Disney has partially reversed course on Annual Passholder availability and sent out mailers and gifts. Universal, however, is getting aggressive and adding value.
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Disney Increases Annual Passholder Availability
Reports this week show widespread increases in park admission availability for Annual Passholders. Almost every day had availability for those who wish to visit. This is a substantial course reversal from where it was just a few weeks ago when Annual Passholders were unable to find almost any availability in advance. Local Passholders commented that they were able to find availability on the day of the visit if they checked frequently throughout the day, but that practice didn’t hold many benefits for those living outside of Orlando.
However, it’s worth applauding increased availability for Annual Passholders.
Disney Giveth, Disney Taketh Away
One issue with the new reservation system is that it doesn’t allow Annual Passholders to park hop, a major benefit of the pass. A daily retail park-hopper pass runs from $200-230 depending on the day. Annual Passholders enjoy the privilege of moving between parks at will because visits are unlimited (during the seasons for which they have subscribed.)
By keeping the reservation system in place, Disney continues to limit Annual Passholders to one park per day. That system is here to stay. Does this mean that outside of COVID-19 restrictions, park hopping is to remain a benefit solely for retail customers rather than included for Annual Passholders? And if this remains the case past COVID-19, is this not a material breach of contract?
Disney sent out a note to Annual Passholders:
“As some of our most cherished, loyal Guests, we wanted to offer our heartfelt thanks. For your patience. For being part of our world. For just being you. We know these times have been difficult and the Park experience may be different, but the magic is still here. And it’s waiting for you.”
They included a Passholder magnet, one of a few they give throughout the year as Passholders visit the park. As I have made it known in the past few weeks, Disney’s CEO was open about swapping local Passholders for those who would come from farther away and spend more money. But to placate Passholders as “cherished” and state that the magic is “waiting for you” are outright lies. They weren’t cherished guests two weeks ago, rather they were second fiddle to those who were perceived to spend more (those guests didn’t keep their reservations.) And it’s not been waiting for Passholders until this week when they finally opened up availability.
Universal Studios Is Going For The Jugular
While perhaps not in all markets, in some markets Universal Studios is absolutely blasting all advertising channels. It’s not just the ads they are blasting, Universal is amping up their offering. Florida residents receive unlimited visits through Christmas Eve when they buy a single park-hopper for $164. The rest of the country will get two free days when purchasing two and the commercials are running all the time in my experience.
We saw Universal Studios ads on every TV in restaurants, online, chasing us seemingly everywhere. It wasn’t just during commercial breaks either. Slide up ads during ESPN’s coverage of the NBA strike talks (coincidentally, ESPN is Disney-owned) amongst other ads kept Universal on our minds. They miss us, and they want us to know it. I haven’t visited Universal Studios since I was a child, but they seem to be interested in my business and maybe that’s enough to bring me back in.
Never let them try the competition because they just might not be back. It looks like perhaps Disney is about to learn that old business adage first hand.
Disney’s customer swap backfired and they have begun changing their processes to allow Annual Passholders access back into the parks. They have shortened the hours of operation due to lack of crowds (though some seasonal changes take place annually) just as guests can finally get into the parks. Universal, on the other hand, is going after families that want to travel in a very robust manner. It’s peculiar that Universal Studios can manage a park-hopper for any Florida resident, while Disney can’t do it for even their Annual Passholders.
What do you think? Has Disney reversed course on Annual Passholders? Is it too little too late? Is this Universal Studios’ moment?