Disney tries to solve its popularity problem

Oct 5, 2015

Disneyland has raised the price of its top-of-the-line annual pass to $1,000. For that, you can wait in lines for hours any day you want — no blackouts. A single day's admission will stay the same. But for the first time, Disney is considering off-peak pricing at its parks — basically charging more on busy days and less when the park is quiet.

John Zhang, a marketing professor at the Wharton School, took his family to Orlando over Christmas a few years ago and ran right into the type of teachable moment you don't want to have on vacation. 

"The Magic Kingdom was so crowded," said Zhang, "that they closed the door, and you couldn't get a ticket."

If Disney used peak pricing and charged more for tickets at busy times like the holidays — or less for tickets at other times —  Zhang said the crowds may have been thinner. He also said he would have been willing to pay a premium to get into the park that day, "given that I'm already here with the family." 

Disney has been using a peak-pricing strategy at its Paris theme park. General admission is $94, but on quieter days it drops to $64.

Tony Christopher, president of Landmark Entertainment Group, has been in the theme park business for 35 years and said Disney has a tough balancing act when it comes to ticket pricing.

"Ultimately, if you go back to what Walt Disney believed, he believed that first and foremost Disneyland pricing should not exclude anyone from being able to go," he said.

But with attendance at record levels, the parks are increasingly overcrowded. And a three-hour wait for Space Mountain is bad for visitors and for Disney.

People "can't spend money when they are waiting in lines," Christopher said. 

He said raising admission prices has done nothing to solve the demand problem.

So Disney has started surveying recent visitors to its U.S. theme parks to gauge their feelings about off-peak pricing, as the company looks for new ways to keep the magic in the magic kingdom.