Blooloop's Chad Emerson caught up with Steven K. Brown, CEO of accesso, based in Lake Mary, Florida USA. accesso products and services have been providing ticketing and commerce solutions for a wide variety of leading theme parks, waterparks and zoos. Clients include Six Flags, the Columbus Zoo, Zoombezi Bay water park and Elitch Gardens.
Related: accesso company profile / How biometrics became part of theme park ticketing: interview with accesso's Janel Pisorchik
Share with us how you got started in the amusement industry.
I started out at Walt Disney World as merchandise host at the newly opened Disney-MGM Studios. It was exciting to join Disney in 1989 at the start of an era of expansion that included the studio theme park, Typhoon Lagoon water park and thousands of hotel rooms.
What led you into the area of ticketing and admission strategies?
After a couple of years working in Disney’s industrial engineering area, I decided to leave to pursue my MBA. Afterwards, thanks to great support from leaders like Erin Wallace and Bruce Laval, I found myself back at Disney developing ticket pricing strategies and promotional offers. Ultimately, that work led to creation of the first executive role in charge of ticketing as a line of business. We combined all the various ticketing functions from operations, pricing strategy, budgeting and forecasting to technology and sales training into one division.
When I moved to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim I had accountability for the Resort's ticket revenues along with hotel revenue management responsibility, attendance forecasting and visitation research. As we headed into the 50th Anniversary celebration, I was tasked with full responsibility for the Disneyland Resort Annual Pass program including marketing and overall program delivery.
Following my 16 years with Disney, I embarked on a new opportunity to gain a perspective on an entirely different business, as the head of ticket strategy and sales for all Six Flags parks. The Six Flags experience provided me with a much broader view on the industry as a whole along with an expanded view on ticketing for regional parks.
Over the course of your career, what have been some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in ticketing strategies?
Actually, there has not been much change, which means there is likely a lot of value being left on the table. It seems that many attractions take an annual look at raising the ticket price by $1 or considering new discounts for the year. Often those decisions are determined through a roundtable debate with the highest ranking person prevailing. To maximize profitability, ticket strategy should really be an ongoing analytical exercise in economics, research and consumer behavior. A well-informed strategy will maximize the profit contribution from the most qualified or repeat guests and include elements for attracting new visitors. Further, by continually revisiting distribution strategy, attractions can respond to a constantly changing marketplace and utilize technology like web sales, mobile marketing, social media and email to expand their ticket sales reach.
How has the Internet changed ticketing in the amusement industry?
Definitively. If an attraction has not placed a significant focus on the internet ticketing revolution, they will soon find themselves way behind their competition. Online, print-at-home ticketing is far more strategic than just an added guest convenience and a means of speeding up the front gate lines. Getting guests into the park more quickly means they can squeeze in an extra ride or maybe have time for another soda purchase. Research clearly shows the more attractions a guest experiences in a day, the higher they score their value for the money and the higher they rate their intent to recommend the park to friends.
When they buy print-at-home admission and parking online, it goes on a credit card. With those expenses behind them, it leaves more cash in their pocket for the day of spending in the park. At accesso, we have clients approaching 50% of their tickets being sold online. In just a few years, ticket booths will no longer be the first thing you see when arriving at an attraction. Nearly all guests will show up with tickets in hand and head straight to the park entrance.
You’ve worked with two of the industry’s largest players in Disney and Six Flags. How would you describe their unique ticketing approaches?
First of all, there are significant differences in ticketing strategies among the Disney properties. With Walt Disney World, a few dollars' savings on a ticket doesn’t play enough into the total vacation cost to change a family’s decision. Consumers tend to focus on the total trip expense including airfare and hotel rate when it comes to a trip to Orlando.
At Disneyland, while domestic and international visitation is a significant part of the overall business, locals comprise a large portion as well. With the huge Southern California population and the appeal of the Disneyland Resort experience, the Annual Pass program is one of the best entertainment values in Southern California.
A lot of focus is placed on the program and how it plays into the overall business.
At Six Flags, the audience is primarily local and regional guests with the perception that they can visit anytime, so they tend to wait for a deal or a unique event to spur a trip to the park. A few dollars' savings or a promotional offer can mean a significant change in attendance. Plus, the Season Pass program is of great importance for regional theme parks. If a guest comes back 4 or 5 times across the season, that represents a significant upside opportunity in terms of the admission ticket revenue as well as incremental food and merchandise spending in-park.
It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon in Central Florida. Describe for us your perfect theme park day.
Brown: I would make that a beautiful sunny September afternoon in Central Florida – one of the least busy theme park months. A visit to the Magic Kingdom to hit the classic favorites, a stop for a Dole Whip in Adventureland and then capping off the day with relaxing dinner at The Flying Fish at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort.
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