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Disney Vision

I’ve been thinking a lot about Vision lately. That’s Capital ‘V’ vision, btw. Vision for The Disney Blog, the vision for the Walt Disney Company and specifically the theme park division, and vision to get us out of this economic mess that the world has found itself in. I’m hopeful that the new administration will take care of that last one in short order. The other two, I’m not so sure.

After moving The Disney Blog over from Typepad to WordPress in early 2008, I’ve been working a lot behind the scenes to make sure everything is functioning and as well as preparing to launch a couple new features. But technical difficulties, as well as time pressure coming from expanded responsibilities at my day job, prevented anything from coming to fruition.

I like to think I’ve maintained The Disney Blog, if not improved it slightly, over the year, but my vision for The Disney Blog is much bigger than what you see today. I want to thank my guest authors for their contributions in 2008, I hope we see more from them as well as some new voices in 2009. I’m looking to bring on Discussion Boards as well as some travel planning and additional feature writing. I also see The Disney Blog as becoming more of a central hub for all other Disney blogs and community sites.

But most importantly, I want The Disney Blog to be a family friendly community of Disney fans where everyone can read the latest news coming from a the Mouse House and safely discuss any issues surrounding it. That means you the reader are central to my vision for The Disney Blog. Please don’t hesitate to join in. I am always open to feedback on what you’d like to see more of or see different.

Feedback is something Walt Disney Worldwide Parks and Resorts has been working on the last few years. In particular they’ve really begun exploring how they can use social media to reach out and involve their fans in the brand. I am very excited to see where they take that in 2009.

Something else I’d like to see more of from Disney’s theme park division is Vision. Although the domestic theme parks are wrapped up under the ‘Disney Parks’ banner they are almost all floating aimlessly right now. The one exception is California Adventure, Disneyland Resort’s second gate.

The poorly conceived and cheaply executed amusement park is on a quest to earn the right to place the name of Walt Disney in its title. The roadmap to get there is long and expensive, made more so by not doing it right the first time. Penny shy and pound foolish. I’m hearing that most of the money to get started has already been allocated, so the first few phases and attractions of the redo are still greenlit.

Still, repairing damage caused by poor planning does not equal vision for the whole theme park division. The vision for Disneyland was to build something that had never been seen before – Quality family entertainment in a 360 degree environment influenced heavily by Walt Disney’s film and animation background. The vision for Walt Disney World, after the original utopian city concept for EPCOT was dismissed, was to learn from lessons learned at Disneyland and improve upon it with the luxury of space (and utilidors).

EPCOT Center brought a new vision, and some edutainment, to Disney’s theme parks. Suddenly it became possible for Disney to do so much more in themed design, guest control, and entertainment. The ultimate expression of this is Disney’s Animal Kingdom where ‘Nature’ is put through the unique lens of Imagineering’s brand of family entertainment and the result is lush, rich, detailed, and beautiful all while providing guests with opportunities to learn about the world around them in new and exciting ways.

That was 10 years ago. It’s time for The Walt Disney Company to share a new and leading vision for its US based theme parks and resorts.

The folks running Disney Parks may in fact have a vision for the domestic properties beyond keeping them profitable in the short term. But if so, they’re not doing a good job expressing and implementing it. Instead, we have Hong Kong Disneyland, rumors of a Shanghai project, and the first themed Disney resort to be built outside of a Disney Theme park resort. In the US we’ve had 5 years of consistent coordinated marketing campaigns, most of which have been pretty good (although lacking in reach) and successful as far as bringing in guests to the parks. But slogans do not vision make.

Vision has to do with a coherent present and a clear direction for the future. Can any of you tell me honestly what you expect from Disney’s theme parks for the next 5 years other than more of the same? I can’t.

The Animation divisions have John Lasseter out there putting a face to the type of quality product that we can expect from Disney in the coming years and the vision it takes to get there (ie, Pixar’s recipe for success). Walt Disney himself had that role for the theme parks when he ran things. Eisner, for all his faults, tried to wear that sweater himself when he had the helm. But I don’t see it today.

The need for a new vision is more important than ever. Universal Orlando has a new roller coaster and a major property in Harry Potter opening soon. SeaWorld Orlando is also introducing a new roller coaster. As far as we know Disney has nothing lined up to challenge these usurpers to the Orlando tourism market throne. If they do, now is the time to announce it.

Which brings me to this interesting article from the Harvard Business School. John Sviokla ponders what Walt Disney would do with today’s technology opportunities to market his product. He’s a little off on some of his historical facts, but his basic points are valid.

  1. Know the story is king.
  2. Utilize the newest technology to tell that ancient story in a new way.
  3. Coordinate the message across the media.
  4. Have the courage to innovate.
  5. Ride your uniqueness.
  6. Stay on message.

The closer Disney holds to these values over the next few years the better positioned they’ll be to survive the change that is going on in the economy. Disney Parks needs a vision that articulates each of the above and they need to communicate it so that the public does not lose sight of it while they too struggle with changing their consumption habits.

If you have any suggestions on what Disney should have as their vision for the domestic theme parks, please share them in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Disney Vision”

  1. I think Parks management has had a strategy – if not a vision – but it has been disrupted, as many companies have, by the economy. California, Shanghai, and the Hong Kong second gate are all very expensive projects (billions in investment) and it is going to be difficult to greenlight more spending in the next 12 months while revenues are suffering. Right now, the focus will be managing through the recession as it has to be.

    No one can accuse Disney management of not investing in the parks but some will argue over where it is being spent. The audience that reads this blog is very partial to Orlando and so I’m sure everyone here would like to see that money spent in Orlando. But you have to admit that Orlando is not the Parks division’s biggest problem right now and it has gotten a lot of investment in the past several years.

    That said, you are right that there is a reason to be concerned about Orlando with all the investment from competitors that has come there. We all know of the rumored plans for a Fantasyland re-do, very overdue at Magic Kingdom, but those plans apparently have been put on hold. Disney execs see the need to do something in Florida, but there’s just an economic reality right now.

    The far bigger issue that needs to be addressed IMHO is Epcot. That park has really lost its way and trying to fix it one attraction at a time hasn’t done the trick just as it didn’t do the trick in California. Epcot needs a California Adventure style re-boot – $1B investment – to get it back to where it should be. And I think Joe Rhode should be put in charge of it. He has the creative vision to re-imagine Epcot for a 21st century audience.

    The most exciting project, IMO, is not a park but the Hawaii resort. If Disney is successful in this new resort business it could be a really exciting new business and a great experience for all us Disney fans. I fear however that this project will be treated like a hotel build-out for DVC members and not as the broad destination it should be. I don’t think Hawaii should be a theme park, but I do think it has to be an exciting and unique entertainment experience, like the cruise ships. It cannot be just another hotel with a luau and a slightly cooler pool.

  2. I wouldn’t waste your time with discussion boards – if you think you have little time now to work on things, once you start forums ALL free time you have now will completely disappear.

    I recommend staying focused on what you are doing so well – blogging, writing, guest authors, – basically providing quality content to this community.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. I’ll agree, I’d like to see EPCOT Center returned to its rightful place as a center of edutainment excellence.

    As for an overall Vision, I think Disney should focus on theming. They’ve lost their way a little bit, some of the parks or Lands have strayed a bit from what they are meant to be. That needs to be corrected.

    I also think Disney could do a lot to expand the use of Disney parks and Resorts as live venues. Already the Parks play host to some of the greatest live entertainment on the planet. By combining that with the truly massive talent pool of the latest generation of Radio Disney stars, Disney could host some of the most innovative concerts in the world. There is no disputing the fact that for the foreseeable future, Disney’s future is tied to music. And given how easy it is to achieve synergistic success with music properties (See: Hannah Montana, High School Musical) Disney is going to embrace it, so I think it is only natural they drive some of that success into the parks in creative new ways. Certainly, that’s what I would be trying to do.

  4. Happy New Year to you!

    Your thoughts on your Vision quest for 2009 bring up lots of interesting possibilities. I look forward to another year of good coverage.

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