Despite the fact that Seaworld and Busch Gardens raised their ticket prices a few weeks ago, and despite the fact that what one park does in Orlando, usually dictates what the others do when it comes to ticket prices, WDW and Universal Studios will not follow Sea World’s lead and raise ticket prices.
Disney, Universal hold off on raising theme-park prices
By Todd Pack
Don’t read too much into this, but SeaWorld Orlando is still the priciest park in town.
Fully two weeks after it raised single-day adult admission prices $2 to $49.95 – $52.95 with the 6 percent sales tax – Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are holding the line at $48.
Neither Disney nor Universal would say on Tuesday whether it will add a couple bucks to ticket prices anytime soon. But whatever each does, this is the first year in many that the Big Three haven’t raised ticket prices all at once.
“I’m surprised,” said Abe Pizam, a tourism-management professor at the University of Central Florida. In the past, an Orlando theme park wouldn’t dare not raise its prices after another park had done so, for fear of looking second-rate, Pizam said.
“It has something to do with self-image,” he said. “You can’t afford to be cheaper if you’re of the same value.”
Disney spokesman Rick Sylvain said decisions to raise prices are based solely on the company’s business needs, not on keeping up with SeaWorld.
“Pricing is a decision we make independent of the other theme parks and is based on a lot of factors,” Sylvain said. He wouldn’t discuss any of those factors but said, “Right now, it’s the status quo.”
Universal spokesman Jim Canfield said: “We don’t speculate on future ticket prices, and we’re always analyzing the competitive landscape.”
Since 1993, Disney World and Universal have raised ticket prices within a few days of each other – and sometimes on the same day.
SeaWorld kept a different schedule until 1996, when it raised prices four days after Disney and Universal. Last year, it took the lead, raising prices on Jan. 3; Disney and Universal followed on Jan. 7.
SeaWorld’s latest price increase comes at a difficult time for tourism. Business was sluggish throughout 2001 because of the poor economy and quickly deteriorated after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
SeaWorld, which attracts the smallest crowds of Orlando’s major parks, suffered the least during last year’s slump. Its attendance dipped only slightly to 5.1 million, according to estimates by the trade publication Amusement Business.
Disney’s most-visited park, the Magic Kingdom, saw business fall 4 percent to 14.8 million last year, while Universal’s No. 1 park, Universal Studios, was down 10 percent to 7.3 million.
Central Florida tourism officials say traffic has improved in the nearly five months since the attacks but is still soft compared with a year ago. Some experts warn it could be a year at least before the travel industry fully recovers.
Despite soft attendance, SeaWorld officials said their most recent price increase is justified because of rising costs.
“That’s as good an explanation as any,” said Pizam, the UCF professor.
One analyst said Disney and Universal don’t actually need to raise prices now.
Christopher Dixon, an entertainment industry analyst with UBS Warburg in New York, said Disney and Universal are self-contained resorts with hotels, restaurants and movie theaters. Both parks are trying to boost attendance by offering specially priced vacation packages.
Still, Pizam said he wouldn’t be surprised if the other parks raise prices sooner rather than later.
The parks “are always interested in making more money,” he said. "They say, ‘If the other guys get away with it, why shouldn’t we?’ "