Mouse Business 104: Will Disney be Celebrating in 2009?

Before we take a look at the theme from a business standpoint, let’s do a quick rundown of what exactly a “Celebration Vacation” consists of. In describing it, Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said that “from the moment you arrive in the resort, we will use the buzz line ‘celebrate today’ in all our theming”. The focus point of the promotion, and the one you will probably hear quite a bit about, is that a visitor can now receive free entrance to one of the Disney Parks on their birthday. With this centerpiece, Disney World will also offer over 200 experiences to commemorate special occasions, ranging from sunrise safaris to fireworks cruises to children’s pirate parties. There will also be some new park shows, including street parties in the Magic Kingdom and a Tomorrowland Video Dance Party. Disney Parks’ website has all the details and a place to register your birthday on the site.

From a business standpoint the theme actually makes quite a bit of sense for the Disney Company, even though more savvy Disney fans may be a little disappointed with the offerings. First, the basis for the theme: a survey of 4,600 people conducted by Ypartnership nationwide in June 2008, showed that 70% of respondents stated that the main reason they take vacations is to celebrate a special occasion. Furthermore, when asked where they would most likely celebrate a special occasion on vacation, the top answer was Disney Parks (around 40%) followed by Hawaii and Florida (other than Disney World). The Travel News Daily has a breakdown of the survey which reveals just how in depth the survey was. It is easy to connect the dots from the survey. If 70% of people go on vacation to celebrate a special occasion and these same respondents choose Disney Parks as their top choice to celebrate the vacation, then why not tailor specific promotions to keep attracting these people.

What also works well for Disney as a company is that many of the activities being promoted during “Celebration Vacations” are activities that are already offered in Disney World. Although the internet Disney community is quite large and continuously growing, the majority of Disney Park visitors are not members of the internet community. Therefore, although many readers of knew of the fireworks cruises and the sunrise safaris, many of the casual park visitors might not have. Essentially, Disney will not be expending a whole lot of resources to create many of the commemorative experiences they will offer, but will rather just be shedding light on many of the great offerings that already exist. Disappointing for die hard Disney fans, maybe a little, but smart for the Company. As a bonus for the company, most of these offerings are add-on expenditures to the basic vacation; increasing their sales will increase revenue.

Finally, the ultimate question is whether these promotions will really have any affect on park attendance. Here is a little tidbit that I think may have come into play when developing this promotion for 2009. For almost two years now, Wall Street analysts have expected Disney to take a hard hit at their theme parks because of the struggling economy. Disney, however, has been able to remain strong and keeps posting solid numbers. Earnings for the last quarter, which were reported at the end of July, showed that the parks posted a five percent increase in revenue and three percent growth in operating profit, this despite the fact that park traffic in the past quarter was flat. In plain English, it meant that there were not more people coming to the parks, but the people that were coming were spending more money. What does this have to do with “Celebration Vacations”? Well, part of the research done clearly showed that those people who travel because they are celebrating a special occasion typically spend much more money than other vacationers. If you can’t get more people to come, you might as well get the ones who will spend the most. This might not have played any role in Disney’s decision, but it is a fact that is floating out there.

Many of the details of “Celebration Vacations” are still coming out. For example if you are an annual passholder you will be given several other options including a special FastPass ticket for certain attractions you visit on your birthday. Once all the details are out, I will be following up with another article analyzing and detailing all the offerings.


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