Universal Orlando Resort is Fighting Its Own Attendance Slowdown. Here’s How

Earlier this week it was reported that Walt Disney World, like the rest of central Florida, is continuing to see a slowdown in attendance year over year. And while Universal Orlando Resort’s parent company Comcast has been silent about their attendance figures in recent months, we can only assume that Orlando’s other theme park giant has been seeing similar results. However, it looks like the resort is taking some proactive measures to ensure that any effects from this attendance hiccup are mitigated as much as possible, at least in the short term. Though attendance may be on a downward trend, here’s how Universal is keeping its head above water in 2017:

1. A new ticket deal is being offered for the beginning of the year

Image: Universal Orlando Resort

Earlier this week Universal announced that it is now offering a new ticket deal that includes two days free with the purchase of a two-day park-to-park ticket (making the total price $234.99 for adults, 224.99 for ages 3-9). This new deal is not restricted to Florida residents (so anyone can take advantage of it) and these special combination tickets can be bought online up until May 3, and can be used until May 31.

 Interestingly, unlike the similar Discover Disney ticket at Walt Disney World (which also offers a discounted rate for four days of admission) this ticket is only good for four (consecutive or non-consecutive) days within a seven-day period, including the first day the ticket is used.

This new deal is certainly an aggressive offer, and is a great way to get guests back into the park during the first half of the year, especially as Universal is opening the brand new Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon attraction in April.

2. Free parking (after 6:00 PM) is now available for all guests

Though Universal Orlando Resort has had free parking for Florida Residents after 6:00PM (on non-special event nights) for several years now, Universal has gone ahead and taken this a step further, extending this offer to all guests, effective immediately.

This extended perk is almost certainly an attempt to help CityWalk compete with nearby Disney Springs, which has seen quite the resurgence in recent months thanks to a plethora of new restaurants and shops opening up. CityWalk has never been quite as popular as its neighbor down the street (which has always provided free parking) but since the same garages that are used for CityWalk are also used for the theme parks, always free parking for this entertainment district has never been a real possibility. However, the expansion of free parking after 6:00 PM for all guests (not just those with a Florida ID) may help draw guests in greater numbers to CityWalk.

3. Making each guest more valuable

One of the unfortunate byproducts of slowing attendance is decreased revenue, which is one of the reasons why Walt Disney World has been so aggressive in recent months with upcharge experiences (and has planned more for the future). Essentially, the thinking is that if these parks can’t immediately attract more guests, they can keep their profit margins in good shape by wringing more money out of the guests they do have.

Disney faced a similar problem several years ago, and deduced that by keeping guests out of line, they could get them to spend more money by steering them towards shops, restaurants, etc., which would in turn garner additional revenue.  Of course, we all know this train of thought led to the MyMagic+ system we now know today.

Image: Universal Orlando Resort

Now Universal is facing a similar situation, and it looks like they are going all-in. Not only is Universal developing a virtual line system for their theme parks (which you can read more about here), but they have actually designed their new Volcano Bay water park specifically without lines. However, if you’re thinking Universal just copied MyMagic+ for this new park, you’d actually be wrong, as we’ve actually just learned some new details about how this new system will work.

One of the big issues with MyMagic+, at least at the outset, was a giant overhead cost. When everyone needs a MagicBand, and Disney is issuing bands for every single ticket, hotel, and annual pass purchase, the costs add up quickly. However, Universal is wisely circumventing this problem by making the Tapu Tapu system one that is based on recycling.

Image: Universal Orlando Resort

When guests enter the Volcano Bay park, they will be given a Tapu Tapu wearable wristband to use through the day, and then will have to give the device back while exiting the park. This is certainly an interesting development, and while the idea of reusable wearables might seem like new territory, it was actually tested extensively at Wet ‘n Wild before it closed forever last year.

However, more importantly, this strategy allows Universal to make minimal investment when it comes to keeping guests out of line. While MyMagic+ reportedly cost Disney 1 Billion dollars, Universal is building on existing technology and investing in reusable hardware, which means that, even if guest levels are down, Universal can spend a minimum amount of money getting the guests that do come to the resort (especially Volcano Bay) to spend more.

Right now, the future is uncertain for theme parks in central Florida. It’s unlikely that Universal Orlando Resort or Walt Disney World will close up shop any time soon (though the same might not be true of SeaWorld Orlando), the fact is that if 2017 sees even further declines in overall guest levels, some belt tightening for all of Orlando’s theme parks could be in the near future. However, it looks like Universal is at least preparing for this possibility by offering some special deals for guests and trying to maximize their revenue where possible.

Do you think their various strategies will help them get through this slow period? Or should Universal be doing something even more drastic to help combat low attendance? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

-Originally published i n Theme Park Tourist by Amanda Konodolojy, February 9, 2017

 

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