Theme Park Wars: Notes from an Interview (Part II)

I was recently interviewed for an article in a
major metropolitan newspaper. Here are my notes from the second part of
that interview: (part I is here.)

The
other subject you mentioned was – Theme Park Wars. Disney is clearly
winning this battle. Disney’s two main weapons in the theme park wars
(if you want to characterize them as such) are the Magic Your Way
tickets and Disney’s Magical Express. Those by themselves won’t bring
new traffic to the Walt Disney World resort, but they will encourage
guests to spend that extra day on Disney property.
 

After
a somewhat stale period Walt Disney World had a big year in 2005 with
the Happiest Celebration On Earth promotion and three new
attractions/shows. Disney World also opened a slew of attractions in
the last 12 months. Expedition Everest, Finding Nemo – The Musical, The
Seas with Nemo & Friends
, and Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor. You could
even throw in High School Musical Pep Rally for good measure. They’ve
successfully updated Mexico’s attraction to be fun and entertaining and
have Toy Story Midway Mania on the way, which will be an amazing advance in attraction technology. Somebody somewhere has been greenlighting a lot of attractions.
 

The
question is will any of this work to draw in new visitors to Orlando or
is it just siphoning off guests from other central Florida attractions.
The answer is really a very complicated matrix that I’ve never really
drawn up before and am still working on.
 
Part of the answer
is that the region is finally recovering from 9-11 and the very tight
travel rules that have been imposed. Disney’s efforts to streamline the
process has helped bring back the British travelers that were
noticeably absent in 2005.
 
Part of the answer is gas prices. When it’s too expensive to drive to
the theme park in the neighboring state, families are more likely to
take one big vacation to a major destination and then generally stay
around home. I think this helps Walt Disney World. (But it relies on
affordable air transportation.)
 
I believe that just as the growing convention business helped Las Vegas
recover from the dot-com crash and 9-11, so too will it help Orlando.
Different than any other convention destination, many business
travelers to Orlando either bring their families with them or book end
the convention with a family vacation. Growth in the convention
business is good for Orlando tourism.
 
Then there is the draw of new attractions and shows. This depends
heavily on the ability of Central Florida attractions to promote
themselves. I think Disney has been doing an amazing job of this, not
just via commercials, but via shows on The Travel Channel, Food
Network, and even Discovery.
 
There are also the festival draws. Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, Flower
& Garden Festival, Food & Wine Festival and especially the
special Holiday promotions (Halloween and Christmas) bring in big
numbers where previously there was off-season doldrums. Between a longer spring break period and a longer summer, there is practically no
off-season anymore at Walt Disney World. A source of frustration to
locals who used to enjoy having the parks to themselves for a few weeks
of every year, but money in the bank for Disney World.
 
The
final analysis is that Disney really is siphoning off visitors from
other central Florida attractions via Magic Your Way and Disney’s
Magical Express. But they’re also drawing back visitors that may have
stayed away for whatever reason. With high occupancy rates, a growing
number of Vacation Club resorts, and the recently announced
partnerships (Four Seasons, Western Beltway), Disney appears to be
packing them in pretty well and planning on growth. Much better than
the resort industry in general.

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