$50 Tickets Anyone? Florida Theme Parks Try Out Discounted Weekday Admissions

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Ski resorts have discounted weekday tickets to boost business on slow days for years. For the most part, though, theme parks have been reluctant to use the strategy, mainly out of fear of devaluing their product.

As of August 1, however, two sister parks in Florida—SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa—are selling weekday admissions tickets for $50 apiece. That’s $42 off the usual adult entrance price at SeaWorld, and $39 less than Busch Gardens’ regular admissions. The special prices are only valid on tickets purchased ahead of time online, not for walkup customers, and tickets can be used any weekday through December 20.

The purpose of the dramatic discount seems pretty obvious: As with ski resorts, the goal is increased revenues via more tickets sold. The formula works even if the per-admission price drops, so long as enough tickets are sold and a fair share of the guests who otherwise wouldn’t be there are buying food and souvenirs. “I suspect that SeaWorld hopes that lowering the price will pay for itself by increasing attendance on otherwise soft days,” says Robert Niles, founder and editor of ThemeParkInsider.com.

(MORE: Entrance to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Now Costs Over $100 — With Tax)

Researchers and analysts have long pondered the likelihood that theme parks might adopt variable pricing structures that rise and fall based on demand—perhaps in simple weekday/weekend and holiday/non-holiday fashion like ski resorts, or perhaps in more dynamic ways like constantly changing airline ticket prices. The initiatives from SeaWorld and Busch Gardens could be a means of testing the waters of variable pricing during the generally slow period of autumn.

The necessity of such a promotion might have also been brought on because these two theme parks overestimated demand when they recently raised standard admissions prices by $3 at SeaWorld and $5 at Busch Gardens. The resulting prices ($92 and $89, respectively, for adults) places SeaWorld and Busch Gardens very closely in the vicinity of admissions costs at Disney and Universal parks, and many theme park enthusiasts see Disney and Universal as vastly superior experiences.

In its story on the $50 ticket offer, the Tampa Bay Times noted that there are indications Busch Gardens in particular has been struggling:

Busch Gardens recently confirmed it is temporarily closing its popular Crown Colony and Garden Gate restaurants, a sign that the theme park could be feeling the competition of major new attractions at other Florida theme parks.

(MORE: Is Airline-Style Variable Pricing Coming to Theme Parks?)

Niles also thinks that the $50 promotion was probably motivated because the participating resorts have been experiencing trouble competing with the big boys. “SeaWorld’s move suggests that attendance this summer isn’t what they’d hoped for in Orlando and Tampa,” he says.

As for the possibility of Disney or Universal following SeaWorld’s lead and giving discounted admissions on certain days a try, Niles says no one should get their hopes up. “I don’t see Disney or Universal following because I don’t see them having that many soft days,” he says.