There once was a time when an amusement park visit focused on all guests sharing a common experience that involved the park’s rides, shows and fair-like food. At the country’s larger parks and resorts, those days are increasingly giving way to an enticing (and expensive) new option known as “premium experiences.” This issue, The Large Park Report examines how theme parks are ramping up efforts to generate more revenue by offering unique opportunities to experience attractions that your typical admission ticket doesn’t offer.
Increasing Revenue from Existing Attractions
For many years, Disney carefully shielded what happens “backstage” (Disney parlance for behind the scenes) from the eyes of its guests. The strategy could be traced back to Walt himself and the idea that his theme parks were similar to movie sets. In a movie, the audience only sees what’s on camera and, in Walt’s mind, the audience at a theme park should also be limited to that viewpoint in order to keep the mundane reality of dumpsters and costume closets from interrupting the experience.
While many other parks also adopted this approach, this entire strategy began to shift within the last several decades as the popularity of “behind the scenes” television shows, books, and other media grew into a major market. In the search for new revenue, several amusement companies realized that potentially untapped markets were walking around their parks every day, that is, guests who wanted to peek behind the curtain and see how things really worked. Even if doing so punctured the veil of fantasy.
Today, nearly every major theme park offers some type of behind-the-scenes tour or other access. These range from private events to day-long VIP experiences. This popularity results from the fact that, in almost every case, these tours garner top dollar from guests, including some instances where the visitor must pay both for general admission to the park as well as the premium fee for the tour.
While some of these tours realize repeat business, oftentimes their high cost and “been there, done that” reality don’t lend backstage tours to guests regularly rescheduling. This means that, in order to capture new revenue from guests who are willing to pay a premium, theme parks have to create a form of “Behind the Scenes 2.0.”
Creating an Attraction within an Attraction
This next evolution of unique access is not as focused on seeing behind the scenes as much as it is experiencing the front-of-house attractions in a closer and more intimate setting. Though it goes by a variety of different terms, at Disney the concept is called “premium experiences” and, in today’s world, these premium experiences can be the source of big revenue.
Case in point: Disney’s new Africa Wild Trek at its Animal Kingdom park. This new addition starts at $189 per person (though some seasonal specials are available.)
What do you get for that hefty price?
Essentially, a customized experience at one of the park’s most popular attractions, Kilimanjaro Safaris. This safari ride regularly has some of the longest lines at Animal Kingdom because of the close interaction that you get with a wide variety of African animals during a jeep tour of Disney’s recreated savannah (so close that it’s not uncommon to have your jeep literally stop in order to let a rhino or giraffe go by).
Recognizing the attraction’s popularity, Disney began strategizing over a year ago about how they could give guests an even closer interaction with the animals. What they came up with was less of a “behind the scenes” experience (though those do exist at Animal Kingdom) and more of an “enhanced” front of house experience.
For the Wild Trek, guests board different jeeps in smaller groups and head out into the same savannah but on a different route. Once in the savannah, the guests get closer than ever to the animals by crossing rope bridges over crocodiles and dangling from a harness above hippos. Add in special viewing platforms and a full meal high above the savannah and it’s a pretty dynamic experience in almost every way.
The interesting twist though is that the Animal Trek guests and the Kilimanjaro Safari guests essentially get to see the same sights. The difference is in how they interact and experience those sights. To provide Trekkers with this unique opportunity, Disney had to construct several additions to the Safari attraction such as the rope bridges and viewing platforms. But, according to Disney officials, these additions were a small cost compared to the potential revenue they could unlock. Indeed, the biggest challenge Disney faced was to incorporate these new additions without disrupting sight lines and other aesthetic aspects of the existing attraction.
Of course, you may be thinking that most parks don’t have a 100-acre safari ride in which they can create an “attraction within an attraction.” That doesn’t mean, though, that the concept isn’t viable outside of these mega-sized rides. Indeed, almost every theme park has some opportunity to leverage new revenue from an existing ride by adding a new experience to it.
Take, for instance, that staple of theme parks: the roller coaster
Roller coasters have long invested large dollars into large chunks of wood and steel even though only a small, narrow track is typically used by riders. What if all of that wood and steel infrastructure could be converted into a separate attraction within an attraction?
With some fairly standard engineering and safety restraints, guests could climb the catwalks and safety ladders while coasters zipped by, a thrill that would rival, if not surpass, the ride itself. While that might sound cutting edge, that is the point, after all. Indeed, if Disney can find a way to let guests hover above real crocodiles, other parks could certainly use safety harnesses to allow guests to scale up, down and all around tall thrill rides.
The key for creating an attraction within an attraction involves a pretty straightforward equation: balance the cost of the new modifications and equipment versus the extra revenue that you can generate from a surcharge for this premium experience.
With the continued popularity of behind-the-scenes tours and other unique forms of access, the likelihood that guests will pay for this premium experience remains high, especially if you give them the opportunity to do something they’ve never done before.