Would Disney ever close or debrand a theme park?
Written by Robert Niles
Theme Park Insider reader Annette asked an interesting question in response to our post on planned improvements at the Disneyland Paris resort: "Would a Disney park ever close or be unbranded?"Tweet
She cited examples of hotels changing hands or brands, and wondered if the same ever could occur for a Disney theme park, particularly Disneyland Paris, which many fans have criticized for poor maintenance and a lack of new attractions. (See link above.)
Fix. Sell. Kill — Which will be Disney's choice?
Would Disney ever close a park? Sure. It already has.
Disney closed its original Walt Disney World water park, River Country, in 2001. Would that happen again? Barring a major disaster that rendered a park unrepairable, one would have to doubt it. Disney's recent track record suggested that it would rather "turn on the money hose" and clean up its problem parks than to close or sell them away. Look at what Disney's done to rebuild and revamp Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland, and what it's about to do to rebuild Florida's Downtown Disney as Disney Springs.
At this point, Disney has abundant income that allows it the freedom to fix its past mistakes. So long as Disney continues to bring in that level of money, Disney's not conceding defeat in the theme park business. Parks that fail to attract the level of customer adoration the company wants will get improvements until customers start throwing money at them again.
(And here's a note to Walt Disney World fans. If you want Disney to spend more money on these parks, the best thing you can do to help make that happen is for you to spend less money on them. Nothing gets a project green-lighted faster at Disney theme parks than revenue failing to meet projections. So long as customers keep spending at a resort, it's easy for managers to assume all's well and to send new spending elsewhere. Want to improve the Walt Disney World Resort? Forget about petitions or discussion board rants. Just go to Disneyland or Tokyo Disneyland, instead. Heck, you could go to Universal Orlando, too, though if enough people spent their money with other companies that Disney's income suffered, that could impair the company's ability to power up that money hose.)
Let's flip the question, too. Would Disney ever buy and rebrand another company's park? Again, it's considered that in the past, "kicking the tires" on a deal to purchase Knott's Berry Farm before the Knott family sold it to Cedar Fair in the late 1990s. According to some Imagineers, Disney played with the idea of buying and upgrading Knott's as Disneyland's "second gate," employing some of the designs from the abandoned Disney's America project. However, the desire to have the parks located next to one another that led the company to abandon plans for Long Beach DisneySea earlier in the decade dissuaded Disney managers, and the Knott family found a deal more to its liking from Cedar Fair.
So what about Disneyland Paris? Resort managers last week detailed their refurbishment plan for the resort, including its hotels, though they announced no new attractions for either theme park. The situation at Disneyland Paris is complicated by the fact that Disney only owns a portion of the resort instead of owning it outright, as it does at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, or licensing the resort to another owner, as it does in Tokyo. Disneyland Paris also has carried a huge, profit-draining debt burden for much of its existence, due to a flawed business plan at launch.
Disneyland Paris was, at its birth, a real estate scheme. Its business plan relied on the sale and development of commercial (including hotel) and residential property surrounding the core theme park. But when those plans didn't come through, the park was left with immense debt, requiring multiple bailouts from additional investors. That has left the Disneyland Paris theme park with a popular reputation as a financial failure, which is ironic because the theme park might have been the only element of the whole resort that actually succeeded beyond expectations.
Still, the resort's a package deal. Disney appears ready to invest the cash it needs to ensure the continued success of the Disneyland park and its hotels. But will Disney commit the additional money needed to upgrade Walt Disney Studios Paris to the same standards of the other 10 theme parks in the chain? Disney did the same for the other two underfunded parks it opened in the first decade of the 21st century: California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland. That history suggests Disney is more likely to do the same for the Paris Studios, rather than selling or closing the park.
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