books at least 3 times each and is still tempted to read them again and again. I guarantee that if a park is built on the Harry Potter theme she will want to go again and again and again. She is desperatly waiting for the 5th book not because she's getting bored of the old one but because she wants to know the next step in Harry's adventure.

What Theme Park business people don't seem to understand is that they are building and selling characters and stories to whom you are attached to.

Carefull: The sucess is not only due to the studio's marketing strategies. Marketing alone is nothing. Without a very good character, it won't last. Exemple: Treasure planet. Even with enormous marketing ressources, no kids are attached to the hero. The story is too ordinary and the kids are not buying into it. Marketing is not the prime reason for sucess. The characters and the attachement to them are the key reason for the sucess.

Also sales figure is not the only thing to take into consideration to evaluate the attachement of the public to a character or story. The longivity of the characters will determine the level of attachement. We need to look over the long haul. Just trying to make X millions instantly is a very dangerous marketing strategy. Some classics took years before becoming famous. Today, we judge people and companies by the level of immediate success. It took Walt 30 years before creating a permanent bond with the american people. Asking for immediate successes is killing creation. It is asking all creators to adapt to trendy matters and walk away from profound inspiration. Sales should be there to support further creative efforts and give guidance but not to rule the orientation of a company. Only it's core values should dictate the future of a company. Strategies can change but not the values.

In conclusion: The key to any long term profitability and building a franchise is solid stories and great characters.

Unfortunatley, Disney is no longer able to create animated classics because they have become a film machine. They are no longer creators. The start of a production is no longer the magic but the need to produce X, Y Z. It's doesn't start from the heart. They make movies to make revenus and no more to explore the vast possibilities of the human mind and heart. Because of that they need artificial thrill to compensate for the lack of content. So they invest tones of money on great images, graphics and few on creation and rich character building. They have emptied the well of creation. They now have technician producing movies. No more creators. This is why we feel hungry after seeing Treasure Planet.

Too bad they don't understand it.

MA Routhier
Montréal Canada

From Ben Mills
Posted January 17, 2003 at 12:57 AM
Well said Marc.

But I have to agree with Russell on the fad thing. I HATE Harry Potter.

From Anonymous
Posted January 17, 2003 at 12:58 AM
"Unfortunatley, Disney is no longer able to create animated classics because they have become a film machine. They are no longer creators. The start of a production is no longer the magic but the need to produce X, Y Z. It's doesn't start from the heart. They make movies to make revenus and no more to explore the vast possibilities of the human mind and heart. Because of that they need artificial thrill to compensate for the lack of content. So they invest tones of money on great images, graphics and few on creation and rich character building. They have emptied the well of creation. They now have technician producing movies. No more creators. This is why we feel hungry after seeing Treasure Planet. "

Off topic, but that magic died with Frank Wells and I totally agree with you...the Parks at one time were run the same way, with love and magic before the bottom line. Maybe one day Disney will wake up and remember what made the films and the parks the wonders they are.

From Anonymous
Posted January 17, 2003 at 12:50 AM
pure profit from dl i use to work at sea world califorina. you pay 2.oo dollors for a soda they only pay 5 cents for every drink that is serve from a fountain. insurance wise they go buy how much a person is awarded in court. so if a person got no more than 5 mil. they would take out a 5 mil. policy. then you got some 3000 underpaid employees do the math PROFITS PROFITS PROFITS

From Jason Herrera
Posted January 17, 2003 at 2:11 AM
Under paid employees is an understatement!

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