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Theme Parks: Boosting brand loyalty with gift cards – George Aguel, Sr VP Disney Parks & Resorts

chad emerson theme park interviews and disneygeorge aguel disney theme parks
Disney consolidated its gift card and expanded the applicable product range. Collectors value them too.

Interview with Chad Emerson

Related: Looking into the future at Disney / Imagineers on Fantasyland expansion / Viral marketing at Disney / Marty Sklar retirement

Chad Emerson
: What insights led to the creation of the Disney Gift Card?

George Aguel (right): Five years ago, our domestic Disney Retail Business (Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and The Disney Store) each had their own stored-value product. As you might expect, this could sometimes be confusing when a Guest tried to use a Walt Disney World Resort gift card at Disneyland or The Disney Store. Creating a single gift card eliminated this confusion and had the added benefit of creating more opportunities and convenience for our Guests. It enabled other Disney lines of business to leverage our stored-value platform, entities like Disney Club Penguin (an online virtual world for kids) and 

: How does the Disney Gift Card enhance Disney’s business?

: The key to our success is creating a variety of wonderful products and experiences that encourage our Guests to use their Disney Gift Card. The more engaged Guests are with our brand, the more loyal they are and the higher the likelihood that they’ll remain our Guests throughout their lives.

Emerson:  What’s been the response to the program?

:  In a word, overwhelmickey mouse disney gift cardming. We’ve exceeded closed-loop gift card trends year after year. Typically, 40% of all gift cards are sold between October and December. While most of the industry was flat during the 2009 holiday season, it was the most successful period to date for the Disney Gift Card.

Emerson: Where can the Disney Gift Card be purchased and where can it be redeemed?

: It’s available at most Disney retail locations at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts, as well as at the more than 200 Disney Store locations in the U.S. Customers can also purchase the card online at and The card is also sold in more than 15, 000 grocery and drug stores across the U.S.   

The card is redeemable at our domestic Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Stores,, Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, Disney Vacation Club, Club Penguin and Disney’s PhotoPass. The list continues to grow as we are adding new redemption locations all the time!

Emerson: What other features and benefits are unique to a Disney-branded card?

: We’ve created a variety of interesting Disney Gift Cards including cards that come with exclusive collectable pins. There are also unique “form factors” like waterproof, wearable wristbands for Disney Gift Cards sold in our water parks. Another important feature is that the Disney Gift Card has no fees and never expires.

Emerson: How are the cards used promotionally?

Aguel: Disney business units have used the cards in a variety of ways to increase interest in products and offers. For example, Disney Interactive Media Group offered free $5 Disney Gift Cards in packaged products for gaming consoles sold in the parks and Disney Stores. And, the Walt Disney World Resort is currently offering a free Disney Gift Card on select vacation packages. Guests place a high degree of value on the Disney Gift Card. 

Emerson: What is an example of a great Disney Gift Card program that benefited the Guest as well as the business?

: One that comes immediately to mind is the wristlet card that we created in 2008 for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The convenience of this form of the card was extremely well received and created a very positive Guest experience. Most important, it minimized or eliminated altogether the need for Guests to fumble for payment as they visited the many different food and wine kiosks. The wristlet card also improved the speed and convenience of check-out. We received great feedback from our Guests and operating partners alike. This is a great example of a new and interesting way to leverage the Disney Gift Card, and we’re always looking for more.

Emerson: Any plans for the future?

: We’ll continue to optimize our internal distribution through improved merchandising and promotion. Based on the success of sales in those 15, 000 grocery and drug stores I mentioned, we’ll continue cautious expansion into additional distribution channels.   

We’ll also continue to expand our card creative. We currently offer more than 100 card designs at There’s been great demand from Guests who view the cards as collectibles.

We’ve even created a section on our Web site that let Guests see all of the cards that have been created, including designs that have been “retired.” In fact, the Web site is the only place where you can see every card we’ve ever published. We have a lot of loyal followers who actively collect all of the cards. So the future continues to be about creating new products, designs and form factors.

We’re also actively involved in social media networking as well. Guests can follow us on Twitter @DisneyGiftCard and they can become Fans of the Disney Gift Card on Facebook.

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