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THE RISE OF THE UP-SELL Testing the limits of the theme park VIP experience SeaWorld’s Dine With Shamu experience


things to the next level when it comes to exclusive experiences. Universal Studios Hollywood’s VIP Experience, comparatively affordable at $299, includes park admission, a private trolley tour of the park, and the opportunity to visit real working movie sets, sound stages and a props warehouse. Purchasers also receive VIP entrance and exit, lunch and breakfast in a VIP dining room, and an amenity kit that includes such essentials as lip balm, a poncho and bottled water. But why enjoy the VIP treatment with other people? At Universal Orlando, a group of three can enjoy an 8-hour, completely customised tour of both parks for $2,599 (not including park admission).


Disney wins the most expensive premium private VIP tour game, ringing in at $315-$500 per person – per hour – not including admission or Park Hopper passes and requiring a minimum of six hours. The tour guide picks the guest up from the hotel in a private vehicle and offers a personalized itinerary through Walt Disney World’s multiple theme parks, pushing the guest’s stroller, shuffling them through secret ride entrances, reserving front-row seating at shows and parades, fetching snacks and souvenirs, and arranging for character meet-and-greets. One TripAdvisor reviewer, who rode 17 rides and met five Disney princesses during her recent tour, vowed that she would “not likely do a day at the Magic Kingdom without this again.”


Two-tier guests


So where does the VIP craze end, and what happens to the regular park guests who naively thought pay- one-price meant exactly that? Guests are already paying over $100 (including tax) per person for a one-day pass to the Magic Kingdom, and if they want to visit more than one Walt Disney World park in the same day, the price jumps to over $140. That’s not a small price to pay to watch dozens of privileged tour


FEBRUARY 2015


goers jump to the front of the line. According to the Time article, much as airlines have made leg room more cramped to encourage passengers to purchase more expensive fares, “theme parks have a financial incentive to make waits for rides and attractions – and the ‘regular’ experience as a whole – more unbearable,” the logic being that next time (or even the next day), you will pay the extra money to join the Joneses at the front of the queue. But park operators point to these exclusive offerings as simply capitalism at work, and many analysts feel that the stratification of the theme parks experience merely reflects the current economic stratification of society as a whole. They even argue that creating these premium experiences enables them to add a touch of panache in years when they aren’t unveiling a new, multimillion-dollar attraction, and keep across-the- board ticket prices in check. To return to the airline analogy, it’s certainly true that economy/coach-class fares would not be affordable without subsidy from high paying business travellers.


In the final analysis, people vote with their feet/wallet, and so far parks like Universal are seeing double-digit sales volume increases as a result of their VIP tours. While an “Occupy” Disney or Universal movement may not be looming, time and the economy will be the best judges of whether “regular Joes” will stay away, keep coming back …or upgrade.


Clara Rice is director of digital engagement/media relations and an assistant project manager at JRA (Jack Rouse Associates). Named by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the world’s more prominent design firms,” JRA conceives, visualise and realises unique audience experiences for entertainment, cultural, sport and corporate clients around the world – including theme parks. See jackrouse.com


Who wouldn’t want the keys to Disney’s Kingdom?





Park


operators point to these exclusive offerings as simply


Legoland Florida VIP guests get an exclusive tour of the park’s model shop


capitalism at work, and many analysts feel that the stratification of the theme parks experience merely reflects the current economic stratification of society as a whole


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