Theme Parks Introduce Demand Pricing

theme-park-demand-ticket-pricing-comparison-The Walt Disney Company announced a move last month to adopt demand pricing at their U.S. theme parks, a first for attractions.

Demand pricing, also called surge pricing, is a methodology in which prices fluctuate based on perceived or actual demand for a product or service. It has been used by the airline and hotel industry for decades and is also used by ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

For Disney, this means that on low demand days, a visitor could save $5 on a single day ticket. But on peak days, ticket prices are $20 higher. A single day “value day” ticket to the California attraction starts at $95.

When the LA Times reported the price change, they shared that a one year operating calendar for the parks would include 30% value days, 44% regular days and 26% peak days.

Looking at Disney’s online ticketing calendar, which shows prices by day for single day tickets, the breakdown is fairly even. This month, prices are at peak due to Spring Break, but during subsequent months, all three prices are available based on day. You can buy a regularly priced ticket every day in June, but if you plan a visit in July, the weekends will reflect peak pricing, and weekdays will be “regular” prices.

Universal Studios Hollywood also uses demand pricing at their California theme park, but their online ticketing calendar shows a mix of prices, with the incentive to purchase a reduced price ticket in advance online versus “front gate” pricing.

Pricing Strategies Changing at Theme Parks

Anytime a travel organization changes pricing, they are subject to criticism. Last October, Disney raised the price of its annual passes, one of which is now in excess of $1000 per year. At the time, Fortune magazine speculated that the changes in pass features and benefits was an indicator of a move to dynamic pricing. They weren’t wrong, as Disney made that move in late February.

Managing attendance during peak periods is a challenge for attractions. As Bloomberg reported on the price move, Disney is attempting to match price to demand. The double digit growth that Disney has seen for the last two years also played a part in the decision and let’s face it, every theme park has physical limits to the number of guests they can handle each day, no matter how many new attractions are added.

Now that two of the big players in the theme park industry have taken the plunge to demand pricing, there’s no doubt that others will follow.

Pros and Cons of This Change

If you run a theme park or attraction, why wouldn’t you want to manage your peak season crowds more efficiently? Create a better guest experience by limiting the number of guests and give them actual space to enjoy their visit.

If you are a traveler and you are taking a trip in a high demand period, you already paid a premium for airfare and most likely, your hotel stay. If a higher price at the museum, theme park or zoo meant that you and your family could actually see the place without the oppressive crowds, wouldn’t you take it?

This is just the beginning. Watch for demand pricing to change the way we experience theme parks, zoos, museums and other attractions in the coming years.

Taking a Fall Vacation? Take My Advice

Welcome Sign at a Tennessee State Park This time of year is considered off-season by the travel industry, and for many, the lure of lighter crowds makes a fall getaway very appealing. But if you’re thinking about taking a vacation in fall or spring, the travel industry’s “shoulder periods,” you should be prepared for a different experience. Here’s what I found on two recent fall getaway trips.

Crowds were lighter, but so were available services. Many destinations power down toward the end of the season (or are gearing up before summer). You might also find some experiences which happen only in this time frame, which make the trip very desirable.

Rate changes abound. Sure, you’re not paying the same rate as July or August. You might even find a bargain or two. But hundreds of destinations have fall or spring festivals of some kind. Art, craft, music, heritage, are all celebrated in these shoulder periods. These events tend to have loyal followings and nearby accommodations fill fast. Shop ahead and book ahead, unless you like sleeping in your car.

Still, there can be cost savings in an off-season vacation, according to a story in last week’s US News and World Report.

“It is important to remember that sometimes a destination’s peak season is not the best time to be there; rather, it’s the time when school is out in locations nearby and that’s why crowds arrive and prices go up.”  Said Wendy Perrin in the story, which you can read here.

A boat making its way across a lake under stormy skies Whatever the weather! Forget the lovely postcards of trees turning orange or beautiful cherry blossoms emerging after a long sleep, the weather is a crap shoot.  When you’re from Texas (like I am), it doesn’t matter where you travel, you are just never prepared for rain.  Be prepared for rain – or any weather, for that matter. This fall, a huge storm system caused a power outage at our rental unit which lasted several hours.

Bring stuff with you. Take the time to print out a map or two. During our recent getaway to the Tennessee Hills, our cell service was sporadic and we relied way too much on our mapping applications, which was a mistake.

Surrender to the middle seat or “friendship seat” as one airline calls it. There are still no empty seats on the plane. Summer season or shoulder season, it really doesnEdgar Evins State Park’t matter. the airlines are running at full capacity. Be prepared to be cozy during your flight.

In a recent story from Travel Leaders Group, it appears that travelers are embracing the off-season. 90% of the travel agencies polled said fall bookings are the same or better than 2013. Their top 5 destinations for fall – Orlando, Las Vegas, Maui, New York City and Honolulu – means that less known destinations have room for more travelers! You can read the results of that study here.

We loved our fall vacation, despite its quirks and crazy weather. My advice: It’s worth considering — just take an umbrella and have a Plan B!

Halloween is Sweet for Texas Attractions

A big spider in a tree at SeaWorld In case Halloween is under the radar at your attraction, here are some staggering stats from the National Retail Federation.  170 million people will celebrate Halloween this year, according to the group’s annual consumer spending survey.   24% of those plan to “visit a haunted house,” a category which has grown consistently year after year from 14.9% in 2005.

It’s no surprise then that area attractions are looking to capitalize on spending this holiday. Why shouldn’t they?  Most Texas attractions can only grow so much in the summer months and are looking for ways in which travelers can enjoy a repeat visit, extend their length of stay or spend additional money.

While Halloween activities are not new, they are growing in popularity and diversity with categories for children and adults. Here are three in San Antonio which are new this year.

Face Your Fears Tour at SeaWorld

This is an add-on to a SeaWorld visit and includes backstage tours of key attractions at the park’s Howl-O-Scream event, front of the line access and reserved seating.  When you purchase this tour, you get a daytime look at how the Frightmare Forest is designed and a makeup demonstration with real tips you can try for your own Halloween costume.  The Face Your Fears Tour  is one of several unique experiences offered by SeaWorld at Halloween.

“Halloween is one of our park’s most celebrated and well-received traditions,” said Brian Carter, director of PR & Digital for SeaWorld San Antonio. “We add new elements to Halloween and our other consumer events as a way to grow the footprint of the event and keep our guests coming back to see something new.”

Terror on the Plaza

In downtown San Antonio, just across from the Alamo, Ripley’s Believe it or Not added Terror on the Plaza during select dates in October.

Dinner and a Ghost Tour

This combines dinner at the Menger Hotel with a local tour by Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours for a special combination attraction in September and October. Details here.

These all address the “ghastly” side of the holiday, which is an expensive investment for smaller attractions.  There are many other themes which a destination, hotel, or small attraction can consider to take advantage of the milder temperatures, seasonality and consumer travel habits.

Harvest – PSignposts at SeaWorld's Howl-O-Scream point the way ! umpkins and apples are a natural, but special menus and festivals for foodies are on trend.

Photography – While your visitors are munching on seasonal goodies, they might also be taking pictures, as the folks at Tourism Currents point out in their recent newsletter.

Family – Any theme that helps families carve out time together can bring added visitors to your destination.

With the average person spending $79 at Halloween (up from $49 in 2005), it’s a season that attractions need to think about expanding in the future.

Read the National Retail Federations’ complete Halloween Spending Survey results here.

Ed Note: I was given the chance to experience the Face Your Fears Tour at SeaWorld in preparation for this story.

The Tourism Paradox

Tourists vs. travelers. Which do you want visiting your destination?

Tourists are those somewhat doe-eyed, hapless visitors who are incapable of decision-making without a guidebook or map, while a traveler is some independent soul enjoying a physical and spiritual journey independent of coupons, specials or freebies.

Not true. They’re really one and the same. The dictionary doesn’t really offer significant differences between the two monikers.  Tourists visit a place for leisure or culture, according to Webster, and a traveler “is one who travels.”  Hmmm.

So why do tourists get a bad rap? And, for that matter, why do travelers get forgiveness for their easygoing stereotype?

Isn’t the point to experience the place, culture or event and come away changed? Shouldn’t tourists or travelers or even citizens for that matter, enjoy and preserve what they see and experience?

I recently attended the PRSA Travel and Tourism Section conference in my hometown of San Antonio, as part of the host committee team assisting the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau with logistics. (Disclosure: I was paid for this project).

The closing speaker was Keith Bellows, TITLE who talked about the principles of geotourism.  He was the perfect ending speaker. Bellows’ call to action was loud and clear: some of our best-loved and most beautiful destinations are “under siege,” buckling under the weight of visitors, traffic, pollution.

After reflecting on his presentation, I think we should create a new definition for visitors, one that reflects a higher consciousness about preserving the character of places.

Should it be geotourist? Maybe geotraveler? How would it be defined? How would it be different to what the dictionary currently describes? Here’s a suggestion to get the discussion started:

Geotourist:  One who visits a place, embracing its culture and contributing to its future viability.

If you knew your favorite monument, lake or park would most likely not be there for your grandchildren to see, would you contribute to its future?  This summer, let’s look at viability and preservation as our guiding principles for the tourism industry.