Attendance: Disneyland Up, Disney World Down – no surprise there

Major outlets are reporting that analysts believe Disneyland increased attendance this year, while Walt Disney World declined. It has to be inferred, because for the first time in recent years, The Walt Disney World company has not revealed resort attendance separately to investors and the press.

This shift in attendance is not unexpected. Disneyland is cashing in on good feelings generated by improvements it made for its 50th and 55th anniversary (those guests are coming back for their 3-5 year cycle) and actual improvements underway at California Adventure. Add to that the fact that it has 20 million people who live within a 2 hour drive to the resort, most of whom have been planning ‘staycations’ the last two years, and it makes sense.

Walt Disney World, on the other hand, suffers from a dearth of locals and instead has to rely on families traveling in via plane (which was down much of the year), train (which is slightly up), and internationally. With recent air travel and border crossing enforcement escalation being practiced by DHS and Customs you have to be really motivated to want to come to the US for a vacation these days. I’d also submit that while the Magic Kingdom has been doing a better job of building maintenance and is actually planning to add a new attraction (although the net will be zero while Dumbo is out of action), most of the other Florida parks haven’t done much recently and are even planning to close a few attractions/shows or continue the downsized versions of their popular festivals.

It used to be the case that theme park attendance was cyclical. Theme parks could plan to do refurbishments or lower hiring when crowds were not expected. There was both a 3 to 5 year cycle and an inner-year cycle. There has been a shift away from this in the last 10 years. You can no longer count on guests returning at their point in the cycle, instead you have to get out there and entice them to return. Disney World has been doing this cheaply through discounting and other methods of encouraging guests to stay on property. It involves no capital expenditure, which is a plus, but that’s outweighed by a couple major problems. The first it is that eventually someone will open a destination that will draw away your guests. The second is more discounts means less income, which means less money for expansion and show and higher costs around the margins (food, merchandise, DVC points). Guest will eventually internalize the decrease in value and quality of the experience. That’s very dangerous for Disney which has built its brand on a quality family vacation experience.

I know that some readers are tired of my playing this chord. But it keeps resounding in my ears every time I read a story like this. I’ll continue to play the music set in front of me. And right now the song is that Disney needs to come up with an answer for all four of its parks that doesn’t involve DVC (although it’s a proven money maker for Disney and should continue) or free meals that decrease meal choice and inflate prices for guests not on the ‘free’ plan (its not really free – guests are paying full rates to get it, pretty much everyone else travels at a discount).

Hint: new parades, shows (even little shows), giant promotional campaigns (free Chevy Volt, free disney furniture, clothes, etc), new attractions, and new lands/pavilions. This is what gets travelers excited enough to make them willing to forgive the increasing burdens of travel (airline fees, DHS groping and naked scanners, custom fees, increased gas prices, etc.). This is what will pull Disney out of the discounting feedback loop.

I’m hearing that Disney does have some answers in the system, but for the most part they’re still at the research stage with a few having already submitted budgets for approval. Changes to the announced Fantasyland expansion and a plan for a new land at DAK among them. I’ll continue my gentle buzzing on the topic until those plans are revealed.

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16 Responses to Attendance: Disneyland Up, Disney World Down – no surprise there

  1. As a born and raised Disney child, I could not be more excited to hear about improvements being made to my favorite place in the world. The Magic Kingdom is, in my opinion, the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life, however, it is a very old park and it could definitely use a new attraction or two. The other theme parks have done a great job of changing with the times-ie, Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom, Soarin’ at Epcot (although this started in California), and Hollywood Studios plans to open a new area this month. I get emotional when I return to the Magic Kingdom after a long time and when I know I am about to leave for awhile, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next time I’m there (hopefully soon!)

  2. Jim says:

    The WDW Magic Kingdom has fewer attractions today as a result of the Eisner era. Main Street has become a shopping mall. The Tiki Room no longer “fly’s away” on an enchanting adventure. It is annoying. 20,000 Leagues – gone. Diamond Horeshoe Revue – Gone. Sky Transportation – gone. Live musicians – almost gone. “Stitch” – awful. I have no problem with attractions being changed but change them to something! And WDW wonders why wait times for attractions have grone so long. We don’t need interactive queue’s. We just need attraction. In EPCOT – “Imagination Pavilion” needs a complete makeover as does the “Universe of Energy”. “Spaceship Earth” needs a script that is educational and enlightning, like any one of the prior versions. World Showcase needs some more attractions – something to draw you around the lagoon. You can not skimp on the product. The guest will know that they are being cheated and look elsewhere to spend their entertainment dollar.

  3. John Frost says:

    I did leave out WDW’s advancement in queues because I think the jury is still out on that development (although so far I prefer it over Fastpass) with too few examples to study. I do agree that WDW has been run for too long by those with an eye on spreadsheet instead of show. Although I don’t think it’s as far out of balance as some would have you believe.

    I also left out the $1.6 billion (and I hear the price has gone up lately) virtual theme park technology that fans know as Next-Gen. It’s actually an assemblage of smaller technologies that will be slowly rolled out (some have already hit the parks) over time, at least a couple of which promise to elevate the guest experience in ways previously thought of as science fiction’s realm. I really hope Disney gets their $1.6 billion out of this project as it could have built 2 DCAs or one DisneySea, which I think the folks in California would have preferred over DCA.

  4. LoveDisney says:

    FIRST AND FOREMOST: Too many people and too many lines…I feel rushed to do anything and everything at DisneyWorld. Relaxation at DisneyWorld (or Disneyland) is not possible…..with that said, in all honesty, it’s basically the same stuff each year we attend D-World and D-Land and the prices continue to increase. We need tons more new attractions outside the box. Remember how cool it was to see the Electrical Light Parade? Today’s parades are boring! Disney has lost its touch. Very disappointed.

  5. Brodie says:

    “DHS groping and naked scanners, custom fees, increased gas prices, etc”

    They’re groping and scanning people to get into Disney’s Hollywood Studios now? (I kid, I kid)

  6. Tod says:

    Disney has to know that news media and blogs are reporting that they are trying to hide WDW’S low attendance. But what kills me is that it seems they will do nothing about it, there answers instead of new rides and experiences is oh just cut this and that even more. I fear that instead of adding new things they will just cu cost to the point where they will financially burry themselves because they haven’t spent money on a quality attraction to make money. what is scary the most is Iger said after DCA they were cutting spending in the parks for a couple of years, well then WDW is really beyond screwed. Disney needs to be run by dreamers not pencil paper pushing spread sheet geeks! I can only hope that disney finds there way again, you would think because it is there biggest destination that they would want to baby it and add more and more. I use to feel confident that they kne what they were doing they will always find a way, but now I feel that they are the next GM just waiting for there collapse. truly very very sad.

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  14. DisneyORama says:

    Attendance: Disneyland Up, Disney World Down – no surprise there http://bit.ly/g594Ci via @thedisneyblog:

  15. Dave says:

    From what I understand. Most of the attendance gains at Disneyland Resort were more related to World of Color than anything else. The number I have seen is 20% at California Adventure. Flat numbers at Disneyland park. I think this is mostly related to Disney spending money on a big new attraction that locals and tourists alike wanted to see. I would expect to see this trend continue right on thru 2012 when Carsland Opens. Numbers will not increase much in Florida until the new Fantasyland opens. Watch where the money goes and the attendance will follow.

  16. Juli says:

    Two things:
    The Wonders Pavilion is sitting empty at Epcot. That was such a great pavilion and I would love to see it reborn.

    Bring back the Adventurer’s Club somewhere on the property? The Poly? Adventureland?

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