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Could Disney Gain Through Offering Thier Annual Pass Holders More?

Please welcome Michael Owen to The Disney Blog for this guest post. – ed

Throughout the current economic crisis theme park operators around the world have been coming up with varied marketing tools in order to keep the turnstiles turning and their hotel rooms full. Disney Parks & Resorts have been no different; Jay Rasulo commented at D23 that Disney’s recession-busting marketing strategy ‘Celebrate Today’ saw around 1 million people coming into the parks around the United States for free on their birthday.

Disney has recently announced their promotion for the New Year, ‘give a Day, Get a Day’. To put this simply if you do some volunteer work for a day Disney will offer you a free day ticket to one of their parks in either Florida or California. Of course this promotion will get a large number through the park gates, maybe more than the previous promotion. This is all well and good, but I’m not sure if Disney is really aiming their promotions at the right audience in order to best benefit their parks.

The most recent promotion and the one just announced are aimed mainly at those coming for one off trips, the same can be said for the free dining and buy four get three free on hotels and tickets. All of these offers are for people who are most likely coming on a vacation, or only for one day; meaning there is a limit to how much they will spend on-property over the duration of their visit. Admittedly, this does keep hotel rooms full and attendance high, but looking at it from a financial perspective I think heavily marketing towards those looking into, or currently in ownership, of an annual pass would prove much more successful.

So, why do I think annual pass holders are important? Simple, repeat business. An annual pass holder is going to want to make the most out of their investment, so they’ll be in the parks as often as they can be and whilst they are there they’ll most likely be spending money. Annual pass holders may not spend as much in a day at the park as a tourist would but the difference is a tourist may be in the parks 14-days a year whilst an annual pass holder could come 365 days a year, if they had the incentive to.

That’s the key point, an annual pass holder needs a reason to visit the parks more often, some sort of discount or offer which allows them to save money and/or have a more enjoyable time in the park. My suggestion for this would be a ‘Share the Magic’ promotion. My idea for this would be that anyone who buys an annual pass is allowed a select number of days a year in which they can bring a friend to the park for free. It’s similar to the ‘Celebrate Today’ and ‘Give a Day, Get a Day’ promotions apart from with this Disney are getting the profit from an annual pass.

By offering free days for friends Disney would see an increase in annual pass sales as people who wouldn’t normally see the annual pass as good value may have their mind changed by this offer. On top of that an increase in annual pass holders would see an increase in the money spent in park, as there’s more people there to spend it. As well as this the ‘friend’ who the annual pass holder brings on selected dates would be spending money in the park as well meaning Disney would be benefiting from offering such a promotion.

It also may be worth increasing the discounts that annual pass holders get whilst in the parks, it may mean they’re not paying as much for selected products but it may give them the incentive to buy something they wouldn’t at a higher price, again increasing the annual pass holders spending inside the parks. By being offered these discounts annual pass holders will feel that a day at the park is cheaper than before the promotions were introduced, meaning they’re more likely to visit more frequently.

Combine this with the current promotions, such as the recently reintroduced buy four get three free, and you’ll see both profits from both tourists and regular visitors increase, much better than just targeting one segment of the theme park visitor market, which is what Disney are doing now by primarily aiming at those visitors coming from long-distances domestically and those living outside of the United States.

Everyone enjoys being rewarded for their loyalty, maybe it’s time Disney took note of that too.

M. Owen