Another Story about Park Attendance

Discussion in 'Disney Rumors and News' started by KMovies, Mar 12, 2003.

  1. KMovies

    KMovies DCL Veteran

    May 7, 2001
    Great Story from the Miami newspaper - note that Universal may cut park hours as well.

    Short lines at Disney mean lower attendance
    Park faces further crowd dips
    Associated Press

    ORLANDO - Felix and Shelia Isaac were warned by a friend that they would face long lines when they visited Walt Disney World this month.

    But the longest wait the couple from Dallas have had at the resort was 15 minutes at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride, one of the most popular rides at the Disney-MGM park. The ride can have waits of more than an hour on busy days for guests who don't use the fastpass system of advance booking.

    ''Someone told me before I got here that I would be waiting in lines,'' Felix Isaac said. ``I sure haven't done that.''

    Never fully recovered from the attendance dip that followed the Sept. 11-induced tourism slowdown 1 ½ years ago, Disney's Florida parks now face even smaller crowds with the prospect of war with Iraq so close. That comes on top of an attendance dip in February blamed on the federal government's decision to raise the terrorist threat to code orange -- which caused wary travelers to stay closer to home -- and snowstorms that shut down airports in the Northeast.

    There's no light at the end of the tunnel, industry watchers say.

    ''Any other recession or gas problem didn't last this long,'' said Steve Baker, an Orlando-based theme park consultant. ``The problem with this is there are so many uncontrollables . . . It's difficult to make plans or projections since everything is in limbo.''


    Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, in a television interview earlier this month, acknowledged the upgrade in the terrorism alert to the second-highest level had hurt the company's four Florida parks more so than its two California parks since the Florida operation is more dependent on visitors arriving by plane.

    ''When the orange alert hit we saw an immediate reaction,'' Eisner told CNBC.

    Walt Disney World spokeswoman Rena Callahan said she couldn't comment on attendance figures. But in the year following the Sept. 11 attacks, international visitors to Walt Disney World declined by more than 20 percent. The four parks saw attendance drop to 37.5 million last year from 39.7 million in 2001, according to Amusement Business, a trade magazine.

    Slowdowns at Disney's Florida parks reverberate throughout the company since Walt Disney World accounts for 60 percent to 75 percent of Disney's overall theme park operating income.

    Disney's Florida parks, where about two-thirds of visitors come from out of town, imposed a hiring freeze and cut back workers' hours last month. Disney's California parks, Disneyland and California Adventure, have fared better since about two-thirds of their attendance comes from local visitors.

    The attendance drop at Walt Disney World has been most noticeable at Epcot, a theme park devoted to technology and world cultures. Four of the eight general admission turnstiles were shuttered last Sunday, usually the busiest day of the week. There were no waits for any rides. Many of the theme park's plazas were empty of visitors. Only a quarter of the Les Chefs de France restaurant in the France section was occupied during lunchtime.

    ''It's just kind of dead,'' said Ginger Bullard, of Cookeville, Tenn., who sat with her husband, Victor, near the entrance to the Innoventions attraction at Epcot.

    Mary Poppins, normally swamped by autograph-seeking children, waited on a solitary corner of the United Kingdom section of Epcot, a wide ruby-lipstick smile on her face and a white parasol in her hand. The worker playing the Disney character waited some more, but no children with autograph books or cameras walked past her. When a group of adults finally passed, she shouted a ''Hello'' to get their attention.

    ''Anytime there is a slowdown, Epcot takes the biggest hit. It's not the favorite attraction,'' said Donna-Lynne Dalton, recording secretary for Teamsters Local 385, which represents costumed workers and bus drivers.

    Disney's other theme parks, Magic Kingdom, Disney-MGM and Animal Kingdom, were much more crowded but still below what is considered normal for March, one of the busier times of the year because of spring break.

    There was a 15-minute wait to buy tickets at the Magic Kingdom but popular rides like ''It's a Small World'' had no lines.

    ''It hasn't been as mobbed like it usually is this time of year,'' said Claudette Downs, of New Jersey, who visits Walt Disney World every March with her two sons.

    Disney doesn't release attendance figures for its theme parks. But analysts at Merrill Lynch this month lowered their second-quarter theme park operating income estimate by $90 million to $200 million, a 29 percent decline from the $280 million during the same period last year. The analysts cited the prospect of war and the orange alerts as the reason. The company's second quarter ends March 31.

    The analysts also lowered their 2003 fiscal year operating income estimate for Disney's theme parks by $205 million to $1.1 billion, a 6 percent decline from the same period last year.


    The terror threats and possibility of war have had the greatest effect on keeping away international visitors, who generate more than a third of the operating income of Walt Disney World in Florida, according to the Merrill Lynch analysts.

    The other major theme park operators in Orlando, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando, haven't had to cut back workers' hours, but they attract a larger percentage of local visitors than Disney and have smaller workforces.

    Universal spokesman Jim Canfield said the company's two Florida parks plan to hire part-time workers for the spring break season but would consider cutting back the parks' hours of operation and the hours of part-time workers if war cuts into attendance.

    SeaWorld Orlando general manager Jim Atchison said local visitors have compensated for the downturn in out-of-town visitors who stayed away because of the threats of war and terrorism.

    ''What we're seeing is a kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop as opposed to any real impact at this point,'' he said.

    Some Walt Disney World visitors, such as Cathy Tolles, and her granddaughters, Alyssa and Shayla, enjoyed the smaller crowds.

    ''I thought it would be busier,'' said Tolles, of Muskoka, Canada.
  2. raidermatt

    raidermatt Beware of the dark side. Anger...fear...aggression

    Sep 26, 2000
    Thanks for posting the article.

    It offers a nice overview of the current status, and regurgitates the analysts' and company lines' that its all due to uncontrollable outside forces.

    Nothing new...
  3. Avatar


    to hide this advert.
  4. mitros

    mitros <font color=red>I'm not nuts, I just appear to be<

    Oct 24, 2002
    :( All i can add to that is that we just returned from a week at WDW, and everything was fairly quiet with the exception of the MK. There never seems to be a "quiet" day there. One of the other things I noticed is that since disney halted all religious services, Sunday mornings,which was the only time the MK was not busy,is now no different then any other day!:( I guess people thought that services were ok to attend as long as they were conveniently located on property!:(
  5. d-r

    d-r <font color=red>l|ll|||ll||ll||<font color=purple>

    May 31, 2000
    Remember that Sunday is MK early entry day now.

    It used to be on Saturday, so a lot of people went to MK on Saturday and so then went somewhere else on Sunday (Sunday was often Epcot's busiest day). Saturday was particularly packed because it was a combination of early entry crowds and locals going on Saturday.

    They wanted to have a weekend early entry day for guests staying weekends at the resorts, but thought that moving it from Saturday to Sunday might even out those crowd levels a little bit. Who knows.

  6. Teri1

    Teri1 DIS Veteran

    Aug 22, 1999
    Our local news in Columbus,Oh. had a spot on attendence at WDW being down and that they have not recovered from 9/11. I was surprised to hear that. I thought things would be back to normal by now. I think it is the economy that is keeping people away. People are afraid to spend allot of money on vacations. I have a friend, her husband has been deployed with the Army and they plan to go to WDW when he gets back, of course that will be over a year from now I'm sure.
  7. pheneix

    pheneix Mouseketeer

    Jun 3, 2002
    Here is another article from the Orlando Sentinel:


    Crowds of college students and families with vacationing elementary schoolers are on the rise at Orlando theme parks -- spring breakers beating a path here before President Bush decides to cut a swath to Baghdad.

    A new study by the region's visitors bureau shows the March-to-May tourist season has been closing in on the summer months in importance to the local economy.

    But this year's spring faces several challenges.

    The looming war with Iraq could cause the fun at the parks to fizzle early this year. And with the economy still stuck in limbo, there's little investment in any major new attractions to sell to the crowds.

    "The parks aren't turning anyone away this spring, but they're not encouraging the spring-break customers much," said Abe Pizam, professor of tourism management at the University of Central Florida.

    A study by the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau shows just how key spring is to Central Florida's No. 1 industry. During the past five years, 28 percent of leisure trips to Orlando begin in March, April and May, compared with 25 percent from June through August.

    Hotel bookings by vacationers for the three spring months has accounted for 28 percent of the annual demand since 1997, versus 27 percent in the summer quarter.

    Surprisingly, the study shows that bookings in the Lake Buena Vista area near Walt Disney World have been higher in March than in April since 1999, largely because Easter sometimes falls in the third month. Danielle Courtenay, bureau spokeswoman, suggested that's probably because of "family spring breakers" bringing children on vacation from school.

    . In 2001, for example, 11 percent of Orlando's overnight leisure travel originated in March, compared with 9 percent in April.

    That may be even more true this year, said UCF's Pizam. "I think people are saying, 'Let's go to Orlando now,' out of concern they may not be able to do it after war breaks out. It's the opposite of pent-up demand."

    Spending on hold

    If that bears out, the families coming this month will miss the only new attraction aimed at them, the Jimmy Neutron ride at Universal Studios. Even the theme park says the ride isn't aimed at college students who will be here in April, when it opens. "It's a family ride," said Susan Lomax, Universal spokeswoman.

    Amid the uncertainty that has cast a pall over the economy for more than two years, theme parks are in the re-invent and polish mode. Among all seven major theme parks, Universal's Jimmy Neutron is the only new attraction opening by Easter. And that's the first one in Orlando this year.

    Gone are the major promotions such as Walt Disney World's "100 Years of Magic," which ran from October 2001 through last Feb. 28, and included several new parades and attractions such as the One Man's Dream museum of Walt Disney memorabilia at MGM Studios. The new marketing campaign, "Where Magic Lives," is accompanied by no major entertainment.

    "New product drives this business but the parks are afraid to spend right now, especially when we could go on red alert and they might have to close for security reasons," said James Cammisa, publisher of Travel Indicators, an industry newsletter based in Miami. "The parks can't do anything about the war or the economy. All they can control is the cost side," he said.

    Hoteliers lament the lack of new product coming on line of late. "Any time there's something new at the parks, our business goes up," said Laura Sherman, general manager of the Double Tree Club Hotel near Disney World. The impact of a new attraction is evident at her hotel for "months," she said.

    Spring is often the season for debuts of smaller rides, shows, exhibits and parades. "It's the traditional time when you have soft openings to get things ready for summer," said Steve Baker, a theme-park consultant who helped design Disney World's Epcot.

    Fall is the usual season to unveil major attractions "in time for Christmas," Baker said. "And I don't blame them for holding back in spending right now. There's too much uncertainty."

    Theme parks looking ahead

    Some tourists have noticed the lack of new things to do and see at some parks, and are planning accordingly.

    "That's why we aren't going to Disney at all this year," said Steve Kadar, an insurance broker from Ontario, Canada, who has been visiting Florida for a week with his four children, all age 12 or younger.

    The only theme park the Kadars are visiting on this trip is Universal's Islands of Adventure. "We haven't seen this park. So it will all be new to us."

    It's also why the Kadar family spent much of last week on St. Petersburg Beach instead of Orlando.

    Laine Cannon, a student on spring break from Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Mich., said she picked MGM Studios and Islands of Adventure as the two parks she visited this week because she hasn't been to them before.

    "It really doesn't matter to me if they don't have new attractions at those parks because I haven't seen them," she said.

    Some tourists enjoy seeing the same attractions over and over, like a popular movie that keeps drawing them back to the theater. "I'm going to MGM Studios again because I really like that park," said Yukiko Tachibana, who recently graduated from a college nursing program in Tokyo.

    Orlando's attractions seem to largely be looking ahead to summer and beyond -- in hopes that the Iraqi conflict and its economic impact may be over by then. For example, Disney World isn't being specific about when it will open the new Mission: Space thrill ride at Epcot. And SeaWorld is pinning its next major marketing push on the Waterfront restaurant and entertainment area to open on Memorial Day at the end of May -- which traditionally kicks off the summer season.

    Even so, the spring crowds are swarming. Although no one is comparing this spring with the go-go late 1990s or 2000, it's an improvement over 2001. "Our attendance is actually tracking ahead of last year at this time," said Susan Lomax, a spokeswoman for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

    Tea leaves of spring

    Because Easter falls in late April on the 2003 calendar, the theme parks have a longer window during which to promote what they do have. For example, at Universal Studios, the park's annual Mardi Gras parades and concert entertainment will run through April 26, 20 days longer than last year.

    "This year Mardi Gras is able to do double duty for us: Giving people a reason to visit us in the slow month of February and providing news into the peak period when there's already an influx," Lomax said.

    SeaWorld is answering Mardi Gras with its third annual Bud & BBQ Fest during four days in late March. It features live performances by hot country-and-western artists, barbecue specialties from around the nation and plenty of park owner Anheuser-Busch's beers.

    Not only is the life of some entertainment stretched into spring, the definition of "spring break" has been expanding in recent years. From the "Where The Boys Are" era in the 1960s until about five years ago, most of the Florida tourism industry considered spring break to be merely a two-week period on either side of Easter, when many college students are on vacation.

    The unofficial spring-break season this year began for many Florida attractions and hotels on Presidents Day, Feb. 17, when some college students up North had the week off. Visitors to Bike Week in Daytona made their way to the theme parks, followed by the elementary and high school students on break now. And in April comes the Easter crowd.

    "You could say that there are really several components of spring break now, and they're all important," Courtenay said.

    In addition to spring break's immediate impact on the Orlando economy, Courtenay said, it is important as an economic clue. "Probably the biggest thing that spring usually gives us is an understanding of what summer will bring. It gives us an indication if it will be a gangbuster summer or a little slower, and the hotels and parks should adjust their marketing strategies," she said.

    But with the current concerns about war and terrorism, the tea leaves of spring may not tell a reliable tale. "This year the economy and war concerns could throw everything off." Not that there's any season that is convenient for the tourism industry to have America go to war. The best-case scenario, said Cammisa at Travel Indicators: "After the spring. And after the summer. Maybe in September," when tourism slows down anyway until Thanksgiving.


Share This Page