How do you make sure customers take advantage of a promotion the way you want them to take advantage of it?
The question comes up at Disneyland. The Mouse people are currently offering a deal that allows park goers to get a break on multiple visits. Specifically a 3-Day Park Hopper pass lets customers visit multiple parks over three days. The days don’t have to be consecutive but you have to use the second two days within two weeks of using the first day. If you really want to spend a lot of time at Disneyland, this is actually a pretty good deal. An adult three-days pass goes for $220 while a one day pass goes for $125. (For those under nine, the comparable numbers are $205 and $119.)
Now there is clearly a problem here in that if two families split a three-day passes with, say, the Jones going one day and the Smiths going the next, they would come out ahead even if the third day went unused. If Smiths and Jones can recruit a third family, they’ve got an even better deal. Of course, a stumbling block in making this happen is transaction costs. If the Smiths and Jones live on the same cul-de-sac, maybe then coordinate this deal easily. However, if the Smiths are flying in from Chicago, it is much harder for them to take advantage of this deal — unless a middleman steps in to help broker the deal. And this just what is happening (Disneyland fights multiday pass abuse by photographing holders, LA Times, Jan 9).
Disney has been struggling to stop several ticket brokers in Anaheim from buying multiday park passes and then “leasing” or “renting” them to visitors for individual days.
The scenario works like this: A ticket broker buys a three-day “park hopper” pass for $205 and rents the ticket to three guests for $99 a day. The broker makes a profit of $92, and the guests, who would otherwise pay $125 for a one-day “park hopper” ticket, save $26 each.
Disneyland prohibits visitors from sharing multiday passes, but the practice does not violate local laws.
How has Disney taken this on? By photographing three-day pass holders on the day the pass is used. Thus if the Smiths use the pass on Tuesday, the Jones could be out of luck on Friday. The consequence of this (according to some park goers) has been a 45 minute wait in getting into the park. The Mouse asserts there have been no significant delays.
So is Disney in the right here? At some level they are just enforcing the pre-announced rules. The passes aren’t for sharing, and they are just trying to make that stick. Further, I doubt they would offer the three-day pass if it necessarily meant lining the pockets of local ticket brokers.
That said, there seem some inevitable complications here. First, if the process of taking pass holders aside for pictures really slows down the whole line, that’s a problem. They are diminishing the park experience for everyone to corral the misbehaving few. If there are, in fact, a large number of pass holders, lines could be excessively long.
A second and in some ways more interesting question is whether Disney actually wants to enforce this. This deal is only offered from January 7 to March 11. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is an otherwise slow time at the park. Now suppose the Jones show up with passes and the pictures are of the Smiths. Is Disney really going to turn them away? If Disney refuses to accept the passes, will they just get in line and buy one-day passes? I kind of doubt it. I suspect they first go back to yell at the ticket broker and that will be enough of a buzz kill to make going to the park unattractive. Denying entry then means losing a customer (and their in-park spending) on a day on which the park will otherwise be lightly used. So this is potentially the worst possibly outcome. The park experience has been negatively effected for all entering customers in order to enable rule enforcement the park won’t actually want to carry out.