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A behindtheears look at Disneyland
|Predictions for the New Year|
|Predictions for 2002:
Analysts unanimously have proclaimed that dipping attendance at Disney parks won't turn the corner until at least 2003. My guess is that attendance at both Anaheim parks instead will increase this year thanks to anticipated discounting to the local market and, especially, the skyrocketing sales of inexpensive two-park annual passes.
Now, while that should keep the ticket takers busy at the Main Gate, that doesn't mean the ticket sellers will be collecting more money at the ticket booths. I suspect that admission revenue from single-and multiple-day admissions will, in fact, decrease.
In recent years, Disneyland had kept its gates open later in the evening, even during low season, intent on keeping guestsand their walletsin the park longer. Hours were finally trimmed this past fall, and again this winter.
The parks will continue this trend, not only to reduce operating expenses, but also to free up the facilities for more after-hours parties. More private parties for companies and groups, Grad Nites and merchandise events will allow the parks to sell some tickets after entertaining annual passholders all day.
Consider it theme park triage; since Disneyland's condition has stabilized, management can frantically administer C.P.R. to DCA.
It doesn't matter that Disneyland brings in triple the guests as DCA (and, I assume, triple the revenue). Most new attraction development money will be poured into DCA until the new park can stand on its own.
Yes, I know DCA changes its stage and sidewalk entertainment about as often as new mothers change diapers (and for the same reason). The park has also made big changes at several restaurants. But all the attractions of a year ago are still running. My take is that while Disney quickly realized that several attractions would have to be replaced, the park had so few attractions that they couldn't afford to temporarily lose one, even bad attractions like Superstar Limo, under-visited attractions like MuppetVision, or attractions that aren't even attractions like the tortilla tour.
When Flik's Fantasy Faire opens, count on DCA to finally make the move and shutter its first attraction to make room for a replacement or at least a major overhaul.
Tough times at the theme parks and the companywide will prevent Disney from breaking ground any time soon. Still, DCA's lackluster first year has made it obvious that it will take more than a snazzy shopping mall and modest second gate to turn Anaheim into a global resort destination. So, expect Imagineers to continue dreaming up possible concepts for another Anaheim theme park as well as complementarily themed hotels, a water park and other entertainment.
Disney also will keep meeting requisite permit deadlines for its as-yet-undeveloped property and keep shopping for additional parcels of land in the area which might become available as neighboring landowners realize it could take years before the millions of new tourists begin to arrive.
Now, before you take the above predictions to Vegas, please heed the following warning. My predictions a year ago didn't all pan out. Let's revisitand gradelast year's forecast.
Predictions for 2001:
[Grade: D] Guests, in seems, were a lot more discriminating than I gave them credit for. It didn't take 12 months for them to catch on, it took about 12 daysthe park preview days last January. Poor word of mouth, a less marketable product, and a slowly deepening recession forced Disney to spend the year concocting deeper and deeper discounts, more desperate promotions, and quick-fix additions.
All of this combined to doom my next prognostication
[Grade: F-, making it possibly the worst Disney-related prediction since Disneyland forecast its new "streetacular," Light Magic, would run for at least three years.] In my defense, Disney had just raised single-day admissions from $41 to $43 and was poised to boost them again to $45. Then, last Christmas season, Disneyland was so crowded that many days it had to turn away $43-a-pop customers (while letting annual passholders in).
Admission rate increases seemed the perfect solution, both decreasing congestion in the park and increasing revenue, all the while taking advantage of the initial novelty of a second gate. But then something awful happened. DCA opened and nobody came. Consequently, Disney would sell a record number of discounted admissions and, fearing a drop in the number of two-park pass renewals, drastically slashed the price of annual passes.
[Grade: B-] The numbers just didn't seem to add up. Total resort capacity: more than 100,000 guests. Total resort parking places: about 20,000. Somebody's turning around and going home.
Well, last January, as preview crowds packed DCA and Downtown Disney, this prediction seemed golden, as "Lot Full" signs quickly went up around Disney's parking facilities. But capacity crowds would prove rare thereafter.
[Grade: B+] Initially, the cast member shortage was because Disney couldn't find enough qualified candidates willing to work demanding hours for demeaning pay. As the year went on, departments would run short-staffed to save money.
[Grade: A] Visitors to Disneyland have always "checked their brains at the gate." Making the resort bigger, thereby increasing the "talent pool" that visits (and works for) Disney, shouldn't help the problem.
Witness the teenager who filed suit last week blaming the park for breaking his ankle a few months before on the Alice in Wonderland ride -- even though after the accident he publicly admitted he purposely dragged his leg outside the vehicle.
Better yet, during a visit to Disneyland on Christmas Eve, I overheard the following comments within an hour of each other
Teenager to his mom: "Hey, where's the Haunted Castle?"
Young lady, pointing at Tomorrowland's rooftop "sculpture," the Observitron: "Wow! Can we ride that next?"
And, finally, the enthusiastic cast member spieling on our tram from the parking structure: "For your enjoyment, Disney's California Adventure will be closing at 7:00 tonight "
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.
You can contact David here.
Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.
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