ending its annual pass program — at least for now. Could this provide a glimpse of the future at California's Disneyland?This week, the Tokyo Disney Resort announced that it is
The home to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea has been conducting a lottery to determine which annual passholders may visit the park on any given day, due to overwhelming demand while the parks' capacities are limited. The resort will stop conducting the lottery for assignments after December 2020 and will begin issuing refunds for pro-rated annual passholders. The resort also will not extend annual passes for the period that the parks were closed, as it had offered during the pandemic shutdown.
Tokyo Disney said that it will provide an update on the future of its annual pass program by the end of March 2021.
The Walt Disney Company does not own or operate the Tokyo Disney Resort. The Oriental Land Co. operates the resort under license from Disney. But Tokyo Disney's location in one of the world's largest cities and its dependence upon a mostly local audience sometimes make its operation a better reference for California's Disneyland than Florida's Walt Disney World Resort, which is driven largely by out-of-market visitors.
With capacities reduced due to the need to promote safe physical distancing during this pandemic, theme parks would much rather have those valuable spots taken up by freer-spending guests on day tickets rather than annual passholders. That's why it has been easier on some days to get a reservation under Walt Disney World's Disney Park Pass system as a resort guest or day ticket holder than as an annual passholder. Disney never wants to see a resort guest blocked out of the parks because of annual passholders.
Many Disneyland fans have been wondering how the company would handle APs once the parks in California reopen. This week's news from the state of California suggests that a reopening might not happen for months, which leaves Disney plenty of time to make a decision. But if what is happening in Tokyo provides any guidance, Disneyland might just decide that going without annual passholders — at least for a while — provides the path of least resistance for its operations.
After the state of California this week announced its reopening rules for theme parks, Disneyland sent its annual passholders an email saying "we will have more to share with you on the future of our AP Program soon."
Disneyland has suspended the collection of monthly payments on annual passes while its parks are closed. Since Disney is not selling or renewing passes, more and more annual passes are expiring as the closure continues. Disneyland offered passholders the opportunity to call in and postpone their monthly payments until the parks return, effectively extending their pass by the number of months that the parks were closed. But since Tokyo Disney just pulled that opportunity, it's possible that Disneyland could choose to do so, as well.
If Disney were to do pull that trigger and the California parks remained closed through March 2021, the resort would not have to officially cancel its annual pass program, as Tokyo did. All Disneyland APs would have expired by then. The only task left would be to refund those passholders who had paid in full and not yet requested refunds.
The elimination of annual passes would simplify greatly managing who could visit the Disneyland theme parks when they return. Disneyland would not need to implement a passholder lottery or endure the website-crashing crush of annual passholders looking to book spots under a Disney Parks Pass reservation system.
Nor would it have to deal with the fallout from passholders who had bought higher-priced passes than the Disney Flex Pass, which was the Disneyland annual pass that required making advance reservations for most days. Part of the appeal of the Deluxe, Signature, and Signature Plus APs was that you could visit on any valid day and did not have to make a reservation, as you did with a Flex Pass. If Disney started requiring reservations for all passholders, people who had bought those higher-priced passes were going to complain that they were paying for a feature they were no longer getting.
Disneyland avoids these issues if all of its APs (or even the vast majority of them) simply go away. And if capacity limits are to continue in California indefinitely, getting out from under AP obligations would allow Disneyland an opportunity to see what its visitation base looks like without passholders... and whether it needs to add a rebooted AP program to fill the park or not.
No matter what Disneyland chooses to do in the future, it appears that many thousands of Disneyland annual passholders already have seen their passes expire, changing the mix of who will be looking to get into the parks whenever they do return.
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