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