Disneyland hasn't fixed its "unfavorable" Magic Key problem. In fact, the resort may have made the relationship with its most loyal fans even worse.
Disneyland created its new Magic Key annual pass program one year ago. That means the passes of the first people who had bought Magic Key passes were about to expire. For weeks, those pass holders have been begging Disneyland for information on how to renew their passes, since Disneyland had stopped selling all tiers of Magic Key months ago.
This week, Disneyland finally shared that information, announcing that Magic Key renewals would start tomorrow morning... and oh, by the way, the prices are going up between 7% and 16%. And Magic Key's top tier is now gone, replaced by a new top tier that is blocked out for the fist time during the week between Christmas and New Year's.
All this follows last week's social media dust-up over Disney mentioning "an unfavorable attendance mix" at the Disneyland Resort, in its most recent quarterly financial report. Many Disneyland fans saw themselves as being labeled "unfavorable" by Disneyland executives, even though what Disney meant was that Disneyland's per capita ticket revenue suffered when the parks' attendance skews toward Magic Key holders instead of daily ticket buyers.
In a TikTok video last week, I shared my suspicions that the company's desire to skew that mix back toward daily ticket sales was one of the reasons why Disneyland took so long to figure out the terms for Magic Key renewals. And that Disneyland executives were trying to walk a fine line between discouraging Magic Key sales while not further angering loyal pass holders who were already frustrated by having to make sometime-hard-to-get reservations to use their passes. (Some pass holders even sued Disneyland over the new Magic Key program.)
The renewal details announced this week by Disneyland portray a company trying to tiptoe on that line. A mild (in this economy) price increase, coupled with a swap of benefits - new blockout dates for some couple with minor parking discounts for others. And everyone gets a modest discount on the new Disney Genie+ upcharge, even though more useful Maxpass was included at no extra charge in the top tier of the old Disneyland annual pass program.
But Disneyland is never going to change the mix of guests at its California theme parks by tiptoeing around the annual pass problem that Disney itself has created. If the company thinks that too much of its Disneyland attendance is going to Magic Key holders, this week's program changes are only going to make that problem worse.
Increases to daily ticket prices might reduce the number of people who buy daily tickets. But price increases on Magic Key (and Disneyland APs before them), actually end up incentivizing pass holders to use those pass more often. Sure, some pass holders drop out of the program, but even among those who drop a tier, everyone who stays wants to visit the parks more to make up for the price increase and get value from their pass. That ultimately leads to more pass holders visits to the parks.
Disneyland has seen this with almost every price increase over the past two decades. Yet the company seems to behave as if it believes that the next price increase will somehow turn out differently. Yes, reservation requirements allow Disneyland to control the number and mix of visitors coming into the parks on any given day. But the harder it becomes for Magic Key holders to get the reservations they want, the more (justifiably) angry they become. So unless daily ticket buyers show up to sell out available inventory, Disneyland relents and opens spots for more Magic Key holders, pushing the mix back to what Disneyland was trying to avoid.
The only solutions I see to this "unfavorable" problem are these:
1) Give up and admit that Disneyland is not Walt Disney World. Admit that Disneyland is a locals' park and go all in on adjusting the business model for the park to accommodate the majority of visits will be coming from pass holders.
2) Drop Magic Key and stop trying to offer any form of traditional annual pass program. Honor loyal visitors with a bulk discount or rewards program. (Remember when you could buy a 10-day ticket where the days never expired?) Make everyone buy date-specific tickets or open-ended ticket packages with required reservations to use the tickets.
Pick one of these two extremes, then deal with it. Maybe the new total blockout on Magic Key during the busy Christmas week is Disneyland's first step toward option 2. We'll see.
But trying to play to both sides of a dilemma - like Disneyland otherwise seems to be doing now - is only making everyone frustrated with this whole process. And Disneyland should be the place where we can go to escape frustration - not to have to wallow in it.
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