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Forecasting Walt Disney World attendance

Word is that Walt Disney World has two big new attractions ready to announce, Little Mermaid in the Magic Kingdom and a Monster’s Inc roller coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. They’re also going to announced Star Tours 2.0, plus I’m told they have something huge in store to answer Harry Potter at Universal. So what’s holding them back? The schedule. Apparently WDW Management is nervous about the 9 month attendance projections. They’ve seen a huge drop off in reservations and don’t want to be building attractions for people who won’t be coming.

WDW Management needs to pick up the phone and ask Disneyland about how they do their attendance projections because friends, with recent changes in our economy, Walt Disney World has just tipped the balance into being more of a local’s park than one that is a vacation destination. That means more and more guests will be driving to WDW than flying.

Until the price of long distance transportation comes back down (either through alternate fuels, improved mass transit, or government intervention) Walt Disney World will have to get used to being a local’s park. If they’re lucky ‘local’ will include as far north as Southern Carolina (about 10 hours driving). Thankfully Florida is the fourth most populous state. Jacksonville is one of the largest cities on the east coast. So there is plenty to draw from even within the state.

One of the realities of being a local’s park is that you have families planning their vacations at the last minute, not 9-12 months out like WDW is used to, hence the weak 9 month forecast. Another reality is that you have to offer something amazing and new every year. Those themed parties MK has at night as a separate ticket; that won’t work. The local will expect to get that as part of the normal price of admission. They’ll also have to extend hours (although probably just one park a night) so locals see value in their vacation.

These are the adjustments Disneyland had to make when reality sunk in that 60% of their attendance was drawn from families in Southern California. Disneyland has done pretty well in the last 5 years or so with huge numbers to the point of having to close the gates multiple times. I’m sure someone from Anaheim will be willing to offer their little brother some advice.