Parks and Resorts Rumors

I’m hearing some interesting rumors coming from the Parks and Resorts division.

Seems the Walt Disney Company board had its big meeting about what direction it wants to take with the theme parks (primarily Hong Kong Disneyland and Disneyland’s failed second gate). No news has leaked from the meeting yet, but big money will be spent to fix the mistakes of the past. Details should begin to emerge shortly.

Disneyland Resort is removing the promotion "Where Dreams Come True" in favor of something DLR specific, it won’t be ending the Year Of A Million Dreams, in fact it will be extending it with new prizes, but the promotional focus will be on the DLR. Part of this focus will include a remodeling of the ‘Disney Gallery’ above the Pirates Of The Caribbean attraction entrance to serve as an apartment (as was the original intention). Then nightly stays will be awarded as part of the extended YOAMD promotion.

It saddens me to see The Disney Gallery go away, but it has always been my hope that it be a temporary space and that Walt’s dream for the space be honored. (Btw, this remodel might also include an expansion of Club 33 to include more seating (and therefore cause another run on the wait list).

Attendance is lighter at DLR, although pundits attribute that to the hard to follow act that was the 50th anniversary, and about even at WDW, but reports are that future hotel bookings are slow in coming. Disney Vacation Club purchases have also been weak recently (Sarasota Springs has tons of vacancies while prospects wait for the Animal Kingdom Villas and Contemporary Villas to open). The combination of that means good deals are on the horizon. DVC members have even been asked to invite their friends to stay at discount rates. That’s never a good sign for future high occupancy.

Add to this the recent reversal on a public celebration of the Epcot 25th Anniversary and you have a picture that many of the plans made for the past few years are being reversed. There is no word if the ‘Dreams Come True’ promotion will end for WDW, it has generally been better received by the guests there. I’d like to see more park specific prizes added, however.

To me, this adds up to one big sign that Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, is possibly on the way out. Jay’s attempt to unify the state side parks under one advertising brand have proven unsuccessful. John Lasseter has take the lead as far as theme park development, WDI has been reorganized, and now the unified marketing plans aren’t working. The idea of the theme park you start small and grow big (DCA, HKDL) has been that hot either.

When Jay goes, is this a position for Al Weiss to step into? I believe that’s who has been groomed for the job. But really is Jay (or Al) needed beyond keeping up public appearances as a central figure to represent all the parks? Could Bob Iger do that job? How about a permanent Disney Parks Ambassador. An Imagineer? Probably. I have nothing personal against Jay. He’s a really nice guy and I hope he finds a place elsewhere inside the company. But he’s proven that theme park management isn’t his thing.

So, let synergies be found between the parks when they exist, but remember it’s important to treat Disneyland and Walt Disney World as separate products, marketed separately to difference audiences with different wants and needs. Disney has gone too far with centralizing things in the Orlando offices. Merchandise planners in Orlando are too far removed from Anaheim to truly get a feel for guests needs. Same with other divisions where the marching orders come from Orlando. The last few years have born this out.

Where do we go from here? Treat each separate admission gate like the jewel it deserves to be. Focus on what makes each park unique. Then once you’ve got the guest booked in, you can spring the extra magic on them. Plus things, show the expanded universe you’re creating for Disney travel (DCL, Adventures by Disney, LBE, etc), etc. That is where the synergy lies. That’s how you can keep moving forward.