Is Disney’s Current Strategy Leaving Out Some of Its Biggest Fans?

The Walt Disney World Resort has undergone some massive changes since its reopening in the summer of 2020. While some changes have been positive, including new restaurants and attractions since opening, some traditional parts of a Disney vacation are still missing.

The majority of Guests who vacation at the Walt Disney World Resort might be made up of families taking their once-in-a-lifetime or once-every-however-many-years trip, but there is an entire other audience that might be left out of the Parks’ current strategy.

Credit: Disney

Walt Disney World has not sold Annual Passes (save for a few exceptions limited to Florida Residents) since the beginning of March 2020. While the Disneyland Resort has restarted its Magic Key program back up, it has some strict limitations that only add to the challenges all Guests face in visiting the Parks like theme park reservations and restrictions on park hopping. On top of this, Disney’s last quarterly earnings report referred to Magic Keyholders as an “unfavorable attendance mix,” and Disney CEO Bob Chapek recently shared some harsh comments on “super fans” vs. regular Guests in an interview.

Do Disney Annual Passholders actually spend less money at the theme parks though, thus making them less of a value for the company to prioritize? And is Disney’s current strategy leaving this massive group of fans behind?

Characters / Cinderella Castle - 50th Anniversary

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (Credit: Disney)

There is a lot to unpack in Chapek’s recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter in which he points to Park capacities as one reason for limiting Annual Passes. In the interview, Chapek shares that too many Annual Passholders in a given Park means that it could hit capacity sooner, and Guests with regular tickets might not be able to get in.

We have generally found this to be untrue until the arbitrary capacity system was put into place following the pandemic. The only pre-pandemic exceptions where a Park would hit capacity would have been for select holidays like Christmas Day and New Year’s eve.

Moreover, from a business standpoint, Disney executives believe Annual Passholders spend less in the Parks than day Guests do. But again, we have to wonder if this is truly the case (this mentality contributed to the company’s reference to an unfavorable attendance mix after all.) We have all come to accept that companies are constantly collecting data from us, but is there really a way for Disney to compare Passholder spending to non-Passholder spending?

Photo Credit: Disney

The best way to compare would be if everyone paid with a MagicBand, but we know this is not the case. Even if the company were to look at credit card data, this has no reference to Passholder status, it would simply give details on where the person using the card lives. With this in mind, we have to wonder if to some extent, Disney can label Passholders an “unfavorable attendance mix” simply because there are fewer of them in the Park, and on that principle, they would be spending less.

As for what’s next for those non-FL Resident former or aspiring Passholders? Well, Disney’s website did briefly announce that sales had resumed in error earlier this year, and where the information is still available for previous passes, we have to assume they will be coming back.

On the possibility of further restrictions coming to new Annual Passholders in the future? Well, we will just have to see…

About Brittany DiCologero

Brittany is a New England-based writer focused on the history of the Walt Disney World Resort. She is the author of "Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Reality of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort," and "Brittany Earns Her Ears."