Are Theme Parks Pricing Millennials Out of the Ability to Experience the Magic?
Posted in Theme Parks on Friday, April 20, 2018
Author: Ryan L. Terry
If you're a Millennial like me, then you may have asked yourself the same question. In fact, I read an article recently on another Theme Park website that explored how changing demographics are changing the theme park business. Fascinating article. However, there was an item of mention that troubled me. When commenting on the observation of the addition of food and wine festivals, expensive up-sell experiences, and line-skipping passes to appeal to adults without kids, it was stated in the form of this development being great for Millennials. And that got me to thinking. Is it, though? Considering the current economic climate and the career status of those who are in their early 20s and to early to mid 30s, are these new trends truly accommodating of this group?
Instead of limiting this topic to the changing population (baby booms versus baby busts), I think it's more effective to explore this topic of how changing demographics are changing the theme park business with the addition of the income criteria coupled with population. This is an important element to add to the discussion because it's no surprise that it's taking much longer to land a full-time position earning a truly livable wage for us than it did for our parents (see images 1-3). In fact, the Pew Research center (image 4) shows that our parents had far more purchasing power when they were rearing us than we do today. Essentially, non high-level mangers or non-executives have exponentially less disposable income correlating to the cost of living than our parents did in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s. Furthermore, it's much harder to get a mortgage than it was 10-20yrs ago, rent rates are way up, and student loans enter repayment. When theme parks keep adding expensive up-sell experiences in order to capture the young single adult or young couple without kids (as we are currently in a baby bust that doesn't look like it will change with GenZ), I am not entirely sure they are considering the financial burdens and increasing cost of living that 20 and 30-somethings currently face. Our parents COULD afford more vacation than we can today.
Whenever I see a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or blog post about a new experience at Disney Parks especially, but also Universal Parks, lesser so at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld (who DO tend to cater to where current finances are for Millennials), I wonder who is actually paying for these experiences? Most of these special tour and dining experiences are in excess of $100/person and often much more. After paying for either day tickets or annual passes, hotel nights (if applicable), plane tickets or fuel for the car, I find it difficult to believe that the typical Millennial is able to afford these experiences. Therefore, if the typical Millennial possesses an inability to afford all the increases and special experiences in the parks, then perhaps this "changing of the theme park business" is actually not a good thing for those of us who are in our 20s and 30s. Seems to me, that the more logical course of action would be to follow the median economic status of the biggest group of park guests.
According to the the article that inspired me to write mine, the largest group of park guests is trending toward late GenX and Millennials (with GenZ not being too far behind) without kids. It makes perfect sense for the parks to add in "adult" activities in order to entice Gen-Xers and Millennials such as food and wine festivals, line-skipping passes, and special events, but the prices of these events is outpacing the income of the group that the theme parks know will soon surpass the number of "families" that are guests at the parks. The disadvantage of a proliferation of high-priced up-sells is alienating the very group of current and potential park guests that is outpacing the more traditional families that have been the main source of income for the parks. More than anything else, in terms of spending money on entertainment, Millennials are looking for a good deal--more than our parents--because we have much higher overhead and less purchasing power than they did when they were out ages taking their kids (us) to the parks. Therefore, it's important for the current theme park business model to recognize the desire for Millennials to continue to support and enjoy the parks as more traditional families get smaller and Baby Boomers getting older with currently empty or soon-to-be-empty nests.
Although it seems common sense for the parks to adapt their respective business models to accommodate the finances of Millennials, the opposite appears to be coming to pass. Instead of packing better deals for young professionals without kids, the trend seems to be catering to only upper-middle and upper class individuals and families. The antithesis of what should be done in order to capture the next generation planning vacations to the parks. If the trend of continuing to add expensive additions to your park ticket continues, then theme parks will become as exclusive a destination as a European vacation or exotic cruise. "This park wasn't built to cater only to the super rich, everyone in the world has a right to enjoy..." as Dr. John Hammond countered the lawyer's desire to charge exorbitant prices during the lunchtime debate scene in Jurassic Park (one of my favorite scenes from the iconic film). Disney and Universal should borrow a line from Hammond and modify the business model to create magic for Millennials--especially Disney Parks, as they are increasingly catering to only the super rich.
So yes, we are experiencing theme parks changing their business models to adjust for fewer families and more singles/couples without children. And Food and Wine festivals are a huge hit! I truly enjoy them. But, in developing offerings that attract adults without kids, the parks are in danger or pricing Millennials out of enjoying the magic. Millennials are looking for those after-hours events, food and wine fests, and line-skipping passes but not at the cost of not being able to go to begin with. Theme parks should reevaluate the pricing structure and take the current economic times facing millennials into question. Millennials represent the majority of folks soon to be going to the parks as young professionals, with the traditional families of 3-5 becoming less common. But, Millennials are burdened by rising rental costs, rising student loan repayment cost, lower salaries than our parents, and rising cost of transportation.
Ryan is a theme park enthusiast living in Central Florida, and loves going to the parks as often as possible! Passholder to Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld. In the Fall of 2017, his Thrillz article on Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice at Busch Gardens was cited in a massive ad campaign. He also loves horror films and just movies in general! If you see him out and about in the Florida parks, stop him to say hi!
Ryan holds a Master of Arts degree in Media Studies (with a concentration in cinema and themed entertainment) from the University of South Florida. His research area is on the convergence of cinema and theme parks. He explores ideas such as narrative, spectacle, setting, and setting in terms of movies and themed entertainment. Learning how to successfully translate an idea of intellectual property from one medium into another is the primary goal of his predictable model for creative design that affects both theme parks and the cinema.
Ryan's Favorite Ride(s):