At what point does a ticket to a Disney (NYSE:DIS) theme park become prohibitely expensive? Good question, but it's clear we haven't hit the limit yet, as the media and entertainment giant announced it was raising admission prices again.
Apparently not even an outbreak of measles can keep families out of Disney's parks, or the park operator from capitalizing on and profiting from the continued demand for its brand of entertainment.
Not some Mickey Mouse operation
Starting this past Sunday, one-day admission passes at Disney's various theme parks cost as follows:
- Magic Kingdom: $105, up from $99
- Disneyland: $99, up from $96
- Walt Disney World: $99, up from $96
- Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios: $97, up from $94
While Disney typically raises prices every year. Since 2000, when the cost of a Disneyland ticket was just $41, a one-day admission pass has jumped 140%. To put that in perspective, the cumulative rate of inflation is just 37.5% since then.
It's true that families can get discounted prices by buying multi-day passes -- a Disney World two-day pass is just $96 per day, while a five-day pass works out to $63 a day -- but this year marks the first time a ticket to any of the theme parks has pierced the $100 threshold.
Come one, come all
Revenues at parks and resorts rose 9% in the first fiscal quarter of 2015, but operating profits jumped 20% to $805 million, driven by higher guest spending and attendance.
In fact, attendance at Disney's domestic parks was up 7%, which explains why it's the U.S. theme parks that are seeing the price hikes, and not those at its international locations, where higher costs and negative currency effects impaired performance.
But with both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort each setting all-time attendance records in the quarter, it's not a surprise the entertainment mogul saw per capita spending for guests rise 4% based on a combination of higher ticket prices, merchandise, and food and beverage spending.
Occupancy rates were also up here at home, with hotels seeing an eight percentage point increase to 89%, and per room spending rose 4%. So far in the second quarter, Disney says domestic resort reservations are 3% higher compared to prior year levels, while booking rates are 4% better.
Report to sick bay
That also hasn't been affected by the measles outbreak. According to reports, over 70 people in California, including six Disneyland employees, were found stricken with the measles virus, and there have been about two dozen other cases in six states -- as well as in Mexico and Canada -- that have been infected as well.
Even so, CEO Bob Iger said there's been no discernable drop off in attendance at the parks since the outbreak. Perhaps people realize the media hysteria over measles is a bit overblown, and they're not letting it affect their vacations.
Are we having fun yet?
That's playing out at other theme parks as well, and it's only a matter of time before Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal theme parks, Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN), and Six Flags (NYSE:SIX) follow suit. And that may come to pass even though parks like NBCUniversal's Orlando Resort starts at an already elevated price point: a one-day pass there is $136 per person.
Still, NBC Universal's theme park revenues grew 30% in the fourth quarter, generating a 38% increase in operating cash flows. Driven by the continued success of the Harry Potter attractions -- Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios -- not to mention Halloween Horror Nights at the Orlando and Hollywood parks, it's not unreasonable to expect prices to go up.
Both Cedar Fair and Six Flags generated record revenues, with the former hitting $1.16 billion last year and the latter seeing a 6% increase to $1.2 billion.
Therefore, the park operators executed a smart move. Increasing ticket prices anywhere from $3 to $6 per person, as Disney is doing, doesn't change the dynamic for the guests. A family of four will pay just $12 to $24 more, which, in the grand scheme of a Disney vacation, is a pittance.
But for Disney and the others, that's a lot of extra revenue. Magic Kingdom alone hosted 18.58 million guests in 2013, meaning the price hikes puts an additional $55 million to $111 million into the park's budget. Disney World has attendance of more than 52 million annually.
The Themed Entertainment Association says attendance across all of Disney properties was 132.5 million in 2013, followed by Universal with 36.4 million, Six Flags with 26.1 million, and Cedar Fair at 23.5 million.
A roller coaster ride
SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS), which will report year-end results on Thursday, might not be able to afford the luxury of a price hike. Attendance, revenues, and per-guest spending have all been in decline across 2014.
Regardless, the general trend for theme park operators has been positive, and Disney investors can expect more of the same this year. It has an exciting movie line-up in 2015, and its ability to cross-market those films into popular attractions is unequaled.
It might be a little more expensive to visit a Disney theme park in the future, but it's going to be a lot more profitable of a company, too, because of it.