Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) has been welcoming more and more guests back to its theme parks after the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to temporarily shut the doors to visitors at various points over the past 18 months. These closures cost the company billions in lost revenue.
As it tries to get its financial footing back, Disney is testing a new feature at its theme park in Paris. The company is allowing guests to purchase premier access passes that would allow them to skip lines entirely. Folks can purchase premier access to a ride they wish to go on at a specific time slot without waiting in the long line. The move has the potential to solve two problems simultaneously.
1. Boosting revenue to pre-pandemic levels
At a price of between 8 euros and 15 euros per ride per guest, the line-cutting pass could raise revenue at the park substantially. It's similar to the free Fast Pass feature that was available at Disney parks prior to the pandemic, but it is more convenient in that the paid version allows the user to pick the time slot they wish. Folks using it regularly could easily spend more on premier passes than on the price of admission. And excluding the cost of technology to develop the capability, the revenue from these passes will almost completely fall to the bottom line.
If the program proves successful in Paris, Disney could extend the feature to the rest of its theme parks. That could play a big part in bringing revenue back to pre-pandemic levels. In fiscal 2020 alone, the segment that includes theme parks, experiences, and products reported a 37% decrease in revenue from the previous year.
The loss in revenue caused a pronounced drop in operating income for the segment, going from $6.7 billion in 2019 to a loss of $81 million in 2020.
2. Reducing complaints of long wait times
One of the more common complaints from guests visiting a Disney theme park is the long wait times to experience attractions. Before the pandemic, it was getting harder and harder to find a time of day or day of the year when Disney's theme parks weren't filled close to capacity. It was common to wait over an hour to access the most popular rides.
In offering a premium pass that allows guests to skip lines entirely, Disney can reduce complaints of long wait times. If the program works as it's intended to, guests who really want to experience an attraction without waiting in line can pay for the privilege (some restrictions do still apply). It can serve as empowerment for frustrated guests, who can now pay to improve their experience.
Not without risks
Still, the move is not without risk. It could alienate regular guests who are unwilling or unable to pay for premium access and who may have to wait longer to go on rides. Or the demand may be so high for premium passes on certain rides that not everyone who wants to buy one can. It may improve the experience for a few guests but make it worse for others and overall not really solve the problem.
It is prudent, therefore, that management is testing the feature at only one of its theme parks before rolling it out to the rest. Hopefully, it can address any issues that arise and determine if the net effects of the feature are worthy of rolling it out.
The company continues on its path, attempting to maximize guest spending at theme parks. Experimenting with admission prices, annual passes, and features like premium passes will go a long way in achieving the goal. Investors can rest assured the parks will likely draw visitors for decades more.