Disney reduces discount for passholders

12/28/2012 10:48 AM

12/28/2012 10:49 AM

Walt Disney World is cutting back on a popular perk for customers who shell out for the giant resort’s most-expensive annual passes.

Beginning Jan. 1, Disney will halve the shopping discount for visitors who purchase premium annual passes, which can cost more than $700 apiece. The 20 percent discount will drop to 10 percent for all merchandise purchased in the resort’s souvenir shops.

A Disney spokesman declined to say why the resort is reducing the discount, a move that has antagonized some of the company’s most passionate fans. “We regularly evaluate our discounts and offers for annual pass holders and make adjustments,” spokesman Bryan Malenius said.

Disney has been steadily chiseling away at discounts since 2010, after having used extensive promotions to sustain attendance levels during the 2007-09 recession and global economic downturn.

At Disney World, the company’s biggest theme-park resort, the rising prices have helped offset weak attendance growth in recent quarters and rising costs associated in large part with the resort’s $1 billion “Next Generation Experience” technology initiative.

Disney has recently targeted its most loyal fans for the sharp increases. Some of its steepest price hikes during the past 24 months have been aimed at longer ticket options — such as its five-, six- and seven-day tickets — and annual passes.

Earlier this year, for instance, Disney World boosted the price of its basic annual pass by 10.6 percent to $519. Limited-admission seasonal passes for Florida residents jumped 11.2 percent to $299.

The price for the premium passes, which provide unlimited admission to the resort’s four theme parks, two water parks and other venues, rose 7.7 percent to $699. With sales tax, the passes now cost $744.44.

Analysts say the customers willing to pay for such ticket options are generally the most devoted to the company, and thus the most willing to swallow the price hikes.

But some of those fans say they are becoming increasingly frustrated by the inexorable increases — which, some of them say, have been coupled with declining maintenance across the sprawling property.

“Guest service, quality for the price you pay, show quality, etc., are no longer what’s really important to Walt Disney World management. It’s lip service to whoever buys it,” said Todd Talley, a fan and frequent visitor. “It’s the bottom line, pure and simple.”

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