by Ken Ibold
Updated 11 months ago
By Ken Ibold
The Disney Institute, which for four years has encouraged visitors to expand their intellectual horizons, has a new message: Bring nine friends, or don't come at all.
From its inception, the Disney Institute at Walt Disney World aimed to attract visitors looking more for personal growth than theme-park entertainment. The institute offers more than 80 programs in nine tracks: entertainment, fitness, lifestyles, story arts, culinary arts, design, environment, youth and performing arts. The classes were aimed at adults who wanted to explore new horizons, older children and young adults who wanted to investigate potential careers and groups that wanted to conduct team-building exercises. Guests could take classes in animation, topiary, rock climbing, cooking, antiquing and more.
The problem was, the number of individuals willing to pay $50 to $150 for a half-day course was far outstripped by the number of attendees promised by Orlando's lucrative convention and corporate trade. So in March, the institute declared it was making the programs open only to groups of 10 or more. Although the target groups are corporate and convention customers, the institute will also accept social groups such as wedding parties -- as long as at least 10 people are involved.
"The decision was not driven so much inside out, driven by us, as it was a response to the marketplace," says Craig Taylor, director of sales and marketing.
Taylor says the institute's corporate sales have grown very rapidly in the last couple of years, while the growth of individual sales has been merely "steady." In typical Disney fashion, Taylor declines to release any attendance figures.
By focusing on group sales, Disney may be counting on less price sensitivity. Many of the programs had been sold in three- and four-day packages that included lodging and other extras, sometimes for more than $1,000. Although those packages were discounted rates, even that could not fill the institute's 584 townhouses and bungalows.
When Disney chief Michael Eisner introduced the concept five years ago, he called it "a resort with a creatively charged atmosphere, where you can engage your body, excite your mind and expand your horizons," and a "bold experiment." As the experiment progresses, professional development courses such as "Managing for Creativity and Innovation" may take over from "The Creative Gardener."
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