If you want to upset fans of Disney‘s (NYSE:DIS) theme parks this week, ask them if they think what Disneyland Paris just started doing will be imported to the stateside parks. Disney’s French resort is rolling out Disney Premier Access, an upcharge offering where guests can use their smartphones to pay between $9 and $18 per person to access an expedited queue for a particular ride or attraction. Time is money when you’re on vacation, but this neat little hack can add up over the course of a day at the park.
The FastPass platform at Disneyland in California and Florida’s Disney World had been available to all guests at no additional cost until the parks closed down in March of last year. Neither resort has reopened FastPass, leading some to wonder if changes were afoot for the once revolutionary system. With Disneyland Paris introducing a paywall for speedier access, enthusiasts and investors alike are wondering if Disney World and inevitably Disneyland will be the next to start charging for FastPass.
It can happen, and there’s no better time to roll out a new system than now, when the original platform has been out of service for the past 16 months. However, let’s go over some of the reasons why Disney may decide not to go this route.
1. Disney World turns 50 in three months
We’re now less than three months away from Disney World turning 50, and the House of Mouse has an 18-month celebration on tap. In some ways, it makes perfect sense to launch a premium app upgrade in this climate. There will be large crowds descending to Disney’s four theme parks in Central Florida, and that means there won’t be a shortage of folks paying up to shorten what should be lengthy organic queues.
There are also so many new attractions and experiences launching in October. A potentially controversial move like this could get lost or bumped in the flurry of positive coverage of the major milestone. However, does Disney want to mar this achievement with a move that could be lucrative in the near-term but destructive to the brand in the long-run?
No one will flinch if Disney raises its ticket prices and on-site hotel rates ahead of the celebration. Introducing a new layer of classism where every popular ride becomes a tollbooth may happen, but the timing would be far from ideal at a time when the focus should be on celebrating the past instead of cashing in on the future.
2. Disney World isn’t Disneyland Paris
There is no theme park resort anywhere in the world as massive as Disney World. The resort’s flagship Magic Kingdom was the only theme park on the planet to draw more than 20 million guests through its turnstiles in 2019, and that was more than the two parks at Disneyland Paris combined. As the smallest of the fully-owned Disney resorts, Disneyland Paris has a little more leeway in what it can do to monetize the guest experience.
Disney World also has more than two dozen on-site resort options, and that brings us to the lever that is more likely to get pulled here than a straight pay-per-ride cash grab. Disney has already tipped its hand by announcing that come December guests staying at the resort’s priciest deluxe properties will have access to exclusive evening park hours. Disney can sweeten the pot by not only charging more for the high-end resorts but also including additional FastPass benefits.
Boo birds will call it classist, and you already have some Disney fans complaining about only deluxe resorts getting the new hours. However, this is one way for Disney to mark up the FastPass experience without slapping individual price tags on every expedited queue.
3. Premium FastPass won’t make sense until annual passes return
Disneyland nixed its annual pass program in January. Disney World is still keeping existing pass holders around, but it’s in no hurry to sell new passes. Put another way, instead of annual pass holders paying a couple of bucks a day for access to Disney parks, a growing number of day guests are paying full retail prices in the triple digits.
If we were back in the old days when a bunch of seasoned regulars were packing into lines and mastering the FastPass system then a premium add-on would be a great way to level the playing field. Premium FastPasses would give the more lucrative once-in-a-lifetime visitors a leg up over less financially viable pass holders. Everybody would get what they want — including investors in travel stocks — as pay-per-ride participants would be subsidizing the discounted pass holders. It won’t happen now, but it could be just a matter of time at this point.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.
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