It's the season of giving, and Disney (NYSE:DIS) is giving theme-park regulars in Florida an easier way into Disney World's four gated attractions. Disney is introducing entrances exclusively for annual passholders this morning at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Setting aside entrances for its passholders may not seem like a big deal, but it eliminates a layer of frustration for annual passholders who just want to scan their MagicBands and enter the park. It's typically holders of one- or multi-day passes that hold up the lines with ticketing issues or the lack of familiarity with the high-tech admission system.
It's fitting that the new perk should be introduced on the first day of winter. The next two weeks are peak season for Disney World's theme parks, and anything that it can do to get folks in and out of the parks will be appreciated by all guests. The new passholder lines may or may not be permanent. Disney is only saying that they will be up through at least next month.
There's always a method to Disney's madness, and it's easy to speculate on the reasons Disney has taken this long to offer this perk. Many regional and some national theme parks give passholders expedited admission queues.
It's probably not a coincidence that Disney is offering this just as attendance at its domestic theme parks has been sluggish, posting year-over-year declines in two of the past three quarters. Disney also pushed out a double-digit increase in prices for its annual passes late last year, and it's been trying to sweeten the pot by including on-ride digital photos and more recently expanded dining discounts coinciding with the Magic Kingdom's turning 45.
Disney seemed to be dissuading annual pass ownership late last year with a big hike at both Disney World and Disneyland. Disney also introduced more passes with blackout dates, a move to nudge regulars to visit during non-peak periods. It could have gone too far, judging by the rare dip in guest counts during the March and June quarters.
The world's largest theme-park operator has also been slow in rolling out new e-ticket attractions. Offering another incentive for annual passholders to renew when there may not be a lot of new experiences within the parks is smart.
Disney should also benefit from the visibility of the annual passholder lines at all four of its Florida attractions. Unlike regional amusement parks that don't have a problem coming at guests with billboards and hard sells on the way out to upgrade one-day tickets into seasonal passes, Disney is whisper-quiet about promoting the offering within the park. Folks with single- or multi-day tickets may not even know that paying for an entire year of access is possible. They will see that now, and it may encourage families to snap up annual passes and book repeat visits within the year to make the most of the new purchase.
Disney's throwing its passholders a bone, but it's also well positioned to gnaw away at it, too.