When OdySea Aquarium opened in 2016, visitors paid a single price for admission to the Scottsdale, Arizona, attraction. Although attendance was strong, the number of guests coming through the gates to view the otters, penguins, sharks, and other marine life declined in the evenings. To boost the number of visitors coming through the gates after 5 p.m., Greg Charbeneau, vice president and general manager of OdySea Aquarium, introduced discounted evening rates.
“We thought a lower price point would be a motivator,” he explains.
It turned out to be a smart move: dropping the $38 regular admission to $25 after 5 p.m. helped increase evening attendance by 10%. Boosting attendance in the evenings also helped even out the crowds, improving the aquarium experience for guests.
Industries ranging from airlines and hotels to movie theaters and ride-sharing services have implemented dynamic pricing, adjusting prices based on demand to maximize revenues and control attendance during slow and peak periods. Parks and attractions have adopted the pricing model, too, and discovered that implementing dynamic pricing requires careful operation and messaging.
Dig into the Data
OdySea Aquarium tracks its visitor numbers by the hour. Not only did that data reveal sharp declines in attendance after 5 p.m. (before variable pricing was introduced), it also showed Charbeneau where tweaks were needed after discounted evening rates were introduced in 2017.
“We experimented with different times for evening entries,” he says.
The aquarium started discounting admission after 5 p.m. but found 95% of their evening guests arrived right at 5 p.m., creating crowds at the gates. Shifting the time back one hour created a different problem: attendance started declining at 3 p.m. because guests were waiting until the discounts kicked in. The aquarium learned the sweet spot turned out to be 4:30 p.m.
Charbeneau credits the data for helping guide decisions about the pricing structure, explaining, “Introducing variable pricing was a revenue driver; tweaking it was about revenue optimization.”
Data also guided the decision by Italy’s Leolandia to adopt dynamic pricing.
As attendance increased—and the bulk of visitors came through the gates on weekends—Massimiliano Freddi, vice president of strategic development at Leolandia, recognized the Italian theme park would soon experience capacity crowds on Saturday and Sunday but struggle with lower attendance during the week.
Using dynamic pricing, Freddi believed, could help maximize revenues on peak days and help boost attendance during slower periods.
In 2012, Leolandia abandoned its fixed admission of 24 euros and adopted a range of 13 euros to 33 euros depending on the date. The park allocated a limited number of tickets at the lowest price and instituted incremental increases until admission reached the peak gate price.
“We had to educate our guests and let them know that they have the responsibility to buy in advance if they want to save money,” Freddi explains. “If they decide to pay more at the gate, it’s their decision.”
Once the decision to adopt an alternate pricing model is made, it must be executed well to be successful—which might be more difficult than it seems. In fact, Charbeneau believes execution is one of the biggest challenges of switching over to dynamic pricing.
“It can create a lot of confusion if it’s not done well,” he says. “You have to make sure the market understands the differences and what the options are.”
The OdySea Aquarium revamped its website several times to tweak the explanations of different pricing options—and it’s not done. Charbeneau expects the website will need several additional improvements to get the back-end algorithms correct before moving from its current variable pricing model to full-scale dynamic pricing.
Although Silverwood Theme Park offers discounted pricing for its annual “Scarywood Haunted Nights” event, the software that the Athol, Idaho, park uses is not set up for true dynamic pricing.
“It’d be incredible to be able to introduce dynamic pricing [all season long], but it takes a more sophisticated system than we have to develop the algorithms,” says Jordan Carter, Silverwood’s director of marketing. “We need some more time to get it right, but we will eventually get there.”
In the meantime, Silverwood Theme Park offers tiered pricing. Tickets to “Scarywood” are cheapest on Thursday evenings (with admission increasing $5 on Friday and an additional $5 on Saturday) and prices go up in the middle of October to help entice visitors to check out the haunted attraction earlier in the season.
“We found success spreading out the crowds,” Carter says. “The Saturdays closest to Halloween are still our busiest times, but we’ve seen much higher attendance on Thursdays because of the tiered pricing.”
Expect to Evolve
Fun Spot America Theme Parks offers special evening rates that reduce the price of admission to both of its Central Florida locations from $50 to $30. The variable pricing model has been so popular that Chief Marketing Officer David Hummer says the Kissimmee, Florida, location is busiest after the sun goes down (and other area theme parks close their gates).
“We see a huge jump in the evening, and things really get going around 8:30 p.m.,” he says.
The annual Birthday Party Sale is also a huge draw. Fun Spot has been offering deep discounts on tickets in honor of its birthday since 2010. When the park introduced the discounts, most guests purchased tickets on site, creating long lines in the park. Hummer credits an aggressive marketing campaign for boosting online sales.
“Our marketing message was, ‘You don’t have to be here to be part of the sale,’ and we pushed it hard for two years,” Hummer recalls.
The percentage of online ticket sales doubled from 2014 to 2015 and continued growing. Fun Spot also introduced “buy + go” kiosks at the park for guests who wanted to purchase discounted tickets during the birthday sale but felt uncomfortable buying them online.
“The lines [at the kiosks] are just three to four people deep compared to 300 to 400 people at the gate,” Hummer says.
At Leolandia, Freddi has also tweaked the park’s dynamic pricing. Increasing the gate price from 24 euros to 33 euros was too big of a jump for some guests, and the park experienced pushback in response to the higher prices. The park has since lowered its gate price to 29 euros (but raises it as high as 35 euros during holidays).
Guest feedback also led Leolandia to adjust its policies on refunds. There are still no refunds on advanced purchases, but visitors can now receive a credit on their fixed-date tickets toward a visit on another day, if needed. Freddi credits the ever-evolving dynamic pricing program for helping the park grow from 400,000 to 1 million annual visitors.
“We adopted dynamic pricing like a religion, and it’s worked for us,” he concludes.