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PENNIES FROM KEVIN - More Hurricane Coverage than CNN!

We all know how disastrous Hurricanes Charley and Frances have been. But is the disaster all in the past?

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: September 6, 2004 at 1:30 PM

Walt Disney World has been doing pretty badly for more than three years. How badly? Revenue was down at the hotels yet this summer was still a good one. At least according to Michael Eisner. Though, 2001 and 2002 were so awful, that any improvement does look like a success.

But how long will that success last? With Hurricane Frances on the attack, Orlando theme parks temporarily closed their gates on what would have been a busy Labor Day weekend. This makes the second time in less than a month Mother Nature has been a bigger force than Michael Eisner. While that may not seem like a big deal to you, consider this: National newscasts mention the park closures immediately after showing people boarding up their houses and/or evacuating. So even though the parks are enough inland to where major destruction isn't likely, their mention right after talk of potential devastation cannot be having a good effect on future tourists.

Even though WDW was doing poorly before the 9/11 attacks, it seems those attacks reminded people that Orlando wasn't the only vacation destination in the world. The effects of that disaster lasted about two years and is still being felt by many airlines. So what will natural disasters do? Had Charley and Frances been a few months apart, maybe people might not have worried too much. But Charley is still fresh in people's minds and Frances is now underlining what a dangerous place Florida could possibly be during hurricane season. Most people feel the odds of a terrorist attack happening to them are infinitesimal. But hurricanes are already in the minds of most Florida visitors, and these two unwelcome visitors are making themselves foremost in those minds.

Living in California, I am reminded of whenever we have a larger-than-average earthquake. The amount of damage is usually minimal - broken windows, grocery stores in disarray - but the reports inevitably move on to interviews with either tourists (if the quake was strong enough in the tourist cities) or to people who have recently moved to the state. Without fail, these people have never felt an earthquake before and are absolutely petrified by it. Recent transplants talk about moving back "home."

So what is the tourist reaction to hurricanes? These things are usually more destructive than all but the biggest earthquakes and they last a hell of a lot longer too, increasing the stress and fear. Add to that the fact that hurricane season lasts throughout the busy summer season, and those alternative vacation sites will start looking more and more attractive. Then we have Hurricane Ivan sitting out there in the Atlantic. While there is probably more than a 50% chance this thing won't touch American soil, people are now hearing about a THIRD hurricane in a single month. Yikes!

Eisner used 9/11 as an excuse for more than three years of hard times at WDW. Hell, he even rewrote history since WDW was falling apart in early 2001, long before the attacks. And it lasted about a year longer, even though the rest of Orlando was recovering. So how long will he blame hurricanes for a drop in tourism? Even worse, he would probably be right this time.

For more hurricane coverage, read Robert's post-Frances article, his post-Charley article, Joe's post-Charley article and J Dana's pre-hurricane article. And unlike Fox News, we won't somehow try to tie the disasters into the upcoming election (yes, I actually heard such a story on Fox!).

Readers' Opinions

From Mark Hollamon on September 7, 2004 at 1:58 AM
I survived Charley and Frances. Although they caused billions in damage the death toll was VERY small. I found it pitifully comical that news reports spoke of massive catastrophic damage and then showed scenes of mobile home parks and the twisted metal and carnage there.

COME ON! let's milk it out some more! Of course there is always a lot of damage in these types of settings. We saw a bunch of awnings down and billboard signs too! Most brick and mortar buildings made it through just fine, even at the eye!

The worst Frances caused cannot be measured in dollars, but rather the terrible behavior displayed by people hoarding and fighting over gas and food to make it through a storm that lasted two days.

A general theme was it wasn't just a hurricane it was the hurricane that ruined Labor Day.

The parks took a hit and it's too bad. I hope people come back soon. The chances of this happening with the same amount of frequency in the future is minimal.

As far as Ivan goes, he is a LONG way away and I would NOT cancel any plans because of him at this time! My wife and I plan to go to the Keys this weekend and are not going to change plans or even sweat it unless Ivan knocks on the back door.

Possible natural events such as this cause the "fear of the great unknown" factor to come out in everybody. Yes, there was damage and a great deal of damage over a large area, but after living through two and being virtually at ground zero for both I can tell you a little planning ahead of time by people living here can prevent a great deal of grief afterward. This is my home and I am not running enywhere.

It's a beautiful place...STILL!

The parks are still here and beautiful and waiting for everybody to come and enjoy!

From John Erb on September 7, 2004 at 10:19 AM
I agree, the rash of hurricanes in Florida is bound to scare people off. A big attraction to Florida theme parks has always been the weather. The scare of booking a trip to Orlando during hurricane season is intimidating. I was glued to the Weather Channel all weekend, and I'm not even going there until early October! The hysteria they stir up made me keep muttering to myself, "Can they rebuild Orlando in four weeks?" . . . as was mentioned, it is so true; they talk of all the devastation, then they show a peice of aluminum roof trim blowing in the wind! I don't mean for a second to belittle the impact this storm had on residents of Florida, but even the Weather Channel can get caught up in "hyping it up" for ratings.
From Mike Duchock on September 7, 2004 at 8:36 PM
The Tower of Terror at Disney-MGM studios was closed today (Tuesday 9.7.2004) due to damage from Hurricane Frances. The building suffered water damage from many roof tiles being blown off. The ride should be open by the end of the week.

Also, Fantasmic was not performed tonight due to similar issues.

From Kevin Baxter on September 8, 2004 at 1:33 AM
See... a hurricane doesn't have to be catastrophic to end up affecting your visit. I have read many people talk of "ruined" vacations because a beloved ride was down during their stay. So the parks don't even have to close to adversely affect guests.

How many people who have visited the area in the past month will plan on returning any time soon? How many canceled and don't plan on rescheduling? How long will the memories last?

From TH Creative on September 9, 2004 at 10:31 AM
Mr. Baxter writes: "See... a hurricane doesn't have to be catastrophic to end up affecting your visit."

I Respond: Bull's eye! The really sad thing about the hurricanes is the way they impact employees. When the parks close employees are sent home. They lose a shift's worth of hours and pay.

From Jason Moore on September 9, 2004 at 12:46 PM
It's not just park employees having that problem THC. Unexpected 5 day weekends (like the one I just had) mean that while I may not have suffered much worse than some extreme boredom during the storm, I'm gonna be feeling the crunch in a couple weeks when I get my paycheck. Between Charley & Frances I haven't had a full pay period, without hurricane days and/or holidays yet this school year. (and I don't even want to get into Mr. Ivan who could continue the trend next week)
From Kevin Baxter on September 25, 2004 at 12:05 PM
And here comes Jeanne...

Although this may not do more than just bring heavy rain to Orlando, tourists are certainly going to remember the past six weeks or so for a long looooong time. At the very least, a lot of people are going to research when hurricane season is.

HURRICANE SEASON FOR THAT PART OF THE ATLANTIC IS JUNE THROUGH NOVEMBER! PEAK SEASON IS MID-AUGUST THROUGH MID-OCTOBER!

So really, Orlando's slow season corresponds perfectly with hurricanes' high season. Except for Halloween events, of course. But how many people will notice the peak portion and just stay away from Orlando throughout the important summer season? If a lot of that starts happening, Orlando could take a long time to recover.