Theme Park of the Day: Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

WDW Attendance/Bookings Down

Walt Disney World: WDW is hurting, and Disney doesn't want you talking about it.

From Sean Huckel
Posted August 8, 2012 at 2:55 PM
So, Disney's earnings were pretty interesting yesterday, no? I'm sure many of you were distracted by the Fantasyland expansion opening date, and I can't blame you.

But the earnings report was the news of the day by far for me. Domestic attendance is up 1% for the quarter.

That's good, right?

Well, yes and no. It's definitely been good for DLR, which has seen massive gains. But domestic attendance has only gained 1%. That doesn't show massive gains.

And why is that? Because WDW's attendance is down. In the summer months, the time when the parks are supposed to be their most popular.

On top of that, resort booking (which includes the Cruise line and it's amazing 94% booking rate), is down 1.5% with DLR's hotels "quite a bit ahead of WDW's" according to Iger. Meaning WDW resort booking is down as well. And from Bob's talk, things aren't looking much better at the Florida parks.

Now, most people would see this as a bad thing. I see it as a GREAT thing. For the past week I've been hearing rumblings of "things changing" in WDW's decision making, and that projects were on their way to being greenlit.

At first, I figured it was just wishful thinking, but this info really makes me believe WDW may be on their way to approving quite a bit. Mix that with nervousness about Universal Orlando's recent aggressive building, and the time is right for some WDW changes.

But I wanted to get this discussion out there, because Disney clearly doesn't want you talking about it. They released the FLE timeline yesterday to distract away from this kind of talk.

From Robert Niles
Posted August 8, 2012 at 3:36 PM
Tokyo and Anaheim are up, and Orlando's down.

Perhaps other people are agreeing with this list, too? ;^)

From Dominick D
Posted August 8, 2012 at 4:48 PM
I think Pandora will definitely attract a lot of people, but that's still about 3 years away. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train doesn't open for another 2 years, and I know quite a few are holding off until that opens for the complete new Fantasyland experience. What about Epcot and DHS? I could go a whole thread for Epcot, but I'll just sum it up:

Turn Mission: Space into a ride a lot of people will want to go on
Make Wonders of Life useful
Update Energy
Update Soarin
Redo Imagination
Add some rides into WS

Now for the big one, DHS. First off, Backlot Tour and LMA need to go. Turn it into an extension to Pixar Place, OR buy the Marvel rights with that cash from Avengers. After that, here's something hat will appeal to a wide variety: Star Wars Land. It would be a nerd's paradise. Take a flight on Star Tours, then go dine at the Mos Eisley Cantina. After that, why not go to the Death Star for a roller coaster ride? Young Jedi can go to Dagobah for a Jedi lesson taught by none other then Yoda. The day wouldn't be complete without going in a podrace! And that my friends is how you boost WDW attendance and make the fans happy.

From Rob Pastor
Posted August 8, 2012 at 5:17 PM
A number of Disney oriented blogs had a large percentage of bloggers complaining about WDW lack of new E ticket attractions in the past decade. There was a lot of discussion on the topic so this subject discussion is very timely. Some of the bloggers were saying that WDW has shut down a large number of hotel rooms for "refurbishment" which is in reality hiding the much lower occupancy rates. They also were saying that WDW said that Fall room bookings were nearly completely filled and WDW subsequently came out with large discounts after the filled resorts didn't materialize. The thought was that Disney is greatly inflating their true room occupancy rates. Bloggers were lauding the Disneyland Resort executives, saying that they are steps above the suits running WDW.These comments were a surprize to me coming from Disney fan sites. There seemed to be a lot of hate out there for the beancounters, Iger, and the Disney Orlando executives. There was a lot of discussion about reduced WDW park hours & cuts in WDW entertainment to pad the bottom line figures for this and next quarter. Also, Disney dragging their feet on slow construction times while Universal is putting innovative attractions up on a much faster construction schedule. How much of this is true, I don't know. But there is sure a lot of talking points.

From Rob Pastor
Posted August 8, 2012 at 5:24 PM
Dom: There was a lot of discussion out there concerning your Star Wars concept, an idea that I agree with. But there were a number of people saying that Lucas has been reluctant to agree to the concept at this point. Thought was that he wants way more than Disney is willing to pay. But, as you have pointed out, Hollywood Studios is a natural for a Star Wars land.

From Dominick D
Posted August 8, 2012 at 5:44 PM
Lucas said he would love to make more SW attractions at Disney.

From Chad H
Posted August 8, 2012 at 5:56 PM
Don't forget to factor in we're in a global downturn, everyone is taking breaks closer to home, Europe is in a bigger mess, it now costs more to fly from the UK in carbon takes to anywhere...

A dip in foriegn attendance is to be expected.

From Rob Pastor
Posted August 8, 2012 at 6:17 PM
But...then why are Universal Orlando & Sea World attendance up? Just playing devil's advocate.

From Tony Duda
Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:20 PM
I think the cost of a week long family vacation has crossed some kind of line and lower and lower-middle class people just find it too expensive. The upper-middle class and rich don't see any problem with $150 to $400 a night resort rooms and $500/week park passes. On the less expensive side, WDW All-Star resort is doing an end of summer room special at $66 plus tax. This could indicate the cheap rooms are going unused which is what the poorer people would use. All in all, Walt Disney World is/has become a wealthy person's destination.

From David L.
Posted August 8, 2012 at 7:53 PM
I think this is very interesting. I don't think people realize how amazing the Fantasyland Expansion is...Take a look at this. So much for a simple Beauty and the Beast meet and greet...that's an attraction unto itself! Overall, Fantasyland is only working for one of the parks, and the others do need I also think that many people are finally turning over a leaf and realizing that Universal can actually make some Disney quality attractions. I think that the attendance drop at WDW is from Harry Potter, waiting for Fantasyland to open, and Universal in general. However, the Universal reasons will quickly disappear unless Universal does something, which they are. Universal better keep it up, or we'll be stuck once again in an era with a lack of major expansion at all parks.

From James Rao
Posted August 9, 2012 at 3:41 AM
Speaking of costs, a Universal vacation is now just as expensive as a DisneyWorld vacation. Trust me... I know. Been trying and failing to plan a visit to Hogwarts for a couple years now, but I can't seem to come up with the extra cash needed to add those two days on to my Disney excursion. Used to be so easy back when Universal was a bargain...

As for WDW attendance, it's just like anywhere else where you have reached maxed capacity (Disneyland Resort, for example)... how do you get more people to come when everyone who wants to visit is already doing so (to the tune of 50M people a year - or 5x as many visitors as the next closest competition, Universal Orlando)? You have to pull a new clientele. IMHO, a combination of the Avatar expansion and the oft rumored Star Wars Land is the easiest way to reach a larger fanbase and increase attendance (if there truly is an attendance problem).

From Tom Cunningham
Posted August 9, 2012 at 5:23 AM
I think Tony is spot on.

Disney has placed a massive premium on the name Disney for years. Disney parks were better their was "The Magic" the rides were better you had a more immersive experience the theming was so far beyond anything anywhere else that people were happy to pay a premium for park tickets,hotels,food and merchandise (I never could understand why T-shirts were always at least $4 more expensive at Disney then Universal)

This all changed with the opening of the WWOHP people many for the first time went to IOA and Studios and were blown away by not just the Wizarding World but by the other rides the and the general experience so different to the mobbed world of WDW.

Many then started looking at the price difference an example being the Flexiticket packages which gives you 5 parks for around €200 V the cheapest 14 day disney package for €260 without Park Hopper !!(I picked the 14days price as people travelling from abroad tend to stay longer).

Many have now realised the the Disney premium is not worth it. The Rides are not better the ques are longer, you in most cases still have to get a bus from your hotel to the parks.

They are looking at Universal's two parks,Wet n Wild,Seaworld, Aquatica, and Busch Gardens as being equal to that offered by WDW with Its two water parks,MK,Epcot,AK and HS and many are now staying off site saving a fortune on their hotel bills .Travelling to Disney in many cases on the free bus offered by many hotels and splitting their vacation time more evenly between WDW and the other parks.

The WWOHP is responsible for a sea change in opinion and the numbers are starting to reflect this even with Disneys creative accounting....

The Balls in Disneys Court they are still on top still the biggest player they need to do something amazing. Its not Fantasy land as I suspect the opening will be over-shadowed by the full announcement of WWOHP phase 2, it wont be Cars Land either thats nice but not mind blowing maybe Avatar but thats still along way off and rumors about a Sorin type ride jazzed up wont have Universal Creative quaking in their boots

Still the next couple of years should be great for Theme Park fans!!

From Don Mobley
Posted August 18, 2012 at 8:53 PM
I think WDW Orlando should have a Star Wars land, I mean you could design a whole park around Star Wars, speeder bike ride, worlds to explore (Dagobah, Endor, Tatooine, and so many more). Could have an x-wing fighter coaster that rips through the deathstar trench! Not to mention the collectibles! I think WDW also needs to start really expanding the Marvel franchise, buy the rights from Universal and start developing rides/attractions while the characters are still hot! I wish someone at Disney would give me a job, I would get Disney back on track!

From Derek Potter
Posted August 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM
With the parks, Disney has always approached business with a differentiation strategy. For those who've never heard the term, it simply means having a better quality product than the other person, not necessarily a cheaper product or one easier to obtain, but a better (or more appealing) one. If done right the approach tends to develop deeply loyal customers willing to pay the price. The focus is squarely on product integrity and reputation, and the end goal is simple. Make the customer believe.

In this industry, that approach comes down to four simple things...the ability to entertain, the ability to provide great service, creativity, and attention to detail. Compromising even one of these means compromising the product, and tarnishes the illusion that the product is irreplaceable. Nobody wants to pay top dollar for a product that doesn't deliver the goods. Sure revenue and attendance are high and there's a loyal Disney following, but with those good things also come great expectations and high standards. If they don't live up to them, the magic fades. If the magic fades, so does the attendance and the revenue. That's not to say that Disney hasn't and doesn't deliver a good experience, but for them it can't just be good, it has to be great and memorable all the time, or in terms of numbers 3 or 4 times better than the average park, because that's about what it costs to go there.

On the subject of attendance, the industry (and online community) likes to use it as the ultimate measuring stick. The four parks at Disney all enjoy the top few spots because they all feed off each others attendance. This model works great for them for two reasons. One because they've gotten the customer to pay (overpay?) for what are essentially very small parks with a limited amount of attractions, and two it greatly inflates their attendance numbers. I've often wondered about attendance to the Disney World resort in terms of unique visitors, not people who come in and get counted four times because they visited four parks. That to me is a better and more honest indication of Disney's success. What the attendance numbers at any park don't show though, is the profit and loss

Remember a couple years back at the bottom of the recession when Universal was down in the dumps and losing attendance big time? The reason they were so down was because they didn't give their product away. They took the revenue loss and adjusted their costs, but maintained the integrity of their price and focus on their product. On the other side of Orlando, Disney gave their product away by having a complete fire sale on their hotel rooms and eating millions and millions of dollars in cost and lost revenue. Sure they maintained their attendance, but at what cost? A few years later they are still stagnant with no new significant attractions and probably some cuts made to some of their departments (and still a worthless Yeti). Universal on the other hand has rebounded and is enjoying record attendance and probably also record profits from new offerings they were developing and investing in when times were the toughest. We talk of Universal's expansion, yet speculate when Disney will finally get back in the ring and throw a punch.

If Disney is having some issues, it starts with their product and decision making, and it goes back to the recession. They've lost their focus. A major attraction would get them back on the right track in a hurry, but what are they waiting for...where is it? More importantly, why?

From Don Mobley
Posted August 19, 2012 at 8:36 PM
I completely agree with you! I have always wanted to stay at a Disney resort while attending WDW, mainly wanted to stay at the Grand Floridian; think the place looks absolutely beautiful and I am a big kid at heart, I love all things Disney, but I will probably never get the chance to stay at the one of Disneys resorts because they are way to much, and on top of that are the ticket prices. I order to get tickets to WDW parks, I have no choice but to stay offsite at an economy hotel, and like you pointed out thereare some really nice hotel out there that are not part of Disney.

I just think that the hotels should be far less than what the are because the whole purpose of the theme park is to get you into the park where you will spend money, and I usually end up spending way more than anticipated! I should be able to stay at a Disney hotel (that's affordable) and not worry about how radiculously over priced the hotel rooms are!

Becuase of the higher ticket prices and hotels costs, I no longer go down to Orlando 3-4 times a year, instead, I have now picked my favorite time to go (Halloween horror nights at Universal) and I usually stay offsite and enjoy my trip, I don't even bother with checking Disney rates anymore.

From Carl Fox
Posted August 20, 2012 at 1:25 AM
I think theres a number of factors in play, being from the UK heres a average Joe's reasons for not going or thinking about somewhere else.

1) PRICE !! WDW is for a family of 4 (2 kids 2 adults)is very expensive. For us it's a trip of a life time and needs a lot of money and saving with the trip, food (see below for meal deal thoughts), merchandise and tickets its about £5000/$7500.

2) Meal Deals - Yes if you book you get free food but the deal is SOOOOOO confusing it takes a lot of working out and a huge worry, what if the kids don't like that meal what if you get it wrong and go into the wrong food outlet and use up money, what if you go later or out of season and some places aren't open ?
If it was me i would make it simple :- tiered by place of stay = a $ amount of vouchers per length of stay e.g value resort = say $25 p/p per day mediam resort = $35 p/p per day (ok amounts might be a bit low but you get the picture). Also Art of Animation which i would stay at if i went doesn't do the deal.

3) Society . In the UK there is a boom in young parents and single parent familys this means agin price is a massive thing.

4) Attractions - with the above is WDW looking and feeling old and tired? Disney had a bad spell from Pocahontas to Toy story and kids now a days don't really know the old school. my children know the characters of old because we were brought up on them and we handed them over but they LOVE the pixar stuff they loved toy story land in DRP and the Cars ride is WDW stale ????

now from a bit of a theme park geek the reasons why i'd rather go elsewhere i won't be going anywhere until at least 2014 due to construction and refirbs

1) Other parks hold more of thrill or draw at the moment in florida id rather go to URO as it has more of a pull really WWOHP, Despicable me, WWOHP 2.0, Jurassic park, Possibly Transformers
also if i was to visit a Disney park it would be Disneyland and CA with all the effort they've put into it, i just think it will be more "Disney".

2) Other than the Mine Train theres not much to pull us to WDW over DL & CA yes ok Disney still gets my money but it still doesn't help Florida's figures it needs new fresh rides Avatar land doesn't appeal to me or the kids who don't even know anything about it.

lets not forget also that Florida saw Legoland open last year and for year in year out visitors it provided a relief or something new i would certainly visit Legoland if i had the cash the UK park is great.

ON a whole WDW needs a re-fresh/re-boot but an up-to date one, something pixar or marvel and what that could be is for another thread entirely ..........

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