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Where is the love for loyal guests?

Friday, August 22, 2008

 I am not, by far, the first person to complain about Disney’s lack of a frequent-visitor program for its resort hotels. And I’m probably not going to be the last.

We live in a world in which frequent flier miles and hotel points are a basic commodity. You travel a lot, you get some perks. Maybe it’s a free flight, maybe it’s a complementary upgrade, or maybe your “special requests” get a little more weight, like a request for a room on a high floor or near the elevator. But one way or another, frequent travelers are rewarded for their loyalty with a special treat here and there.

As a frequent business traveler, I have to say it’s almost come to feel like an entitlement. If I consolidate my travel on one particular airline and achieve premier status, I know I’ll get better seating and earn bonus miles on every flight. Twenty-five percent extra miles adds up fast! I’ve also (sometimes) received preferential treatment through the customer service call center when questions or problems arise. And at the very least, each time they look up my record they thank me for my loyal patronage. (Yes, I realize I’ve just made myself the target of some amount of derision from everybody who doesn’t have premier status…so perhaps y’all will feel a little better knowing my status will in fact expire in February and I’ll re-join the teeming masses again!)

By contrast, when I call Disney’s reservations line, and enter my phone number as requested, the Cast Member doesn’t even have the phone number I’ve just entered, much less the lookup on my past visits and dining reservations. To the CMs’credit, I’ve almost always been greeted at least as cheerfully as I’ve been by the airlines’ representatives….but they’ve clearly got access to far less data when the call begins.

More importantly, though, there are no perks or discounts for repeat, loyal business. I could stay at Pop Century for a month, and it wouldn’t earn me a single point towards a future free room, or even a complementary upgrade to a Preferred room on a future visit. Occasionally there are “bounce back” promotions, which let you book a reduced rate for a future stay while you’re still on-site during your current visit, but these rates aren’t much cheaper than the AP or AAA rates to which many of us already have access.

Now, one might think that Disney doesn’t really need to provide these perks or discounts, given the high occupancy rates at its resorts. One might also argue that such niceties for repeat guests goes against the democratic vibe of Disney Parks, where every Guest is special. But doesn’t Disney already provide special perks for those who spend more money (ie, more amenities at Deluxe than Value resorts), or make a longer-term investment in their Disney vacations (ie, Disney Vacation Club member discounts)? Why would it then be inconsistent to implement a hotel points system, ala Hilton HHonors or Starwood Points, to reward the greater long-term investment of frequent Guests?

Disney is also missing the boat on cross-park marketing. When they first started marketing Disney Parks as a single entity (in the US, at least), I would have liked to see better inter-park benefits for those who regularly visit more than one park. One can currently use days from unexpired Walt Disney World tickets at Disneyland, but not vice versa (which makes sense, given the relative costs). How about discounted tickets at each park for the Annual Passholders for the other? How about a global Annual Pass, good for admission to every Disney resort worldwide? (That idea was suggested at the 2008 Disney Shareholders meeting, and Iger was receptive but I haven’t seen anything in the news since.) Or, at the very very least, how about some cutesy, cheap souvenir for those who can document that they’ve visited every Disney Park in the world? It would even be fun to have some sort of autograph book that could be stamped at each Disney Park, much like climbers on Mount Fuji can purchase a walking stick to be stamped at every station.

Now, apparently this lack of perks isn’t keeping me away from Disney Parks…but such a thing might influence me to stay on site more frequently. After all, everybody needs a little extra lovin’ sometimes.