It's going to cost a bit more to stay in the heart of the action at Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Florida resort starting next week. Disney World will start charging overnight guests with cars parking fees for bookings on or after March 21.
The amounts may not seem like much, proportionally speaking. The nightly rates -- $13 for the resort's value-priced properties, $19 for the moderate ones, and $24 for the high-end deluxe hotels -- will be a small piece of the far more expensive on-site Disney World vacation. However, as you can probably imagine, social media is ablaze with park fans arguing that the theme park giant has finally gone too far. Regulars naturally hate whenever Mickey Mouse digs deeper into their pockets, but shareholders may see things differently.
1900 Park Fare
The argument here is that charging guests for overnight resort parking is a sign of the times. Disney World's nearest rival -- Universal Orlando -- has been demanding parking fees for years. There are plenty of budget lodging options around town with free paved lots, but most of the area's better establishments have historically charged guests for their parked vehicles.
Disney stood out because of its free parking as well as its complimentary Disney Magical Express motorcoach transportation to and from Orlando International Airport. It feels that now is the right time to introduce a new line item to guest bills, and there could be more to this move than simply increasing its revenue per available room.
There's momentum in Disney's theme parks business. Domestic theme park attendance rose 6% in Disney's latest quarter with per-capita spending up another 7%. This is the only Disney segment growing these days, and the near-term outlook is just as impressive. Disney revealed during last month's earnings call that reservation bookings were running 3% higher than at the same pace last year with guests paying 13% more in the process. There may never be a right time to introduce a new fee, but if you're going to do so, you may as well do it when things are going well.
The neat thing about this move is that it may encourage more guests to leave their cars at home or to not bother renting vehicles at the airport. Disney Magical Express is a free benefit, complete with free luggage delivery and resort-side check-in on the way out. There's a method to the madness if that's the case, as families with their own cars will likely venture outside of the resort to find cheaper meals elsewhere, buy groceries off-site, and -- more importantly -- hit up rival attractions. Charging guests to park is essentially a car tax, and that's one more way to keep its overnight guests close.
Many hotel guests will turn to Uber or Lyft to venture outside of Disney World's clutches, but the vast majority of visitors will settle for letting the resort's growing transportation options shuttle them from place to place within Disney World. One way or another, Disney will find a way to milk more money out of its park guests, and while 2018 may be a hard sell in terms of new attractions, this is just one more masterful chess move for the media giant to claim checkmate next year when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge comes online.