It's time for foodies and oenophiles to hit the theme park. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival kicks off today at Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Florida resort, a 75-day festival that has historically driven up park traffic and incremental sales at Disney World's second-oldest theme park.
Since 1995, Epcot has been transforming itself into an oasis where dozens of kiosks sell gourmet tapas-sized culinary dishes and tastings of international alcoholic beverages. The festival seems to expand its offerings with every passing year, complete with workshops, a concert series, and fancy soirees with price points to match. It works for Disney and its shareholders, of course. The festival is a way to draw folks that don't typically visit Epcot for its rides and attractions. However, Disney has a neat trick to make sure that its most avid fans ramp up their visits through the next 75 days.
The fourth time's the charm
One would think that kiosks serving jerk-spiced chicken lollipops and maple bourbon boursin cheesecake wouldn't have a problem drawing repeat customers, but Disney is offering a unique carrot to annual passholders that make several repeat visits. Disney is giving passholders who come by on four days a complimentary Chef Mickey cutting board.
Tracking technology makes everything pretty seamless, as Disney knows when a particular passholder has scanned a MagicBand or ticket to enter Epcot on four separate dates. This is just one more way that Disney's reportedly $1 billion investment in MyMagic+ technology is paying off.
This isn't the first time that Disney has rolled out a door prize for diehard regulars. It has offered wine glasses and other giveaways to repeat visitors in the past. It's also handing out commemorative passholder magnets with just a single trek through the high-tech turnstiles, just as it has done in recent years. The petite cutting board should still draw a great amount of interest.
Epcot isn't phoning it in with this year's festival offerings and passholder goodies, and it can't afford to at this point. Epcot slipped to third in attendance last year among Disney World's four theme parks, something that has never happened. It has consistently been the second-most-visited attraction at Disney World since its 1982 opening, but a surge in interest for the Avatar-themed expansion at Disney's Animal Kingdom last year pushed Epcot down to the bronze medal podium. It may be kicked off the podium altogether next year after Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Epcot has some new attractions of its own coming. It has already announced that a Ratatouille dark ride and a Guardians of the Galaxy indoor roller coaster will be opening. Both new rides will be welcome additions to the park when it doesn't have the festival wooing guests, but Disney hasn't offered up a firm opening date for either ride beyond saying that they will both be online by no later than 2021.
Epcot will be a busy place for the next several weeks with the festival. Thankfully, it has a plan to stay busy in the future once the booze stops flowing, with the two new rides going online in the next two to three years.