May 4, 2024, 5:52 PM ·

Proposed, for your consideration: Walt Disney World and Disneyland should raise the price of their Disney Genie+ services – perhaps exponentially – in order to improve the customer experience at those resorts.

That’s the resolution for this week’s “hot take debate” on Theme Park Insider. You are welcome to submit in the comments your arguments for or against the resolution. I will kick off the debate with some of my thoughts.Disney introduced Disney Genie+ in 2021 as the primary way for guests to access its new Lightning Lanes – the alternate queues for select attractions that used to be known as Fastpass queues when they were available for free. Disney sells Individual Lightning Lane access to a very limited number of attractions, but for most attractions with a Lightning Lane, you get there via Disney Genie+. Here is our guide to the program if you need more information about it: How to Use Disney Genie Plus.Genie+ has proven popular among Disney theme park visitors, with the company reporting that up to 40% of park visitors are using the service on certain days. But as Disney villain Syndrome once warned, “when everyone is super, no one is.” The more people who use Genie+, the longer the Lightning Lane waits become. And the longer the Lightning Lane waits become, the fewer guests that Disney admits to attractions via their standby queues, as it looks to ensure that the Lighting Lane always has a shorter wait than the free standby alternative.And the longer the standby waits become, the more people become convinced that they need to pay up and get Disney Genie+ to avoid them. Lather, rinse, repeat, profit.

That profit is why Disney is never going back to free Fastpasses or closing its Lightning Lanes. So if you want those as options in today’s vote (below), forget it. It’s not happening, so I am not going to present that as an option.But there is a way for Disney to make its Lightning Lane money while also improving the guest experience for everyone at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Raise the price.I am not talking about raising the price by a few dollars, either. Disney fans have shown time and again that they will absorb gradual price increases from Disney. To make Disney fans change their behavior toward Genie+, the company must jack up the price to the point where an overwhelming majority of current Disney Genie+ users say, “no more.”For Lightning Lanes to become a truly premium experience, they should be used by no more 5-10% of the visitors to an attraction in a given hour. Given that Disney is using Lightning Lanes as the entry path for people using Disability Access Services, that means that Disney must limit the number of people using Disney Genie+ to even less than that. Disney can do this by more severely limiting the availability of Lightning Lane positions to Disney Genie+ customers, but an important purpose of the service is to increase customer satisfaction rates – not to tank them by leaving people who pay for this upgrade feeling even more frustrated.Disney could further limit the number of Disney Genie+ upgrades it sells each day. But that would leave a ton of money on the table. The better response is to limit the number of upgrades it sells by increasing the price. And Disney should increase the price to the point where Genie+ demand collapses to the level that can sustain a premium Lightning Lane experience.If Disney sells only one-fifth the number of Genie+ upgrades but charges five times the current amount, then it is getting the same income from the service. But the experience for its guests could improve substantially. With fewer people in the Lightning Lanes, Genie+ customers could enjoy lower wait times. With lower Lightning Lane demand, standby queues could move quicker for everyone else. Win, win, win – for everyone.To see just how underpriced Disney Genie+ is at the moment, look up the road to Universal Orlando Resort. The price for Disney Genie+ varies between $23-39 per person per day for the multi-park option, and from $15-39 for single park use. Compare that to Universal Orlando charging between $95-280 a day for its multi-park Universal Express service and from $125-310 for Universal Express Unlimited. The price for using Universal Express at a single park varies from $80-270 a day.The are no individual Universal Express lane entry sales at Universal Orlando, like the Individual Lightning Lanes at Disney. So this is not an exact apples-to-apples comparison of programs. Since Genie+ allows only one entry per attraction, the closer comparison is to Universal’s regular Universal Express program and not to the Unlimited version. Even so, Universal Express costs anywhere from four to seven times what Disney is charging for Genie+. Universal gives away unlimited Express access to guests of its three most expensive hotels, but even with that, its Express lanes typically offer much shorter waits than Disney’s Lightning Lanes. (In my experience, of course.) That means less impact on Universal’s standby queues.The counter argument is that Disney is providing a much better value for its guests by holding Genie+ prices low. But is that pricing decision really creating value… or destroying it?As described above, the more people who use Genie+, the less value it provides as Lightning Lanes become overwhelmed by service users. And there’s not just the financial cost of buying Genie+. Using it creates costs in time and attention, as guests must navigate the official resort app – starting before they enter the park at Walt Disney World – in order to reserve and manage Lightning Lane return times. When guests feel like they have no choice but to pay for Genie+ to get on popular rides – because of Lighting Lanes blowing up standby wait times – then Genie+ effectively becomes a mandatory extra fee that lowers the value of a Disney visit. That is destroying value, not creating it.Disney can stop this vicious cycle. Just raise the price of using Disney Genie+ for the day above the price of that day’s theme park ticket. The company likely would need to rebrand the program, again, to communicate and justify this change, but if Disney folded all current Individual Lightning Lane attractions into the new, higher-priced program, that likely would help make the whole system more palatable, as well.The result could be more money for Disney and shorter waits, with less hassle, for many Disney visitors.Let’s hear your arguments and counter-arguments in the comments. And when you are ready, here is your opportunity to vote on the resolution.
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