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Five Marketing Lessons from a Day in Disneyland – #1: Apples and Oranges

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A while back I started a conversation about pricing by comparing the ski industry to Disneyland.

Among a long list of responses to the analysis, many people felt that comparing Disneyland to a ski resort wasn’t either fair, accurate or useful. My reply was often along the lines of, “they may not be apples to apples, but they’re not apples to oranges either.”

After a day in the park, I feel that is more true than ever. So before I share the marketing lessons I learned, let me reiterate my stance that we have something to learn from this resort by sharing a few more similarities.

Disneyland relies heavily on locals. Just like resorts, thousands of locals buy season passes that come with holiday blackout dates to help decrease crowds on busy weekends. And, like resorts, some locals visit the resort almost every day.

Disney pushes multi-day passes for their destination guests just as strongly as ski resorts. The hope of perfect weather or short lines on one of those days and the goal of seeing more of the resort helps both groups successfully sell them.

Off-Resort to Save
With both Disney and skiing many people go off-resort to save money on lodging and food. This gives the resort some of the value through day passes but not all of it.

Early Ups
To counter this, resorts have begun to use early access as a perk to add value to resort lodging. Disney does the exact same thing with an hour of access before and after the park’s normal hours for people staying in Disney hotels.

Disney is Destination
Like many major ski resorts, Disney is the destination first, not the town. The town around it benefits greatly from being in the same vicinity as the resort. Like the closing of June Mountain, Anaheim would suffer mightily without the resort.

Lines Impact Value
In both skiing and Disney, the longer you wait in line, the less value you get from your ticket. Likewise, on busy days lines are a common complaint between both while on slow days the lack of lines becomes a highlight of the day.

Age Impacts Value
While we saw many parents with an under-one-year-old like ours, the direct value (all rides, quick movement between rides) you get from your pass drops quickly with young children in both skiing and Disney.

Family & School Breaks
Just like skiing, Disneyland relies heavily on school breaks. This applies to much of travel, but because Disney and skiing are both tied closely to families, the effect is magnified.

Bucket List & Regulars
Like ski destinations, Disney gets a combination of bucket-list types who will only come once and regulars who take Disney vacations every year or two or three.

One Among Many
Disneyland is not a one-wolf pack. Disneyland is a theme park – one of many. They compete with other theme parks in California and local amusement parks as a ski resorts competes with other destination resorts and smaller, local ski areas.

Closer Than We Give Credit For
No Disney doesn’t require skill to enjoy the rides, no Disney doesn’t depend quite as much on the weather, no Disney doesn’t have the huge fluctuations in revenue between seasons.

But Disneyland is more like a destination ski resort than we think. And, being the insanely successful resort that it is, has a lot of lessons we can learn.

For the rest of the week I’ll be discussing some of those lessons.

  • stevewright

    Good points. I was in Fla. trundling around with my 9 year old daughter back in October and had some of these same thoughts. One of the biggest points of separation, for me, is the lack of a competitive set (at most resorts) within a 15 minute drive (take or give)–the Disney parks have that in scores (whether the competitive option is a waterpark, another theme park, or staying put at your Hotel.). It’s reflected in their multi-day pricing for sure where the difference between 4, 5, and 6 day tickets was something like 9 or 10 bucks. Look forward to hearing more and hearing from your personal experience in the coming years.

    • Very good point, Steve. Some can claim otherwise (like Utah, Tahoe or I-70 in Colorado) but for the most part it definitely seems to be the case. Even just being that close to the beach gave our family a free option one day rather than spend another $90 to be in the parks. Even along I-70 it’s tough to find that kind of alternative.

  • Kevin Forrest

    I look forward to hearing some of the “nuggets” that you gleaned while at the park. I think one of the big ones that most ski resorts miss are quality management, especially with employee dress code and interactions with guests. For the most part Disney has this down pat.

    • Thanks, Kevin. And make sure you read Thursday’s post :)

      • Kevin Forrest

        Your welcome…and looking forward to it!

  • Chris Pingel

    As a ski school/hill manager I refer to the Disney land effect quite often. returning guests taking advantage of lessons is huge. creating memories with children that make them beg the parents to come back is crucial. I have spent the last five years making programs and runs that can hopefully mimic this effect. As an avid follower first time commenter of your blog I’m vet excited to follow this weeks posts .

    • Very cool, glad to hear it Chris. And glad you broke the ice with your first comment!

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