Disney World in Orlando, Florida is once again restricting sales of its annual passes, but this time, it’s targeting a different group.
Disney Has Gone After Pocketbooks in 2021
For fans of Disney, it has been a rough time to visit the Happiest Place on Earth since the start of the pandemic. Following the reopening of the parks in July of 2020, restrictions from the state of Florida, the federal government, and from Disney corporate included a variety of changes to entry, lines, social distancing, capacity, and permissions.
Many of the included features of Disney World Annual Passes were discontinued to comply with these shifting standards. Of those, a reservation system went into place removing free access for pass holders to multiple parks at will, some forms of park transportation, hours of operation, photo pass inclusion, and fast pass access to avoid lines at attractions.
As guests returned to the theme parks, Disney operates four plus two water parks in the Orlando area, many of these features did not return to the annual passes. Open-air trams that bring guests from the parking lot to the park gates as well as inter-park buses have gone away and not yet returned. The Genie+ pass ($15/person/day) was added for access to prior included fast passes with some popular rides requiring additional payment for “Lightning Lane” rides.
Management has not been shy about its desire to rid itself of low-margin guests (local Disney annual pass holders) in favor of out-of-town guests that stay in its resorts and return more revenue on a per-day basis.
The resort has added an immersive Star Wars “cruise” experience whereby guests are transported to a new resort hotel within the Star Wars universe with a price tag that approaches $4,000-6,000 for a typical family two-night stay.
Disney Has Restricted Annual Pass Sales
After announcing its new Annual Pass options for both global and Florida residents that no longer included the aforementioned features, passes went back on sale with new names and new (higher) prices. Park ticket sales have flourished as pent-up travel demand brings visitors to Disney World resorts to the extent that Walt Disney World website has once again restricted annual pass sales.
All of them except one.
The “Pixie Dust” pass remains on sale and has unique restrictions. It is, shockingly, the least expensive pass available, only open to Florida residents and restricted to weekday off-peak visits. From both the targeted market (Florida locals) and the limited access (weekdays only) coupled with the low price point, this is the lowest margin guest possible.
Pixie Dust Passes are offered to Florida residents only for $399/annually or $205 down and $18.33/month for 12 months.
What This Shift Means
The move to Pixie Dust-only passes suggests that the resort is very busy on weekends. Not all annual pass holders are Floridian, and guests outside of the sunshine state spend money on resorts when they visit as well as in restaurants and on merchandise in and around the resort. Given that this pass is only available to locals on weekdays, they are looking for a specific type of audience, primarily retirees to fill parks when out-of-town families aren’t able to visit as often. This has been confirmed anecdotally both by members that have suggested they would not be able to buy and use passes given the restrictions and by those who can. It’s entirely possible that there are other local Floridians the parks are targeting who can only access the parks during the week.
It also means that response to the new passes has sold well enough that the parks don’t need more regular visitors, and park sales generally are strong. Day park tickets are the highest margin ticket Disney sells and fluctuates slightly based on demand. Oddly, park revenue was lower than expected in the last quarter, sending DIS down on the news.
The park business unit may be shifting to a new revenue model whereby they pick customers more strategically, targeting a particular set of customers to fill a need rather than making passes generally available. It also may not be possible to sell passes and park tickets without limitations due to the higher than normal demand.
One other interesting note is that with any price increase, some amount of customers will abandon the product and move on. Of all the groups, weekday Florida resident visitors may have opted not to renew, canceled, or just haven’t bought annual passes with the seem vigor as returning guests from other market segments. It could be as simple as a quota, much like airlines and hotels want to fill their planes and properties with a certain amount of last-minute business, a certain amount of corporate customers, and another segment of leisure travelers. It could be hitting that quota more than anything else.
Releasing four new pass levels, a new park-only revenue product, and a discouraging recent quarter from the Parks unit should have made for a very interesting approach to the resort business. It seems there is one very clear market they have not yet sold through and by process of elimination, the Parks group will fill that sector or die trying. In truth, it appeals to me and my family though we aren’t yet sold on the fewer benefits for the same money.
What do you think? Who is Disney targeting? Is the restriction of the other annual passes related to something else?