Despite improved attendance numbers, apples to apples profit numbers reveal that the parks are having their worst years since the 80s. I’m sure the number crunchers up in Burbank have better models than me, but since you asked… the company is now reaping what it has sowed. The 90s were supposed to be the Disney Decade at the Themeparks. Instead we saw cuts in attraction budgets, a reliance on the cheaper (sometimes! remember the expensive mistake that was Light Magic) entertainment, cuts in training, and an across the board slashing of maintenance budgets. Not only has this resulted in death and injury at the theme parks, but it affected Disney brand as the top quality family entertainment vacation destination.
The cheapening of the brand (see: California Adventure’s lousy theme
and reliance on poorly themed off the shelf attractions; Disneyland’s
1998 Tomorrowland redo; the ‘glowing away forever’ promotion for the
MSEP that kept going on; and even down to the less than overwhelming
plans for Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary) has had an affect. The loss in
consumer confidence in the brand is a goodwill debit that doesn’t get
recorded on the balance sheet.
Brand loyalty is also the most expensive
goodwill to rebuild. The Mouse House had better dig in with a plan to win back their place
at the top of the family entertainment industry. Lowering ticket prices
for extended stays is only a short term fix if the product does meet
show ready standards (not to mention it flys in the face of the trend toward shorter more frequent vacations (when is the last time you had a two week vacation to a destination resort?)). Someone (or a small team of someones) needs to be
empowered to search out the bad show and fix it.
Some of the choices will be tough. For instance, the fixing the poor decision to rip
out the Country Bears from Disneyland and replace them with a
winnie-the-pooh attraction that, while cute and colorful, is not upto
the standards of its sister attractions in WDW and Tokyo. That combined
with its location (the only other attraction in Critter Country besides
Splash Mountain) has resulted in lower than expected numbers and it
never became the gate increaser that previous management expected it to
be. Country Bears at least had some gate increase during the holiday
season. The expense to shoe-horn the stuffed-with-fluff one into the
bear’s theatre, was money down the drain. A new show building would
have been cheaper to build. A good fix for this attraction would be to spend some more money improving the scenes and story. But the ultimate fix is going to be to add a third and fourth attraction to Critter Country and connect it with Toontown or Frontierland somehow. Not cheap, but you’ve painted yourself into a corner (litterally in the case of Critter Country beind a huge dead end).
Decisions like that. Decisions that close or slowdown attractions to
save labor hours. Decisions that close restaurants early to save labor hours and push diners to higher profit locations. Decisions that limit the merchandise choices because
you’re only getting 20% profit on an item instead of 25% but forget
that someone buying a collectible will not spend that money on candy or
t-shirts if they don’t find a collectible they want. Decisions that
allow a parade to run for 5 years with no improvements, only cuts to
the show. Decisions that tear out popular parades or shows instead of
updating and improving them or rotating them to other parks.
As you see, I could go on and on. I’ll stop now however as I’m getting
depressed. I really really like the Disney product. Why else would I be
running this web log?