Mickey Mouse is going back to work. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopened Saturday in Orlando, Florida. Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will re-open on July 15. As you might expect, the experience will be different than in the days of our pre-coronavirus lives.
These aren’t the first parks to re-open in Florida. SeaWorld is open, and Universal’s three parks opened up June 5 with limited capacity. Overseas, Disney has also re-opened four theme parks in Asia. It’s a gradual, slow process with public safety for both park-goers and employees in mind. Let’s hope it works. Public safety and economic concerns both played a role in the decision to re-open.
Let’s face it, Disney World has been closed for four months. Disney needs to open up. The company is desperate to get it open and going again because Disney World breaths life into the entire Disney ecosystem. A media analyst reports that Disney World generated 16% of Disney’s total revenue in 2019. That amounted to 11.2 billion. The profits from the theme parks allow Disney to invest in products that may not make money right away. The pandemic has made some investments, like Disney +, a really smart venture. People hunkered down at home are dependent on entertainment and streaming services are filling that need.
Disney World is “the heart of the brand,” according to Trip Miller, a Disney shareholder and managing partner at Gullane Capital Partners. “When you think about Disney, I think for a lot of people, Disney World immediately comes to mind,” he said.
Disney’s media empire is vast. The company has blockbuster film franchises, a popular and growing streaming service, and a robust cable network in ESPN. Still, all those things may not be as vital to the company’s bottom line in the near term as its parks and resorts.
And no Disney park is as essential as Walt Disney World.
“It’s three times the size of Disneyland in terms of revenue,” Michael Nathanson, a media analyst and founding partner at MoffettNathanson, told CNN Business.
Nathanson estimates that Disney World alone generated $11.2 billion, or about 16% of the company’s total revenue in 2019 and added that it’s a massive driver of growth for the company.
“It’s probably their most important single asset,” Nathanson said.
The analyst points to the fact that while Disney can’t control other areas of revenue – television, sports, advertising revenue, or movies during the pandemic, the theme parks can be managed by putting into place the mitigation guidelines to control the possibility of an outbreak of the coronavirus. Disney can’t control the virus but it can control how to make its parks as safe as possible for visitors. So, that is what is happening during the re-opening process.
Disney’s new rules include mandatory masks and social distancing. Visitors will need reservations to enter a park, and they won’t be allowed to hop between parks. Both visitors and employees will receive temperature checks when they enter. Fireworks shows and parades have been suspended to prevent drawing too many people together.
All visitors over the age of two and all cast members are required to wear face masks. Disney has increased the number of hand sanitizer locations and handwashing stations throughout the parks and resorts. Social distancing will be implemented and limited capacity in the parks is in effect.
Not everyone is thrilled with the decision to re-open Disney World, though, and that includes some of its employees. One petition has been posted by cast members on MoveOn.org. stating it is too early to re-open.
“This virus is not gone, unfortunately, it’s only become worse in this state,” reads the petition, which was approaching 4,000 signatures Monday, a small showing of the resort’s 78,000 staffers. “While theme parks are a great way to relax and enjoy free time, it is a non-essential business; it is not fair to the people who work there to risk their lives, especially if they are at risk or have family members who are at risk. People are more important than making a profit. Mayors, theme park executives, government officials — please hear what we are saying.”
A second petition from Orlando cast members is located at Change.org. and it calls for a later re-opening. And, another petition is on Change.org., posted by cast members in California. They want the closure of Disney Land to be extended.
A demand from Actors’ Equity, which represents 750 Walt Disney World performers, that Disney provides regular Covid-19 testing for its members when the park reopens, was made due to the nature of their performance jobs. The union says that the actors’ jobs are not conducive to social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment. Disney has rejected the demand by saying the tests provide false negatives which lead to a false sense of security. One thing led to another between Disney and the union and now the park is re-opening without the union members. The union calls it retaliation. Sure looks like unions, in general, whether it is actors or school teachers, would like to keep the country shut down at least until the upcoming presidential election, amirite?
This isn’t just important for Disney. The re-opening is also important for the financial health of the state. Florida is dependent on tourism. I may be one of the few people in the United States that has never visited a Disney park in Florida (or California) but the parks remain popular, especially with families. Re-opening now is a worthwhile gamble, I think because it is an outdoor venue and it is being done gradually. There won’t be the usual huge crowds of visitors for now and precautions have been taken for the rides – some of them have plexiglass barriers and guests will be spaced out. Getting to the park entrance will be different, too, as there will no longer be parking lot trams. Everyone will just have to get on board with following some new rules. I imagine that families looking for something to do this summer before (or if) school opens in the fall will be willing to visit a Disney park in Orlando.