Disney World Throws New Annual Passholders a Bone

By Rick MunarrizMarketsFool.com

Image source: Disney.

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Attendance at Disney's (NYSE: DIS) Florida theme parks has been sluggish lately, so the media giant is ramping up its promotional efforts. Disney World is offering Florida residents buying new annual passes an extra month at no additional cost. Shelling out dough for 12 months of theme park revelry and getting 13 months instead may not seem like a big deal, but Disney rarely offers up this kind of carrot.

The timing of the promotion is also more than a bit peculiar. Disney's offer is good through Jan. 3. Rival Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) typically tries to bait new Universal Orlando passholders going this route, but it waits until the spring-break crowds to disperse. Comcast's offer is typically a more generous 15 months for the price of 12 for new passholders, but it ends the offer before the peak summertime crowds arrive. Disney isn't doing this. The world's largest theme-park operator is keeping this promotion active through the peak holiday travel season.

A free month may not seem like much, but when you're smarting for turnstile clicks -- and Disney is at its most important theme park resort -- it means everything.

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Wooing annual passholders isn't typically a priority for Disney. Folks with annual passes spend less than travelers on one-day or multi-day tickets. Passholders don't buy as much food or merchandise as folks that can't make it to the parks as often on any given visit, and in turn they make lines longer for day guests that are more financially lucrative.

Disneyshook up its annual pass planslast October, making passes with year-round access more expensive and introducing more tiers that have blackout dates during peak travel periods. Passholders would be bodies to fill up the parks during the slow season, encouraging non-passholders to stay at one of Disney's resorts to take advantage of exclusive morning and evening park operating hours available only to guests staying at Disney World.

Comcast has tried to milk even more out of its Universal Orlando passholders, boosting its rates three times since May of last year. These upticks add up. Annual passes for Comcast's resort cost 27% to 38% more than they did a year and a half ago.

However, now that tourism is running sluggish in Central Florida, we're seeing both Disney and Comcast turn their attention to rewarding annual passholders. Universal Orlando recently opened up early access to its parks to holders of the higher tiers of its annual passes, something that it used to only offer resort guests. Disney recently expanded the in-park discounts it offers Disney World passholders.

Disney and Comcast may be paying the price of getting too greedy with passholders lately, and now the goal seems to be to get more regular visitors through its gates.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.