Does Disney Need a Different Strategy to Get Parks Reopened?

September 30, 2020, 4:35 PM · Last week, Disney pushed its case to reopen California's theme parks. At the end of the online press presentation, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D'Amaro made a direct pitch to state leaders for reopening guidance.

It didn't work.

More than a week later, California leaders continue to put off questions about the state's theme park industry, saying that reopening guidance is coming "soon." Officials have been saying that for weeks now, so it seems their definition of "soon" differs from what most people think when hearing that word.

Perhaps it's time to consider a different approach. Here is what D'Amaro said at the end of last week's press event:

"To our California government officials, particularly at the state level, I encourage you to treat theme parks like you would other sectors. Help us reopen. We need guidelines that are fair and equitable, so that we can better understand our future and chart a path towards reopening. The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to Orange County and the Anaheim communities and the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment. With the right guidelines and our years of operations experience, I am confident that we can restart and get people back to work. As you can see from this discussion today, we're ready. And more importantly, it's time."

In that statement, D'Amaro never used the word, "safe." The entire presentation before his statement detailed the company's many efforts to create a safe environment for Disney's cast members and guests, but in his closing remarks, D'Amaro talked more about the business impact of keeping the parks closed.

I think that was a mistake, given the current political environment in the state of California. A business-focused PR campaign might move politicians in Orange County, Calif. and Orange County, Fla. — and even the state of Florida. But they're a non-starter with state officials in California, where the Republican Party is dead at the state level and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party is on life support.

If anyone dreams of replacing Gavin Newsom with a more "business-friendly" governor, I've got news for you — Gavin Newsom is the most business-friendly governor that California's going to have for a long time.

So forget the economic appeal. Disney's first key is "Safety." Tell people that. Include it in the pitch. Earlier this month, I warned that the debate over Disneyland's reopening was going to become a cultural battle, driven by people pushing agendas that have nothing to do with theme parks.

That's because theme parks, especially Disneyland, are cultural symbols that transcend so many personal, political and cultural differences in our society. Well, how about making that cultural status a selling point for Disney and theme park industry rather than a weight around their necks?

So here is my humble suggestion for a speech from D'Amaro or, better yet, Disney CEO Bob Chapek that might do more to move Gov. Newsom and other state officials to immediate action.

"To our California government officials, particularly at the state level, I want you to know that theme parks stand ready to help California contain and recover from this virus. For decades, Safety has been the first key in Disney's theme park operations. Theme parks will set the standard for enforcing mask requirements, safe physical distancing, temperature checks and world-class hygiene. We stand ready to support an expansion of Covid-19 testing for our cast and their communities. We will support the state's efforts to expand contact tracing among our cast and guests and will offer our mobile application resources to assist that effort. Jobs are important, but not as important as lives. So the theme park industry offers a path forward that allows us to bring people back to work and restart the economy, safely. With state issuance of reopening guidelines, theme parks can help lead California's response to — and recovery from — Covid-19. Thank you."

Hey, it couldn't do much worse than what the industry has tried up until now.

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Replies (24)

September 30, 2020 at 4:45 PM

This is 100% correct. Newsom has been clear all along that science will guide decision making. D'Amaro and the parks team needs to bring that. Make the case that opening the parks is safe and guided by science.

September 30, 2020 at 4:58 PM

If anyone needs evidence that Disney's priority is safety for CMs and guests look at Florida. The governor lifted all restrictions and requirements and Disney is sticking with its COVID safety protocols.

September 30, 2020 at 5:21 PM

I agree with TH. Disney has set the example in Florida and as usual it's a higher bar than anyone else.

I think it's silly to suggest Newsom can't see what they're doing and know that Disney means business with safety. If Disney needs to truly dumb it down this much for the Governor of California, the state has serious problems. They have been displaying to the world and country for the past 3 months that they can and will be better than most businesses in keeping the public safe.

September 30, 2020 at 5:29 PM

Theme parks reopened in early June in Florida, at a time when the state was in far worse shape than California is today. They have operated without incident for nearly four months, and despite the much looser regulations in Florida, their numbers have done nothing but decline since mid July. Out of 50 states, Florida currently ranks 29th in terms of Covid severity, while California is 38th. Cases per capita are only 35% higher in Florida, (11.1 per 100k vs. 8.2 vs 100k), yet the two state approaches have been polar opposites. If this isn't enough science and data to suggest that what Newsom is doing is overly destructive for the small amount of increased safety it brings, we need new leadership more than anything.

September 30, 2020 at 7:17 PM

Disney wants to reopen? Here's what they should do: use their vast media network to promote wearing masks. We should be seeing Mickey, Han Solo, Elsa, Oogie Boogie, Captain America and every other Disney character reminding American kids and their parents that if they want Disney open, we have to drive down the infection rate.

The national rate is up 13% today over the two week average, to 43,000 new infections today.

Unfortunately we're saddled with a deranged narcissist for a leader and a controlling party that cares _only about enriching themselves, and they've tricked a third of our population into thinking not wearing masks is a good idea. What we need are people like Disney pushing the truth and encouraging Americans to do what every other country that has controlled the pandemic has done: WEAR MASKS.

Sure, pathetic MAGA cult members are a slavishly devoted to their leader as the folks at Jonestown were, and you're not liable to convince one of them to respect science and wear a mask any more than you could have convinced those sad Jonestown folks to not drink the kool aid, but if anybody could move the dial in that direction, surely it would be the characters from the MCU, and Star Wars; etc.

October 1, 2020 at 12:10 AM

The global death toll is now at .0001% of the worldwide population. The US death toll is now at .006% of the US population.

I post these numbers not to say the virus is not real or something to not take seriously. I post these numbers because I am tired of people on this site pretending that opening what they deem to be "non-essential" businesses being world enders. People will continue to die from this for a long time. When you lump the numbers together without the stats on population percentage it's scary, BUT hear me out...

Maybe we have to come to grips with the fact that this virus will not be going away and people will continue to die from it. Maybe that's just nature and we need to find a way to live with it rather than pretend sheltering in place for X amount of time will solve anything. We praise Canada and South Korea and Germany for allegedly doing it right and flattening the curve in order to move on. The truth is the curve was flattened and they came back to life and the virus followed. This country did not do it right in the beginning, that much is true, but now we are past that. We have entered a world and time where the virus, like everything else, is evolving and it's not as simple as banging on a keyboard and saying we suck and we need to stay in our homes to survive.

Staying home and not getting back to a new normal, which includes operating ALL businesses with an enhanced eye on safety is the bigger death sentence in the end.

September 30, 2020 at 7:30 PM

"The truth is the curve was flattened and they came back to life and the virus followed."

No, it didn't. Vietnam, and Germany and South Korea, and New Zealand have all had an infinitely smaller fraction of the deaths we had, and they current have next to zero infection rate compared to America's. And no we do not "have to come to grips with the fact that this virus is not going away"--it HAS GONE AWAY in many places, and is controlled to a reasonable level in many others, but right now America's rate is nearly TWICE what it was back in April.

The problem is not "getting back to a new normal," the problem is CONTAINING THE VIRUS, which stupid Americans have REFUSED TO DO.

Trying to convince yourself reality doesn't exist doesn't make reality go away, and while it's fun to pretend or act cavalier about hundreds of Americas DYING every day, it doesn't stop their deaths. When it's someone in your family, I bet your "oh well, what could be done!" attitude will dry up quick.

100,000 infections a day is coming. Enjoy your fantasy.

October 1, 2020 at 2:32 AM

Sometimes I wonder if you actually do research before you post comments. Both South Korea and Germany flattened the curve around May and held it for the summer before seeing sharp increases that almost brought them both back to their original numbers. Numbers have significantly dropped in both countries again but the point remains...The virus will follow. ALSO the US is basically right back to where we started in Mid April. 36,000 new cases compared to 34,000 on April 25th and far from our peak of 75,000 on July 17th.

NEXT!! (Possibly copyright infringement)

September 30, 2020 at 7:46 PM

We have the 10th highest fatality rate (Per John Hopkins) with the highest fatality total (+205,000). CDC Director would agree in his entirety with thecolonel.

I would not refer to it as containment rather mitigation. It can be done.

thecolonel has said it best "Americans have REFUSED TO DO".

September 30, 2020 at 7:57 PM

leastinteresting can you support this?

"CDC Director would agree in his entirety with thecolonel."

September 30, 2020 at 9:58 PM

On another thread, @leastinteresting pointed out a key thing, which is Disneyland is in a hot zone area for infections in California. I mean, if Orlando was dead center of the infection rate for Florida, even Disney would be wary opening there. Newsom has to be aware of the risk of another spike and cutting it down is key right now.

Yet another reminder we had our chances at containing it via protocols months ago....and too many ignored for a rush to "back to normal, back to work" and now the long-term effects are hitting.

September 30, 2020 at 10:08 PM

AndrewL the answer is yes.

September 30, 2020 at 10:33 PM

ok....

September 30, 2020 at 11:33 PM

Does anyone here know how government actually works?
We are the United STATES of America!
States have rights and the federal government can't actually force them to do as the feds want. A fact dictators like Newsome and Cuomo have rightfully and lawfully stated many times to the president over the recent months, and I totally support. They will only do whatever they want, since EVERYTHING is political and they want to make a political point to their base. If Feds try to force, then it goes to a battle in the courts and we all know how that turns out. Take a few bad state, like my own NY with the MOST deaths, and the numbers are not so bad comparatively.
Comparing our stats to other countries is ridiculous, we are basically 50 countries, with every state having their own response. Every state has their own responsibility to stockpile PPE, budget for an emergency, have funds available for a disaster. The Fed is there for Help, but should not be the end all be all as a response for an emergency, except for War.

TheColonel has been on here from the beginning with the sky is falling world is going to end with every single post it is ridiculous. Now if he has a condition that makes him vulnerable, then please stay safe. If you lost someone I am sincerely sorry! If none of the above go hibernate and shut up, But life must continue.
As the great philosopher Spock once said, "Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.". As unfortunate as it is to say, the deaths are very few compared to the total world population and less than the average total deaths per year for all afflictions combined. Also, You can't trust reporting out of countries I don't need to name and the USA has definitely inflated the death count for reasons I honestly can't understand. Infection rate means NOTHING, deaths do, but we are getting much better at reducing them.

October 1, 2020 at 12:09 AM

Theme parks in California should sue to get guidelines.... I am NOT a litigious person, but they have waited about seven months with 0 guidelines. Have Californian politicians and their hired virus experts even toured the parks or their counter-parts in FL to try to figure out what might be safe? I see a total lack of action here which is really unfair not so much to those of us who go to the theme parks, but the workers and surrounding businesses who depend on theme parks operating. And really, I am not trying to be political here, but don't these employees and surrounding businesses like hotels deserve an idea of how best to re-open and when re-opening may happen?

October 1, 2020 at 12:21 AM

"Both South Korea and Germany flattened the curve around May and held it for the summer before seeing sharp increases that almost brought them both back to their original numbers."

Oh, it's an analogous situation in those countries, is it? Just like here, "the virus will follow," same-same? Let's see:

Germany's high in April was 6,000 cases a day (adjust your eyes Americans, I said 6,000, not SIXTY THOUSAND), and though in the last month their numbers have ticked up slightly, they're at 2,000 infections a day. Explain again how that is in any way, ANY WAY comparable or analogous to our 40,000+ a day nightmare? Even if you adjust for population (we have about four times as many folks), America would still be at 500% Germany's infection rate.

And consider, it's not apples to apples. At 2,000 a day you can contract trace, isolate, quarantine hot spots and thus allow ordinary life to go on. Here, meanwhile, we have no idea how many people are getting infected at Disneyworld every day because we CAN'T contract trace, we have too many infections! We can't quarantine hot-spots, more than half our states are hotspots! But sure, Germany's just like us, the virus will follow, good point.

Now let's take a look at South Korea. Wow, you know, you're right, they really have "bounced back"--TO 700 INFECTIONS A DAY ON A POPULATION OF 50 MILLION PEOPLE! Same as here, virus will follow, right?

Please tell me how your comparison to those bastions of sanity, those oases of intelligence has any bearing on the mouth-breathing orgy of idiocy that is America's 40,000 infections a day and climbing? Are you suggesting that we have it same as them, or that their situation should excuse the absolutely avoidable catastrophe we're currently experiencing?

It's amazing the propaganda Americans will swallow to explain away the criminal negligence of their incompetent leader.

October 1, 2020 at 12:20 AM

@MrTorrance: If you think what these guys are doing is "dictators" talk to someone from a real dictatorship and see how they note we have it easy.

October 1, 2020 at 12:30 AM

@MrTorrance: how many states allow you to smoke in hospitals? How many states don't require seat belts? How many states let children drink beer? How many states let you go into a restaurant without your shoes and shirt on?

None, you say?

Now, how many MAGA cult members do you see braying about their right to breathe their lethal breath in our faces? And how many more people will their willful stupidity kill before Christmas?

October 1, 2020 at 9:41 AM

Back to the original topic here...I think Disney has taken the right tact here. Businesses should not have to kowtow to government officials, and if they did, the public would question the effectiveness of government to regulate business since companies with more means would have more influence than smaller ones. I don't agree with Disney using their employees as leverage against the government's inaction, but it's their reality right now, and as AJ noted in a previous column, will be a common occurrence across many other businesses as well as the PPP and associated restrictions run out and companies adjust to shifting demand.

Nonetheless, I would contend that this tact Disney is taking does integrate safety into their argument, and shifts the onus to the government to explain why similar businesses are being given guidelines and allowances to open while theme parks are hearing nothing but crickets. Disney shouldn't have to bulletize their safety record or the care they pay to their employees and guests, because it's always been a hallmark of their operations. FWIW, those of us on the east coast have probably seen the recent marketing blitz for holiday visits to WDW that has guest safety front and center in the appeal. No doubt that given the permission to operate in California, a similar focus on safety would be a major part of advertising to west coasters.

In the end, all Disney is asking for here is to be treated like any other business in the state, which is a strong argument not only to government officials, but to their constituents that need to be made aware of the hypocrisy that is present right in front of them. While any effort to resume operations should focus on safety, it's clear that California is not using safety as their metric for making their decisions. Therefore, why should Disney reference an aspect of operations that doesn't even appear to be on California's radar right now? Maybe if California actually provided some information or guidance as to what businesses like Disney can expect, then Disney could use safety in their appeals. However, lacking any sort of road map for them to follow, Disney can only conclude that safety is not at the front of California's mind in staying mum on the subject.

October 1, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Mr Torrence you lost everyone with that political rant. Be smart about it and everyone can mostly win. Covid is real and hopefully you never know the pain of those that have lost loved ones or those waiting on the feds to approve relief for the unemployed while your party bickers.

October 1, 2020 at 4:16 PM

Hollywood Reporter: "A group of Disney employees on Wednesday will caravan to the state capitol in an effort to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to immediately sign AB 3216, which would guarantee recall and retention for hospitality workers, according to one union."

Daily Beast: "The California governor vetoed a bill that would have provided some of the 28,000 recently laid off Disney workers (and others) with additional COVID-19 work protections."

Yeah ... It's Disney's messaging ... That's the problem.

October 1, 2020 at 6:24 PM

I am seeing a general premise from everyone here and this is what it looks like..

- Just about everyone (including me) does not fully comprehend nor would agree why the State has not issued guidelines.

- While it may not allow them to open, it assuredly would allow them to better prepared and make informed decisions regarding their workforce.

- We agree (but with different reasons that has far reaching economic impact) yet, do not want to define the risks..

- We seemed to disagree where this is at (currently). Some believe this is at a critical stage and based on Florida's tiered reopening California can do the same.

Consider this, Disneyland is surrounded by commercial and residential. (e.g. Hotels, Homes, Apartments, High Rise.) Disney, nor the State can monitor or control peoples behavior off the property.

SO WAIT? Florida's the same right? I would argue that is is not because whether the visitor is a local pass-holder and goes home or whether they are staying on property, the person in there car likely heads home, the person staying on-premises has to abide by there transit rules and guest policies.

The person in Anaheim one can simply walk of Disney property, take there mask off and do whatever. While you equally can do this walking out on property in FLORIDA, there is more likely scenario you will be stopped or removed from property.

What I am saying is were not comparing Apples to Apples.

October 1, 2020 at 6:22 PM

NOW...

Do they need a different strategy to get the parks opened yes.

If Disneyland wants to open in tier 3 they should be allowed to if:

1.) Establish (in-experience) contact tracing.
2.) Test for COVID prior to park entry or allow a valid test result withing 72 hours of the date/time they want to enter.
3.) Pre-screen and determine who, how, when (how did you get from there to DLR? Plane. Train, Automobile, How long have you been here, where are you staying)

If they want to wait for tier 1, then they should be allowed to open with the same restrictions as their Florida counterpart.

October 2, 2020 at 11:38 AM

It seems that many people here are just more interested in the politics of this. I love the way Disney is handling the Guests (requiring masks, etc). Politics has no place here.

Thanks Robert... you're doing a great job.

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