Disney's theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim have been closed for over six weeks now - by far the longest shutdown in the parks' history. With hospitalization numbers stabilizing or even declining in some parts of the country, people are beginning to look forward to the day when the parks will reopen and fans can visit again.
But who makes the decision to reopen the theme parks? Here in California, I've been watching Governor Gavin Newsom's daily online news briefings, and yesterday I watched Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' announcement of Florida's three-phase plan for reopening the state's economy. Both the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts will need to see a green light from federal, state and local governments before they will be allowed to reopen, and state governors have taken leadership on controlling business activity in their states. So Governors Newsom and DeSantis likely will take the first steps toward the Disney theme parks reopening.
A first step is not the final word, however. Governors can close theme parks and other businesses to protect public health and safety. Then they can reverse those closure orders when they feel that the risk has passed and reopening is now safe. But telling a business that it's okay to reopen is not the same as reopening that business. That power rests with the business owner - in this case, the management of The Walt Disney Company.
Any decision to reopen Disney World or Disneyland likely will be made at the highest level of Disney, including new CEO (and former Parks chief) Bob Chapek and Disney Chairman Bob Iger. Perhaps they will choose to reopen as soon as either California or Florida shines that green light. But I would not make that assumption.
Remember that reopening a theme park after six-plus weeks isn't as simple as throwing open the gates and telling people, "welcome home." You've got to restock kitchens - something that won't happen easily as food supply chains are breaking down across the United States. You've got to recall employees from furlough. The longer that this shutdown lasts, the more likely it becomes that some employees will end up taking new jobs with businesses that are allowed to reopen before the parks. They'll have to be replaced, which takes time, too.
Once you've got employees scheduled, they'll need to be trained in new operational procedures, including health screenings, social distancing and new sanitary requirements. Everything in the park will need to be checked, cleaned and possibly repaired.
And those are just the internal challenges. At least in California, Governor Newsom has said that he wants to provide businesses with plenty of notice about the state's criteria for allowing reopenings, so that business owners have time to make such preparations before their reopening is approved. So the internal challenges might not cause too much of a delay between a state government announcement and people eating Mickey bars on Main Street again.
So what could provide the hold up? Those people could. No matter what state and local governments say, and no matter how much employees want to go back to work - and their employers want them there, no business will reopen if it does not believe that customers will be willing to return, too.
If people do not feel safe visiting a theme park, they will not come. If people don't feel that they can afford to visit a theme park, they will not come. And - ironically following a period when so many people have too much time on their hands - if people cannot get the time away from work and school to visit a theme park, they will not come.
As to the first point, I think that motivated Governor DeSantis' attack on "fear" in his Wednesday press conference. The Florida governor attacked news media for stoking what he framed as unnecessary fear of the coronavirus. While I agree with him that fear of contracting the virus should not keep people from seeking medical care for other ailments (Covid-19 isn't the only thing that can kill you, after all), I don't for a moment believe that people's fear of this virus is irrational.
Covid-19 has killed people of every age group. It has killed people who were healthy before being infected, as well as those who were sick. So far in the United States, it has killed thousands more Americans than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War. If you're over a certain age, you might remember what many young men did to avoid being sent to Vietnam. (Here's one of them, by the way.) And it's a heckuva lot easier to skip a trip to Disney World than it was to dodge the draft to Vietnam.
So long as people see a trip to a crowded theme park as a health risk, they will not come - and browbeating "the media" like some paranoid Fox News sycophant isn't going to change that.
The challenge, therefore, isn't to lobby governors. It's for Iger and Chapek and The Walt Disney Company to show the public that a visit to Disney after the corona shutdown won't be a visit to a crowded space where they can't be protected from infection. Unless Disney wants to wait until a vaccine is ready (and remember that the current record for that is four years, and we've never had a vaccine for any type of coronavirus before), that will require changes to standard operating procedures. It will require testing those procedures. And it will require savvy marketing to make the public aware and confident of those new procedures and how they work in practice.
(Hey, sign me up for the press event where Disney uses me as a guinea pig to show potential visitors how they will get their temperature check, Covid test, and Mickey mask on their way into a social-distanced, sanitizer-slathered Magic Kingdom.)
Until Disney's management believes that its safety practices will help attract enough paying customers to make its theme parks profitable again, they won't resume operations. No matter how much some politicians would like to see those parks open again.Tweet
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.