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A Disney World vacation is no cheap matter.
We're reminded of that every year when ticket prices are regularly bumped up.
It's usually paired with a bunch of news articles about Disney becoming an increasingly
expensive experience.
However it wasn't always that way.
Back when Disney World opened in 1971, an adult eleven ride ticket book cost $5.75 and
a room at The Contemporary cost up to $44 a night.
Even adjusted for inflation, that would come out to around $34.50 for the tickets and $264
for the hotel.
In reality, a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket costs $132 with tax, and a night at The Contemporary,
facing the theme park, can run around $675 a night.
So what happened?
When did Disney World get so expensive?
Well the quick and short answer is that CEO Michael Eisner and CFO Gary Wilson happened.
The long answer is that, circumstances at the time really made the decision simple and
it's kind of hard to vilify them for what was otherwise a sound business move.
You see, Disney as a company was in a bit of a rough spot when Eisner took over as CEO.
With the death of Walt Disney in the later half of the 1960s, the 1970s were somewhat
of a lost era for the company.
Sure today we can look back at projects like Robin Hood and The Rescuers and see them as
classics, but the truth is the company wasn't growing financially during this time.
A company once known for constant innovation at the hand of Walt Disney quickly became
one that relied on its old tricks due to a “What would Walt do?” mentality.
This lack of evolution and change was partially beneficial for fans, as it was an era in which
admission prices at the parks didn't rise too steeply.
Annual increases ranged from fifty cents to a dollar or so.
As CEO at the time Card Walker put it: “We have to keep our prices low, so that guests
feel they've gotten good value.”
It was a continuation of Walt's own approach to the parks.
Profit was secondary to making something people loved.
Unfortunately corporate raiders on Wall Street didn't care about what Walt thought twenty
years prior, and so the stagnation of the company into the early 1980s made Disney a
prime target for a hostile takeover.
Thanks to the efforts of Walt's nephew, Roy E Disney, the raiders were ultimately
warded off.
If you want to know more about how, I have a great book suggestion at the end of this video.
Long story short however, it meant a change of leadership at Disney, and that meant bringing
in Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.
Even before officially signing on as CEO, Eisner saw the value that was being underutilized
at the Disney parks.
In order to keep away any future wall street raiders Disney needed to start improving their
bottom-line, and fast.
Eisner brought in a new Chief Financial Officer from Marriott named Gary Wilson, and without
any hesitation ticket prices started to go up.
Just to give you an idea of the rate and amount of the increases, consider this.
Just two years prior to Michael Eisner joining the company, Disney World ticket prices
rose twice for a total of three dollars, from $15 for a one-day ticket to $18.
In the two years following his arrival tickets rose in price five times, jumping eight dollars
to $26.
The surprising part for Disney was that even with the frequent price hikes, attendance
wasn't dropping, proving Eisner right.
There was more value in the admission to Disney parks than Disney was realizing.
The new Disney leadership also saw value that was going unrecognized elsewhere, specifically
in hotels on property and in VHS releases of Disney's classic films.
The company similarly cashed in on those opportunities, and by 1987 the company's operating income
jumped from just under three-hundred million dollars to nearly eight-hundred million dollars.
The turnaround kept raiders at bay.
Prices continued to rise in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Even into Bob Iger's tenor as CEO over the last ten years, tickets would see annual hikes
that leave us at the prices we have today.
Now some might argue that Disney is very different from the state it was in thirty years ago,
and so they should stop raising prices.
However even though Disney improved drastically, they weren't always totally in the clear.
For instance, as late as 2004, Disney was the target of another takeover bid, this time
by Comcast.
For better or for worse, the growth-focused mindset of Wall Street and the constant looming
threat of being purchased, willingly or otherwise, by a bigger fish means companies like Disney
are forced to try and grow every single year.
This means more revenue, and this means higher prices to get there.
So ultimately Disney World is so expensive because historically the price hikes were
crucial to elevating the company as a whole and closing a near 15 year gap of stagnation.
It protected the company from outside buyers by making the company more valuable.
But beyond that the answer is because, when all is said and done after each price hike,
people are still willing to pay for it.
If you're interested in learning more about the attempted hostile takeover of Disney in
the early 1980s that resulted in Eisner stepping in as CEO, I suggest checking out Storming
the Magic Kingdom by John Taylor.
You can find a link to the book in my description below.
I want to thank you for watching, and I'll see you next time.
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Why is Walt Disney World So Expensive?

4022 Folder Collection
Evangeline published on October 18, 2018    Arnold Hsu translated    Emily reviewed
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