Though it was confirmed earlier this year that attendance slid across the board at Walt Disney World in 2016, Disney received some good news this past spring when it was revealed that the resort actually saw a sizable bump over the 2017 spring break and Memorial Day holidays. That coupled with the opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar seemed to indicate that 2017 would be a blockbuster summer in the making.
However, summer is nearly half-way through, and wait times around the resort are on the decline, not only at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well, which is a pretty good indication that attendance may be back on a downward trend again after recovering slightly earlier this year. But why might this be? Let’s take a look at (what we believe) to be some contributing factors to this returning attendance slump…
International travel has slowed down due to economic woes
If you visited Walt Disney World in the summer during the early 2010s, chances are good that you walked past dozens of international tour groups during your visit. However, if you visited in 2016 or 2017, you probably have only seen a handful of these touring groups, as international travel, especially from Latin and South America has been way down in recent years, thanks in part to economic downturns across several countries in this region of the world.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t much that Disney can do to control this downturn, as its unknown if or when tourists from this area of the world will return in large numbers to the resort. However, if we look closer to home, there are some issues happening as well that Disney can control…
It’s no secret that a trip to Walt Disney World has always been seen as a luxury. Even though plenty of guests remember when a Walt Disney World vacation was less expensive, these lower costs were relative to their time period, and when you put them into the context of inflation, cost of living for the time, etc., Walt Disney World has always been an expensive destination for average middle class Americans to visit. However, in the past ten years, Disney has made some big changes to HOW they are hiking prices, which has made a big difference.
First of all, the introduction of variable pricing for theme park tickets in recent years has already made the summer a very unattractive time for budget-minded guests to visit the resort, as tickets cost significantly more from June through August than they would during the fall. However, while rising ticket prices are a pain, there’s another issue that could be a factor here: upcharge experiences.
Though Disney has always offered “premium” experiences throughout its 45 year history for guests willing to pay a little bit more, in recent years Disney has invented a lot of new ways to charge guests more for essentially the same experience. Things like preferred parking, express transportation, and dessert/dining packages with reserved seating to shows like Happily Ever After, Fantasmic! and IllumiNations have become a hallmark of the Walt Disney World experience in the modern era, and guests are beginning to feel the squeeze from all of these upcharge offerings. While it’s true that guests don’t have to purchase these add-ons to enjoy their Walt Disney World experience, there’s increasing incentive to do so, and when you have a family taking an annual, bi-annual, or once in a lifetime trip, the pressure is there to make it as special as possible, and with all of these additional upcharges, the cost for guests has really risen.
Waiting for the perfect time
Right now is a great time to visit Walt Disney World. Pandora – The World of Avatar has just opened, and Disney has debuted two new nighttime spectaculars just in time for the summer. But those who are looking at making a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Walt Disney World may be looking at their calendar and deciding to wait another year or two for one big reason: Star Wars Land.
Though guests impressions of Pandora – The World of Avatar have been really positive, and we’re sure Toy Story Land is going to be a lot of fun to explore, Star Wars Land is going to be a hit on a whole new scale, and we’re sure fans of a Galxy Far, Far Away will show up in droves when this land opens in 2019…which will be good for Walt Disney World in the future, but not great for 2017 and 2018, when many may elect to stay home and save their money in anticipation of this huge opening two years from now.
While it looked like this summer was off to a huge start, guest levels have really plummeted in recent weeks, and it looks like this trend may continue into July. Have you been to Walt Disney World yet this summer? Have you noticed any smaller crowds, or does the park still feel just as busy to you?
-From Theme Park Tourist, June 28, 2017 by Amanda Kondolojy
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