Every Disney fan I talk to can’t wait to get back to the parks and we can be confident that Disney wants guests to return too. When Disneyland and Walt Disney World do reopen, there will likely be new procedures in place to help make sure the parks are safe places for guests and cast members
Disney’s Executive Chair and former CEO Robert Iger was interviewed by Barron’s magazine where he talked about some of the ideas the company is considering to deal with the new reality the parks are facing.
One of those things might be temperature checks before guests are allowed into the parks.
“One of the things that we’re discussing already is that in order to return to some semblance of normal, people will have to feel comfortable that they’re safe,” said Iger. “Some of that could come in the form, ultimately, of a vaccine, but in the absence of that it could come from basically, more scrutiny, more restrictions. Just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks, it could be that at some point we add a component of that that takes people’s temperatures, as a for-instance.”
“So we’ve asked ourselves the question, let’s prepare for a world where our customers demand that we scrutinize everybody,” Iger continued. “Even if it creates a little bit of hardship, like it takes a little bit longer for people to get in.”
After 9/11 the way we visit theme parks changed forever. Certain items were prohibited and security checks became part of the experience. A similar level of change is in store as we try to recover from the worldwide health emergency.
Would just temperature checks be enough to make guests comfortable?
There is some hope that after a multi-week stay at home period combined with widespread testing and quarantining of those with symptoms, that some level of regular life can return, just with physical distancing and strong hygiene protocols enforced.
We expect Disney to institute more changes to help keep crowd sizes reasonable and reduce infection risk. Some other ideas being considered include: using boarding groups to regulate overall crowd size, ending the standby queue and switching to virtual queues when you can only ride if you have a reserved time, keeping indoor shows closed or at vastly reduced capacity, and intensive cleaning procedures for ride vehicles and queues.
Disney is known for its friendly cast members who always greet you with a smile, how will guest interactions change when a mask is required in public?
A lot of questions remain.
It’s going to take some time for Disney and other operators to figure out what the new reality will look like, But there will likely be a phase when the parks and resorts can open, but won’t be operating at full capacity since not all regions of the country (or even of the state) will experience a flattening of the numbers at the same time.
International visits will also likely remain soft as countries and airlines struggle with developing their own new regulations and procedures.
Disney is still accepting reservations after June 1st at its theme park resorts, but that seems optimistic considering current projections show the full impact on Florida’s hospitals not happening until early to mid-May.
What will Disney’s parks look like with reduced capacity? Could they be profitable? There are back of house costs that switch on when the parks reopen. Facilities cost money to power and maintain. That requires a certain level of attendance and room occupancy to justify opening with even basic staff levels.
The cost to open an attraction like Peter Pan is very similar if it’s running 50% capacity or 100% capacity. Add-on extra cast members for virtual queues and other hygiene enforcement and the cost goes up.
Disney clearly has a lot to figure out about the new reality it will face when it is ready to reopen.
With The Walt Disney Company making a leadership change right in the early stages of this health emergency, it will no doubt help that Bob Iger is still around to help steer the ship.
According to Iger, the overall mood of Disney leadership remains optimistic.
“We’re optimists, although we’re also obviously realists, too,” Iger told Barron’s. “Optimists, because we have faith in the long-term prospects of our businesses, and our brands, which I think are important here. We know they have always been a place for people to go, whether it’s a movie or a park or ESPN, to enjoy their lives and to distance themselves from whatever daily issues they may be facing.”
We’re optimists too, but the reality is we’re still many months away from normal day-to-day life returning. A vaccine is probably required for that.
Still, we know there’s light at the end of the tunnel, even if it may not seem that way now. As Disney fans we talk about that here, but we’re also very appreciative of the front line workers during this health emergency and give them our deep heartfelt thanks for working to keep us safe and healthy. We’ll be sure to thank Disney cast members when they return too.