Industry turns corner on attendance, expects big year

Posted Monday, April 4, 2011 12:38 PM | Contributed by Jeff

Amusement parks thrown for a loop by the slumping economy over the past few years are starting to rebound, drawing bigger crowds over the past year and spending more money on new attractions this season. Crowds increased at many parks in 2010, with some seeing record attendance. Those within the amusement industry are optimistic this year will be even better and think rising gasoline prices might help them out by forcing families to spend their vacation time near home.

Read more from AP via the Indy Star.

Monday, April 4, 2011 2:01 PM

It will be more interesting in a few months for the destination parks you fly or drive a long distance to, I think. The Southwest $76 fares are gone, it looks like the new lowest fare is $99 or $124, and I haven't been able to price a flight to Orlando from my neck of the woods for less than $400 round trip for just myself on the other airlines, and the price tends to be closer to $500-600 RT. I know I'm not the family making $70k+ a year that will be doing the traveling to the destinations, but that has got to putting the brakes on a lot of destination trips that would have otherwise been booked in the near future.

The local parks, on the other hand, will likely see a decent bump in attendance from their immediate market while forms of entertainment in cities a few hours out from those regional parks will likely see an increase as gas prices continue to rise. I'm cringing at the gas costs for possible trips to Cedar Point/KI, with it costing $50+ for a fill-up from 1/4 of a tank for 250mi. of driving. When it costs me as much (or more) to drive one way to the park as it does to get in to the park (and twice as much round trip!), that's where I start drawing the line.


Original BlueStreak64

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Monday, April 4, 2011 2:46 PM
Jeff's avatar

I'm sure it comes down to the math that Gonch has pointed out numerous times. If you have to spend an extra hundred bucks even on gas, for a driving Disney vacation that costs thousands, is it really a deal breaker? I'm guessing no.


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Monday, April 4, 2011 3:02 PM

If you're driving, it may not be an issue in terms of upfront costs (especially per person), but when you're flying a family of four, if your airfare goes from $200 per person RT to $400+, that's an $800+ increase in the cost of that portion of the trip alone. I guess the good thing about places like Disney and parks in general is that they can be a little more resilient when it comes to food and merchandise shipping costs, since they start out with a pretty big margin on those items in particular; so your costs once you arrive and start eating and shopping will likely not change.

The people traveling as we speak won't be affected, but given the outlook on the larger picture that I see, I think you'll see some give and take starting a few months from now. Depending on how long the gas price issues continue across the pond could really hurt airline travel in particular.


Original BlueStreak64

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Monday, April 4, 2011 3:30 PM

I really am glad to hear this... However I do think the parks in Florida will not be effected to much only because once you get to Orlando there is so much to see and do all within about 20 miles or so. This is great for smaller parks that are adding new additions. I still think the parks that are adding water park additions will do extremely well this year.

I really hope the gas prices wont go up to $5 a gallon... that would really suck. I know I am planning some big road trips this year so some parks will get my business regardless of the gas prices. You just have to budget it.


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Monday, April 4, 2011 5:25 PM

On our Vac in 2008 when gas was 4.39 We had clear highways. I don't know how it will effect the parks. Im positive most of the gains will be local

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Monday, April 4, 2011 8:15 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

maXairMike said:
If you're driving, it may not be an issue in terms of upfront costs (especially per person), but when you're flying a family of four, if your airfare goes from $200 per person RT to $400+, that's an $800+ increase in the cost of that portion of the trip alone.

For what it's worth, I could fly out of Dayton directly to Orlando leaving on May 9th and returning on May 16th for $79 each way. (yay Airtran!)

I think that's actually less than we paid when we went for realsies 2 years ago.

But you do make a point. Airfare tends to rise with gas prices. Do you reach a place where the flight cost becomes a deterrent to the whole vacation? I'm sure there's a point, but we don't seem to be even close to the kind of increase you describe. And again, I suspect the extra couple hundred bucks in the scheme of a couple-thousand dollar trip isn't killing it.

The yearly, "Oh noes! Gas is expensive!" stories are getting old. We complain. We adjust accordingly. And then we repeat. Life goes on. People go to amusement parks. The civilized world doesn't collapse.


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Monday, April 4, 2011 9:25 PM

Yet.


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Monday, April 4, 2011 9:55 PM

Wow, that is really surprising, Gonch. Dayton isn't too much larger than Fort Wayne (my small regional), with Indianapolis being my closest "major" airport. I am hard-pressed to find anything under $200 each way out of FWA unless I fly Frontier, which only flies certain days and bends you over for baggage. I generally only fly Southwest unless my destination isn't serviced by them, and cringe at the price for baggage on the other airlines. I think I have seen all of one $76 flight on American lately for my region. Maybe I need to look at Dayton and consider it for my airport list along with IND, FWA, and CMH.

Obviously, I don't like paying another $25+ for my baggage, but I digress, as I'm sure it doesn't bug you. ;)

Last edited by maXairMike, Monday, April 4, 2011 9:57 PM

Original BlueStreak64

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Monday, April 4, 2011 11:53 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

maXairMike said:
I generally only fly Southwest unless my destination isn't serviced by them, and cringe at the price for baggage on the other airlines.

Obviously, I don't like paying another $25+ for my baggage, but I digress, as I'm sure it doesn't bug you. ;)

Well, Southwest doesn't fly out of Dayton.

I figure at least I can control the baggage fee with my mad packing skills. If I were the airline I'd have proably factored 1.5 bags per passenger and just upped the fares $40 and called it 'no baggage fees' flying.

Hmmm. Hey! Wait!

...

:)


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 12:14 AM

I would buy that if I could find $76 (or the $99 current) equivalent fares on AA, United, etc. out of Indy or FWA, but I have an extremely hard time doing so. Of course they have all managed to stay afloat in one way or another so people are obviously paying the higher fares and baggage fees, but still. If I lived north of Fort Wayne I would probably be able to fly out of Chicago and reap the benefits of a major hub airport with cheaper flights, but the current 4hr. drive (5 with traffic) kind of forces me to use Indy (2hrs.) or FWA (30min.).

It has been a long time since I've been to Dayton, have they expanded their terminal or flight selection to draw those cheaper fares? FWA is just above boutique (small craft) airport status outside of cargo use, which is annoying because we have the runway size for the big planes - like I said, we do get some cargo traffic - but are relegated to the little American Eagle/Connect style planes with like 30 total seats (probably under-exaggerating in a few cases, but that's what it seems like). I wish they could attract some bigger flights and lower fares. I would expect a lot of people to jump on the ability to drive a half hour or less as opposed to 2-2.5 hours to Indy with the gas prices, although those are also raising flight prices, it seems.


Original BlueStreak64

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 12:54 AM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

I think that $79 fare speaks more about Airtran (and that particular route) than it does Dayton.

As far as proximity to airports, that's where flying potentially starts to lose me. I'm totally ok with a good road trip. Once you start having to travel 2 or 3 hours just to catch a flight, then consider boarding & flight times and such you reach a point where I start to weigh the cost/time ratio.

We live about 1/2 hour from the Dayton airport - it's obviously our "home" airport. We can be to Columbus in around an hour. Probably the same-ish to Cincy. Beyond that it would really depend on where I was going and how much I was saving for me to consider traveling to an airport to travel (heh). But I can't imagine a fare being such a drastic difference that I'd drive a couple of hours to take advantage of it.

We're Airtran fanboys (and fangirls) at stately Gonch Manor. They always seem to have decent fares. We've looked to them first pretty much everywhere we've lived.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 2:12 AM

I just looked at flights on Southwest, and man, was I surprised by what I saw! AirTran may be my new temporary choice until they up the fares as well! Cheapest IND to MCO I can find through Southwest is $153 each way, and it looks like they're starting to block certain travel arrangements as well...how very interesting! Of course, this may also be as a result of the recent issue(s) with some of the craft in their fleet. But still...AirTran flies out of Indy.

I hate that I have to drive two hours for the closest "major" airport, but we (my mom and I) are also extremely conscious about the extra costs on our cars making trips like driving to Disney can incur, so the tradeoff was worth it when the fares were half as much. That's what comes with living out in the middle of nowhere, though. Another reason I would much rather live within a half hour drive of a major metro area.


Original BlueStreak64

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 5:03 AM

maXairMike said:
Dayton isn't too much larger than Fort Wayne (my small regional), with Indianapolis being my closest "major" airport. I am hard-pressed to find anything under $200 each way out of FWA unless I fly Frontier, which only flies certain days and bends you over for baggage.

Allegiant Air flies out of Fort Wayne, and for two random days I picked in June, round trip to Orlando for one person was $230.87 including all taxes and fees. Of course, they only fly a couple days a week and charge $20 for a checked bag, but they're still the cheapest I've found if you can have flexible flight dates.


I've used Allegiant three times out of Toledo and have had great experiences. They even have hotel and car rental packages, which I've used the last two times because I found a bit of savings in going that route. Occasionally (during slow periods obviously) you can find buy one get one airfare deals through them. That's usually when I jump to book a flight.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 9:23 AM

I am not a big fan of Allegiant due to the fact that their flight pattern determines your schedule for you. Unless my dates happen to coincide with their pattern, I don't bother checking. Kind of the same with Frontier, only I believe they fly a bit more than Allegiant. You also have to factor in that they fly into Sanford, which is a very expensive taxi ride to Disney (I've priced it at $100! Mears, I believe) unless you plan on renting a car or having someone pick you up.

Convenience is obviously a big sticking point with air travel, and anything that flies on select dates or into Sanford (in the case of Orlando attractions) just does not fall under the "convenient" category to me.

Last edited by maXairMike, Tuesday, April 5, 2011 9:27 AM

Original BlueStreak64

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:22 AM
kpjb's avatar

When I went to Orlando last August, it was $59 each way on Southwest. They're now at $114 for the same dates. Airtran is at $94, but with the $25 bag they're still a little more.

For our family of 3 that makes it $330 more. It wouldn't stop me, but I can see it hampering some people's plans if it goes much more or if their family is much bigger.

Didn't Southwest just buy AirTran? I wonder if they'll merge them. I flew AirTran a few years back before they had the bag fees. Seemed competent enough to me.

*I should add that the regular price was $79. I waited for a sale to book them, and Southwest discounts often. I imagine I could still get that trip under $200 r/t if I was looking for it.

Last edited by kpjb, Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:24 AM

Hi

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:25 AM
ApolloAndy's avatar

Lord Gonchar said:

The yearly, "Oh noes! Gas is expensive!" stories are getting old. We complain. We adjust accordingly. And then we repeat. Life goes on. People go to amusement parks. The civilized world doesn't collapse.

Only if the yearly "q-bot will destroy the world" or "Disney is out pricing their customer base" doesn't get us first.

Last edited by ApolloAndy, Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:25 AM

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 11:11 AM

It certainly seems to me that reactions to gas price spikes in the past have been more emotional than rational. If you sit down and work it out, the increase in price really *is* very modest. But, most people don't do that. They just see the tens digit on their weekly fill-up go up and think "crap, I better stop driving!"

In other words, People Are Stupid. But, we knew that.

However,: as we keep seeing the spike/crash cycle, people will eventually adjust to it. This time probably won't freak people out as much as the last time did. And, next time, maybe even less.

The airfare thing has already been a problem for at least the last year, and maybe two. Airlines contracted capacity *significantly* during the recession, and they have done a good job *not* flooding the market with cheap routes as travel demand has rebounded. It's Gonch's Law in action: by flying fewer flights, their revenues go down, but their *profits* go up---they are, essentially, chucking the bargain hunters to the curb, and sticking with the more profitable segment of the market. The same has happened with rental cars. The wailing and gnashing of teeth about both airfare and car rental on the Disneyana boards has been shrill for at least a year, and maybe two.

Exceptions exist---see AirTran---but AirTran is about to become Southwest, so perhaps that particular exception won't last forever.

I play a similar time vs. money game when I decide to fly or drive. For the most part, if I can make it in a single day, I drive. If it takes me two days, I fly. Florida, for me, is a solid two-day trip. If airfare becomes prohibitive, I'll stop going to Disney, but I won't stop going to Florida. That week in late February/early March where I can thaw out is too important to my family---the thawing is more important than the Mouse.

As for Disney: the west coast resort is mostly drive-to guests, but Florida has a good chunk of fly-to folks. I suspect Florida will feel the pinch first if it happens, because it does seem that flying takes a bigger hit than driving does when oil prices spike.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 12:14 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

kpjb said:
Didn't Southwest just buy AirTran?

Brian Noble said:

Exceptions exist---see AirTran---but AirTran is about to become Southwest, so perhaps that particular exception won't last forever.

This one totally got by me. I had no idea.

Hmmm. I don't believe I've ever flown Southwest. Change is scary. I'm going to complain...eventually.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 12:28 PM
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I don't mind Southwest for shorter flights, but I wasn't extremely impressed with a cross country flight, which wasn't much cheaper than other options. But now I have better options.


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