You don't need to be a rocket scientist to predict that Disney (NYSE: DIS) will be boosting ticket prices soon at its largest theme park resort. Disney World has increased its one-day admission rates every year since 1988, and stretching that annual streak to 30 is a no-brainer.
The last four hikes have taken place in February -- on a Sunday morning -- so it wouldn't be a shock to see prices go up as early as this weekend. There are some good reasons why Disney may want to hold back on a material increase this time around, but you don't buck tradition when there are bucks to be made. If you're going to spend a day at Disney World soon, you may want to prepurchase that ticket no later than Saturday.
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It's a small world after all
It's easy to argue that a ticket increase is a bad idea this time. Disney World attendance has been flat the past two years, and high prices have to be playing a role in that trend. The shift to demand-based pricing -- with folks paying more for seasonally busy periods -- in early 2016 didn't help.
It's not just ticket prices keeping the turnstile clicks in check. Rival Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) has pushed through even higher admission increases, but it's been closing the attendance gap with the House of Mouse. Disney just hasn't added enough when it comes to new flagpole attractions in recent years, outside of last year's bar-raising Flight of Passage flying banshee simulator.
This brings us to another argument against a price hike: Disney's expansion plans for 2018. The only significant addition to the resort will be Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios this summer, but it's little more than a richly themed junior family coaster and a spinning carnival ride. It's a smart addition for a park that sorely needs rides and attractions for young families, but everyone knows that the real prize will be when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens in 2019. A lot of tourists will likely hold off on visiting Central Florida in 2018, knowing that they can wait a year to see if the Star Wars-themed expansion lives up to the hype. Comcast is also saving its upgrades at Universal Orlando for 2019.
It doesn't matter. Expect Disney and Comcast to increase prices as soon as this weekend. This is no longer a game about bragging rights over attendance gains. Disney's theme park business was the only segment to grow its revenue and operating profit in fiscal 2017. Disney is willing to make more money out of fewer guests, at least until it improves the capacity of its theme parks with more rides and its resorts with more rooms. The media giant has an ambitious expansion plan that will play out in the next three years, but most of that pixie dust won't crystallize into reality until next year.
Folks will still come to Disney World. The economy is holding up, and the appetite for fun is strong. Disney will increase its prices in February, and like it or not you will probably pay it.
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