Iger Promises $17 Billion Investment at Walt Disney World

April 3, 2023, 6:22 PM · Disney CEO Bob Iger today committed to $17 billion in new investment at the Walt Disney World Resort over the next decade.

Iger spoke in response to a question during The Walt Disney Company's annual shareholder meeting online today. Iger, who returned as Disney's CEO late last year, took the opportunity to speak about the current political situation in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has been trying to take control of the special government district that has governed the Walt Disney World Resort's land for over half a century. [See Here's How Disney Played Florida's Ron DeSantis.]

"We love the state of Florida. And I think that's reflected in not only how much we've invested over the last 50 years, but how much we have given back in the form of jobs and community service, taxes... and all sorts of other responsible business practices. We've also always respected and appreciated what the state has done for us. It's kind of been a two-way street," Iger said.

"But a year ago, the company took a position on pending Florida legislation, and while the company may have not handled the position that it took very well, a company has a right to freedom of speech, just like individuals do."

Let's pause from Iger's comments for a moment to note the slight above directed at former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who pleased pretty much no one with the timing of his criticism of the Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law last year. [Disney Parks Make Diversity Pledge As Employees Walk Out]

Iger continued:

"The governor got very angry about the position Disney took, and it seems like he's decided to retaliate against us, including the naming of a new board to oversee the property and the business - in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me - against any company or individual, but particularly against a company that means so much to the state."

"To put that in perspective, we have over 75,000 employees [and] countless thousands of indirect jobs have been created. About 50 million visitors will go through our gates this year alone, about eight million of them from outside the US. And we are the largest taxpayer in the state."

"We're currently planning now to invest over $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next 10 years, and those investments, we estimate, will create 13,000 new Disney jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs, and they'll also attract more people to the state and generate more taxes. And so our point on this is that any action that thwarts those efforts, simply to retaliate for a position the company took, sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida, and I'll just leave it at that."

Disney has not yet announced any new attractions for Disney World, beyond Moana walk-through at Epcot that is nearing completion. So feel free to speculate on what exactly Disney will be spending its $17 billion on in Florida.

Doing the math and dividing that investment on an annual basis versus the attendance that Iger reported, that works out to $34 per guest in new spending at the resort. Burgers and churros for everyone!

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Replies (20)

April 3, 2023 at 8:21 PM

I’m gonna adjust for inflation and say that $14 billion will be allocated for a new Yeti strobe Iight system and the remaining $3 billion will be repurposed for new parking lot signage.

Kidding aside, it’s refreshing to hear Iger not just commit to investing in WDW over the next decade, but more importantly, succinctly and competently take a strong and upright position on common sense business dealings and basic human rights. One gets the feeling that he’s annoyed it took Chapek any amount of time other than an immediate response to address the legislation. I think that one of the main successful qualities Iger possesses as a CEO and leader is that he sees the larger picture but understands fully that individuals are the reason for its success.

April 3, 2023 at 9:08 PM

I'm curious to know what Iger's response to the Florida legislation a year ago would have been if he was CEO then. It's easy for him to now say (paraphrasing here) "that should have been handled differently". Yet I distinctly remember in 2019 when he was asked about the NBA-China controversy and he skirted around the issue by giving the old (paraphrasing again) "I don't want to say anything that could harm our company's income" PR speak.

April 3, 2023 at 9:28 PM

That’s a very fair point. I do think that the vast number of LGBTQ+ individual in the employ of the Disney company would have necessitated a much swifter response if nothing else

April 5, 2023 at 6:30 AM

So compared to the alleged 2 billion dollars for Disneyland Paris announced in 2018 that's a nice sum.

Those 2 billion were supposed to pay for 2 minilands with one attraction each, a lake (none of which are even half way finished by now) and a meanwhile cancelled Star Wars miniland with also one attraction all in the Studios Park as well as for maintenance and renovation of all the hotels.

Looking forward to learn what WDW is getting for an amount 7,5 times that.

April 4, 2023 at 7:43 AM

For that $17 billion, you'll get two IP overlays of existing attractions, a new DVC hotel, "billions" spent on new "technology" like Genie+, and more meet and greets that you will know what to do with. I look forward to being able to experience the "new attractions" funded by this investment sometime in the mid-2040's based on their recent development timelines. If a roller coaster now takes 5-years, I can only imagine how long it will take to see any tangible proof that there was $17 billion expended at WDW.

April 4, 2023 at 9:47 AM

Hopefully Disney won’t be stupid enough to announce a slew of new attractions and then break ground on a few right before a pandemic again. What a bunch of shortsighted idiots, amirite?

April 4, 2023 at 11:16 AM

I'm going to be optimistic here and categorize this as good news. As with everyone here I hope most of the money goes to new attractions and not to more resorts (which are out of economic range for a lot of folks), something more niche (like the Galactic Starcruiser), or Genie+ technology. Let's see new buildings prop up with rides inside the existing parks!

Now 17 billion dollars doesn't buy as much as it used to in my day, but would that still be enough for a fifth main gate? Thankfully Universal and Epic Universe may be applying some pressure to push this idea. Regardless at least it seems that MK expansion officially "blue-skyed" some time ago seems like its closer to fruition with this statement.

April 4, 2023 at 6:43 PM

I know the Mouse has plenty of buildable acreage left in DeSantisLand, but building a Disney park almost anywhere else in the world makes more sense than adding a fifth Central Florida gate. Improving and upgrading existing parks would be a great use of Iger's proposed billions, but building a spanking new park is more likely to cause visitors to skip an existing park on their WDW trip than squeeze five destination parks into a standard week long vacation. I also think Kabletown would have been better served upgrading their existing Florida parks with Epic Universe lands than building them down the street and ceding Universal's ease of access advantage.

April 4, 2023 at 8:23 PM

Wrong, Zarek, the idea is to go from 160K paying guests per day in 4 parks at WDW to 200K paying guests per day in 5 parks. Improving and updating the current parks will not bring in that added revenue.

April 4, 2023 at 8:56 PM

Maybe, Keith. But if a standard WDW vacation package includes 7 days worth of park passes, a new gate doesn't increase that #. The only way to justify a fifth gate would be if it entices folks to extend their vacation an extra day or three and increase the # of days purchased. More likely ticket buyers will still pay for the same 7 days and swap out a second day at an existing park for the new one, with the only revenue increase coming from ticket price inflation. That being the case it makes more sense for Disney to expand the existing parks and encourage more families to visit WDW.

April 4, 2023 at 11:26 PM

I think Zarex raises a good point. The amount of parks in Orlando essentially means that you can't "get it all done" in a single trip. After more than a week of theme parks I think a lot of avid fans of theme parks would start to desire something else. I understand that can result in return customers, however with the US' shrinking middle class and the cost of these trips increasing that's not as achievable to as many people as it used to be.

Polishing up the current parks (with new attractions replacing some of the tired or crap attractions) with a view to opening something fresh elsewhere in the US would allow them to create a new market, opening up to people for whom Florida is either unachievable or undesirable.

I get that the addition of a new gate at WDW would increase their capacity by 15-25% (at opening), but I think the longer term game would be in accessing new markets.

April 4, 2023 at 11:33 PM

Also, I'm a bit disappointed at the criticism that an announcement of $17b is drawing. I know this is the internet, and we all love to jump on the Disney bashing wagon, but how can there not be more excitement about this. Galaxy's edge cost $1b, this represents a massive investment. Even if only a quarter goes to the parks, that's 4 Galaxy's Edge equivalents. Damn.

With Disney hopefully stepping up the game to Universal, we're looking at some great days of being theme park fans.

April 5, 2023 at 12:04 AM

I'm going to be cautiously optimistic and say of that $17 billion, perhaps a third will go toward new rides and attractions for the theme parks. For the big ticket items, I personally foresee two or three parks getting a Galaxy's Edge sized land, plus two or three E-ticket level attractions across the resort outside of that. In addition, there will probably be some smaller attractions and/or IP rethemes included as well. The remainder will likely go toward new resorts, upgrades to existing resorts, infrastructure work, maintenance, Disney Springs, additional transportation options, etc. Walt Disney World is essentially a city, and while $17 billion would be insane if if were just for the parks, $17 billion for the whole resort probably isn't that out of line with what they've spent over the past decade or so (especially if adjusted for inflation).

What about a fifth park? Personally, I just don't see that making a ton of sense from any angle. With the average Walt Disney World vacation being 7 nights and the difficulty for most Americans to take more than a week off at once, you're not going to get people to spend more time at the resort with an additional theme park, and it's unlikely an additional park would bring in the 10+ million additional guests per year that would be needed to justify its existence (not to mention the resort would struggle to support those extra guests without some significant infrastructure upgrades). If Disney instead wanted to go after an audience that wouldn't otherwise visit Walt Disney World, they'd need to design something that might not appeal to current visitors nearly as much, resulting in the potential of dead weight if that guest base doesn't materialize. Plus, between their four existing parks, they've pretty much got all their guest bases covered except extreme thrill seekers, who would be unlikely to pay Disney's prices when places like Six Flags offer a year for less than the cost of a single day.

April 5, 2023 at 5:59 AM

I used to think a potential 5th WDW gate would be a Discovery Cove type pricy specialized experience with a limited number of daily guests. But the Mouse has done that with Galactic Starcruiser and according to the interwebs that is a Titanic sized disaster. Maybe that will transition into a single night experience and combined with a newly constructed Star Wars Hotel. But I don’t see adding another gate to an overbuilt Central Florida theme park market being an option for Disney.

April 5, 2023 at 10:20 AM

@Zarex - Why would they build another Star Wars Hotel? If Disney were to turn the Starcruiser into a single day experience, it would essentially be a Star Wars Hotel. I just don’t see it happening, and it certainly wouldn’t be worth the investment if the Halcyon was doing as poorly as some rumor-mills would suggest.

April 5, 2023 at 12:50 PM

While it’s too soon to declare the Galactic Starcruiser a failure, there has to be some truth to the rumors that it is starting to underperform. Discounted rates and cancelled reservations are not exactly a sign of a hotel in hot demand.

April 5, 2023 at 1:12 PM

Russell, my thinking was that sometime down the road GSC could be paired with a more traditional Star Wars themed and Walt Disney World sized resort to attract guests who may like their SW experiences a smidge less immersive and/or don’t want to check in and check out of multiple resorts during their stay. One night or perhaps even day trips to GSC could be add ons to hotel packages with guests being able to move seamlessly from one hotel to the other. GSC stays would still be available for guests not staying at the new Star Wars Hotel, but a combination of those two would provide the ultimate SW experience.

I havent been yet - we are planning on heading to WDW next year - so I don’t know if this makes sense logistically. But I think a two night immersive hotel experience is going to have a short life span regardless of the popularity of the underlying IP.

April 6, 2023 at 11:23 PM

I agree with James.

April 6, 2023 at 11:25 PM

No mention about the elephant in the room. With Iger’s remarks, he actually admits a link between Reedy Creek and Disney. Special districts are supposed to be beneficial to the community but not to a specific entity. He should’ve given a generic answer that Disney and Reedy Creek are separate entities. Not good for him and Disney as there are billions in bonds that were taken out via RCID.

April 6, 2023 at 11:30 PM

No way DeSantis caught onto that.

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