Will soaring ticket prices dampen theme-park attendance numbers?

Have you been to a theme park lately?

Attendance across the globe is skyrocketing, and it’s pushing parks to find what they consider clever new ways to extricate as many dollars as possible from clientele.

Companies such as Disney, Six Flags and Comcast, which owns the Universal Parks & Resorts, see the buoyant market as a perfect storm of opportunity. They’re raising prices, creating new high-end events and giving customers opportunity to spend hundreds of extra dollars a day to skip long lines for rides.

The same type of thing is aggravating airline customers: Rapidly rising prices and the need to buy myriad add-on features. Once included, now people pay the fees in the desperate hope of turning a miserable experience into something somewhat tolerable.

Sadly, there are plenty of suckers out there willing to pony up big bucks to do that. Problem is, I am one of the suckers. I’m not sure if there is anything I can do about it; so in the hopes of making happy Haussman kids—I pay. Crowds are thick, lines can stretch on forever and with a single-day park ticket for an Orlando theme park topping $100, suckers like me are willing to pay this pricey ransom in order to get my kids on some rides.

Otherwise, it’s a matter of waiting an hour or more to enjoy certain attractions. No ride is worth that, even Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Yes, it’s the hallmark of what a modern dark ride can be, but waiting on lines all day simply sucks.

Attendance Soaring

According to figures provided by the Themed Entertainment Association, in its 2015 Theme Index, the Top 25 amusement/theme parks attendance grew worldwide 5.4 percent in one year. The top 10 theme park groups worldwide saw attendance leap 7.2 percent.

So they’re doing what any company would do: Embark on a shameless cash grab and raise prices repeatedly to see if they can tamp down excess demand in exchange for fewer customers that pay considerably more than a few years ago per person.

Whereas Disney used to raise prices marginally every year, they’re doing it several times a year now and at a steeper rate, and the company recently introduced tiered pricing at its four parks at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Price Gouge? 

Check this out: Allears.net reports that in May of 2009 a one-day ticket was $75.00. Three years later the same ticket was $89. Prompted by growing crowds the price soared to $105 by February 2015 for the Magic Kingdom and $97 for the remaining trio of parks. Now it’s $124 for peak times of the year.

That’s a near two-thirds price increase in less than seven years. And people are still coming out in record numbers. Magic Kingdom alone saw a 6-percent one-year attendance increase to 20.4 million, while Disneyland saw a 9-percent increase.

Over at Universal, they’re basically forcing Harry Potter fans to buy more expensive multi-park tickets. If you don’t have it, well, you’ll never get on the Hogwarts Express. Yet, they’re coming in droves. Universal Orlando is home to two theme parks and Universal Studios saw its attendance soar an otherworldly 16 percent to 9.5 million visitors, while its Island of Adventure park saw an 8-percent jump to 8.8 million.

Like society, theme parks in many cases are becoming a case of the haves and the have nots. Folks with more money are spending extra at Six Flags and Universal to skip lines so as to get in more rides per day. And those staying at more expensive on-site hotels get to skip lines by staying at select Universal Resorts. At Disneyworld, staying on site gets you better access to ride reservations (more on that system in a future article) and access to certain parks during Extra Magic Hours.

It’s a good time to be in the theme-park business. I like them; my kids love them. But to fully enjoy them, they’re becoming so expensive I do not know how an average family can afford these types of vacations.

Next week, I’m taking my kids to the more reasonable Hershey Park in Hershey, Pa. We must get in some summer roller-coaster fun (if Hershey people are reading this, I would love to catch up with your execs when I am there) before school starts. Since it’s not as costly, I can load the kids up with more chocolate. Because, after all, they don’t have enough sugar in their lives.

But with the parks going gaga over climbing profits, I suspect it is eating into hotelier’s profits. As prices continue to soar in an amazing travel economy, and on-location hotels become more predominant, what happens to all the hotels that are nearby, but not a part of the complex?

Do you expect to feel the pressure of downward rates. What’s your strategy? I would love to find out.

Email me at [email protected] or on Twitter and Instagram @TravelingGlenn and let’s start a dialogue about what is happening to businesses tethered to a theme park experience.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.