2016’s Holiday Season Has Been Really Slow So Far. And We Think We Know Why


The holiday season has officially kicked off at Walt Disney World as of last week, and though there is still yet another week to go before New Year’s Day concludes this annual busy season, we’ve already noticed some interesting trends at the resort already over the past few days, when it comes to guest levels and attendance. And if you’ve been at Walt Disney World recently, much of this probably won’t surprise you… 

1. Lower attendance is being seen at all Walt Disney World theme parks that are not the Magic Kingdom

Image: Disney

Increasingly it looks like the Magic Kingdom has become almost immune to the periodic rises and falls of attendance at Walt Disney World. Though the Magic Kingdom has always been the most popular park at Walt Disney World, in recent years the distribution of guests has been extremely lopsided, with guests packing into the Magic Kingdom no matter what season it is. 

However, though Walt Disney World’s flagship park continues to bring in impressive amounts of guests on a daily basis, the other three parks at Walt Disney World have actually seen some big declines this year, and so far the holiday season has continued this trend. From what we’ve seen so far this holiday season, attendance at Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been far below what we’ve seen in holiday seasons past, with attractions like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest barely hitting 30 minute wait times during this past week. 

The downturn at Epcot in particular is a little strange, especially as the popular Candlelight Processional show has not been as full this year as it has in the past. In previous years, the Candlelight Dining Package has been a very popular offering, often filling up months in advance. However, 2016 has been quite different, with same-day reservations available for many restaurants throughout the closing weeks of December. 

Though there are plenty of possible reasons for this downturn at all Walt Disney World parks not named Magic Kingdom, many have been blaming the expansion of annual passholder blockout dates. This is the first year that all annual passholders are subject to the more stringent tier system (first introduced in 2015), and with so many “downgrading” to the Gold tier, it looks like special events (which often appeal to repeat visitors and annual passholders) like the Candlelight Processional, as well as just general attendance have both suffered as a result. 

2. No phase closures on Christmas or the day after at the Magic Kingdom

Castle Dream Lights

© Disney

Image: Disney

While Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot have felt the brunt of the holiday slowdown of 2016, make no mistake, the Magic Kingdom has also seen some concerning attendance trends this year during this holiday season as well. While guests continue to flood into Walt Disney World’s flagship park pushing wait times up during the holiday season, the Magic Kingdom has yet to hit what was once a holiday season milestone: the phased closure. 

Though this park has closed for capacity in recent years on Christmas day (and often the day after as well), this year’ s Christmas holiday came and went without as much as a parking redirection at the Magic Kingdom. While we’re still waiting to see what New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day bring (both of these dates are typically the busiest in the calendar), judging by the Christmas crowds, 2016 may be the first calendar year in many that neither the Magic Kingdom nor Epcot see a phase closure (July 4th, which is also a popular guest day, also occasionally sees closures as well but didn’t in 2016). 

While we don’t think attendance at this park is much lower than normal (just based on crowd levels and wait times), it looks like there has been at least some kind of downturn here as the park has yet to close its gates during this busy holiday period, which is strange indeed. 

3. Have Disney’s attendance distribution efforts worked a little too well in 2016?

One of the big reasons why Disney introduced the annual passholder tier system and demand-based pricing in the first place, as well as surge ticketing, was to deal with overcrowding at the parks. Though being inside a Walt Disney World park when it is full to capacity might sound like fun, the reality is that guests who find themselves at a theme park during a phased closure can’t experience as many attractions, have to deal with long lines for food, restrooms, etc., and often don’t have room to breathe during the nightly spectacular when guests smush together in front of the Cinderella Castle. 

Disney’s solution to this of course was to incentivize guests to visit at other times of the year. By blocking out all but the highest tier of annual passholders out of the busy holiday period and charging nearly $20 more for single-day tickets to the Magic Kingdom, Disney is making it harder for more budget-conscious consumers to visit during this time of year, and it looks like their strategy has paid off, as guest levels have indeed been lower during “peak” periods. 

However, what remains to be seen is whether their strategy has worked perhaps a little too well. While Disney doesn’t directly release attendance numbers, they do assess general trends in guest levels during quarterly financial reports, and the annual TEA/AECOM attendance report (which contains data gathered by a third party) has been fairly accurate in the past at showing broad trends in the themed entertainment industry. With this in mind, it will be very interesting to see if lower attendance during the holiday season is acknowledged through either of the official channels in the coming weeks. 

Image: Disney

Have you been to Walt Disney World at all during the start of the holiday season? What trends have you noticed in the past few days? And what do you think is to blame for what looks like it could be a substantial downturn in attendance at the resort? Share your ideas in the comments below! 

– Originally published in Theme Park Tourist By , Tuesday, December 27, 2016 06:20



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Don Korta
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