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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

Travel Copywriter
Universal Studios Hollywood logo -- courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood logo — courtesy of Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood theme park is now aggressively marketing $299 “V.I.P. Experience” passes that allow users to skip to the front of lines — avoiding waits that can sometimes seem interminable.

According to this June 10 New York Times piece,  V.I.P.s also have access to valet parking and parts of the studio’s normally closed back lot, are treated to rides on special escorted trolleys, and are fed two gourmet meals (breakfast and lunch). The park even throws in some hand sanitizer, a poncho to stay dry and some mints.

If you just want to get to the front of lines or shows without waiting, you can shell out $149 ($169 in peak summer), which is considerably more than the already-steep regular one-day admission price of $84.

The allure of not standing in 45-minute lines on hot summer days is obvious for those who can afford the additional tab, and for Universal it’s a no-brainer way of raking in some extra bucks — as long as the beleaguered regular ticket holders don’t rebel when the V.I.P.s are ushered to the front.

As the Times piece points out, The V.I.P. tickets create a two-tiered system of park-goers. It strikes me as a similar situation to the divisions between first or business class airline passengers and coach-class passengers, with the cheap-seat folks forced to walk past the comfortably ensconced in order to reach their thrombosis-inducing rear cattle cars.

Do the economy passengers resent the front-of-the-plane occupants as they file past, or do they merely dream of future flights when they, too, can truly sit back and relax in double-wide seats while sipping juice and trying to stifle their smug expressions? My guess is: Probably both.

I can see this becoming the battle of the baby boomers — with the more affluent boomers willing to pay nearly $600 per couple for a pampered hassle-free day of rides and attractions, while the $160 per day boomer couple (maybe with a couple of grandkids in tow) sweats out the wait for Jurassic Park — the Ride.

I’ve been on both sides of this equation: once, when I was writing a California travel guidebook, I was accorded complimentary V.I.P. treatment at Universal Studios (minus the free food), and my family and I were whisked to the front of several very crowded lines. Had I been waiting in line, as I have on other occasions at the same theme park, I’m sure I would have wanted to hurl my own ($5) bag of mints at  that writer.

So far, a Universal marketing exec assured the Times, sales of the V.I. P. Experience passes have zoomed without noticeable complaints from the peanut gallery.

Still, as summer progresses and the sun gets hotter and the lines get longer, can resentments be far behind?

The lure of extra profits vs. the fear of upsetting many of your customers — it’s a fine line to walk. But maybe not to stand in…if you can afford it.


Don’t forget to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen.


2 Responses to Will Baby Boomers Pay Extra for VIP Theme Park Passes?

  • The caste system is alive and well, isn’t it? We all love to get ahead of the hoi polloi, even if we like to think we are all in the end ordinary folks. I know I try hard to maintain my elite frequent flier status, not so much for the occasional upgrade, but for avoiding lines at the airport.

    But it seems to me that the price differences at Universal you lay out are quite grotesque, even if you can afford it.

    I’ve read that there are some well-off folks who are using handicapped guides at Walt Disney World in order to get access to special entrances.

  • I’ll mark you down as not a good bet to be buying the V.I.P. passes any time soon, James. And yes, what you’ve read about people trying to game the system at Disney World is apparently true. I’ll see you at the back of the line.

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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