By Beth J. Harpaz, AP Travel Editor
NEW YORK (AP) — Disney is offering a free day's admission to 1 million guests who complete a day of volunteer work next year.
The "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" program will provide certified volunteers with a one-day ticket to any park at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., or Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., in 2010.
Disney is partnering with HandsOn Network, a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities, to connect people with projects and to certify that the work was done.
"We are trying to inspire 1 million people to volunteer in their communities and we're inspiring them to do that by giving them a free day at a Disney park," Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Rasulo called the promotion "very timely," citing the increased needs of nonprofits in the weak economy, as well as President Obama's national volunteering initiative.
"The spirit of our country is very much behind that, whether it's the first family or whether it's the average family," Rasulo said.
Duncan Dickson, who teaches theme park management at the University of Central Florida's Rosen School of Hospitality Management in Orlando, said the volunteer initiative is "a smart marketing move."
Dickson said Disney will get good buzz for encouraging volunteerism plus free publicity from the nonprofits that benefit. And even when theme parks let people in for free, they make their money back in other ways, Dickson said.
"You make a lot of money in popcorn and T-shirts and other things," Dickson said.
Some guests who come in for free would have bought tickets anyway, but the free offer will also bring in visitors who wouldn't otherwise have made the trip, and they'll bring paying guests with them, Dickson added. "Anything that pushes the turnstiles is good for business," Dickson said.