Here Are Some of the Challenges Disney Will Face in Re-Opening
We have entered uncharted territory, my friends. Disney theme parks have rarely closed for a day, much less a month. No historical precedent exists for what will happen next. Instead, we’re left with educated guesses about how much work needs to do to re-open. Here are several challenges Disney will face to get the parks up and running again.
Let’s start with the obvious one. Disney theme parks previously introduced new methods to stop the spread of bacteria.
Park officials rolled out hand sanitizer stations at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland and its other domestic gates. These stations were generally located close to high-traffic areas where guests were most likely to have trash or touch communal kiosks. And that brings us to sunny point number two.
Disney must take a hard look at some of its contact points like fingerprint scanners and Magic Band tapping spots. Anyone who has utilized Apple Pay knows that two electronic devices don’t need to touch to perform a digital handshake.
Disney’s concerns over unauthorized park admission are valid. Still, we live in a new world now, one where germs are a more dramatic problem. The management team should evaluate new measures to provide unnecessary contact with potential bacterial nesting spots.
Similarly, Disney may need to modify attraction amenities that require human touch. I’m speaking of the honey board at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the barrels at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the interactive elements at Haunted Mansion.
Some of these changes aren’t possible to do before re-opening, as they require wholesale changes. In the interim, Disney might close potentially unsanitary hotspots. Please understand that cast members had already implemented changes in cleaning procedures.
They wiped down hotspots more often than ever before, a practice that I expect is now the new normal at the parks. Frankly, the company and its employees performed admirably in adapting quickly to shocking circumstances.
Here’s a tricky one. Disney performs its own routine maintenance each day. The company maintains high safety measures to ensure that all its rides perform satisfactorily. While accidents happen anywhere, Disney’s track record provides a lot of assurance for guests, as it should.
However, an underreported aspect of Disney is that the company is subject to governmental regulations, too. All American theme parks must meet specific codes for certification. The process has become so routine by now that Disney keeps its own inspectors onsite as a rule.
Most Disney attractions in operation in 2020 have gone down for extended routine maintenance at some point. A couple like Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids went through it already this year. Only the newest rides have yet to experience this combination of renovation and plussing. So, passing certification has functioned as a formality in the past. Alas, the situation is a bit different now.
The only Disney rides that have remained out of operation for this long are ones like Primeval Whirl that have changed to seasonal. Otherwise, Disney’s most famous park attractions have recently powered down for the longest time ever. They will require more extensive safety checks than ever before. They might need certification renewals, too.
These steps aren’t mere formalities, either. They could take several days if not a week or more, especially given the sheer volume of Disney attractions involved. So, I think it’s reasonable for Disney to perform a great deal of behind-the-scenes activity before the parks re-open to the public.
Cast Member Training/Re-Training/New Duties
Similarly, Disney’s cast member situation is fluid right now. The governor of Florida finally acted on a 30-day stay-at-home notice, something that should have happened by mid-March. So, Walt Disney World likely remains closed through the end of April now. Even a May return isn’t a given, depending on what happens next in society.
Disney has only guaranteed cast member payment through April 18th. At that point, Disney will furlough cast members whose jobs aren’t necessary right now. Some people won’t wait on the company to act, either.
Also, members of the Disney College Program have already ended their tenures much earlier than usual. Many of these temporary employees worked at parks and resorts. A large amount of turnover could occur at Disneyland Resort, as well, meaning that an unprecedented amount of cast member turnover could occur.
When Disney prepares to re-open, a wide swath of cast members will need to learn new job duties. And they’ll need refresher courses on the hygienic steps that the company added in February and March.
So, the management team will spend a great deal of time training and re-training cast members on job assignments. The parks have frequent staffing turnover as a rule, but nothing has ever happened on this scale before.
Shaky Local Economies
The final two concerns are ones that aren’t exclusive to Disney. However, since the Mouse House claims more of the public spotlight, it’ll receive more attention for it addresses the issues.
The primary issue is the local economy in Florida and California. Both states rely on tourism as a primary revenue source. And a lot of places have taken a savage hit due to COVID-19.
From the meta perspective, most business forecasts involve incremental growth or decline. A company projects revenue based on single-digit growth. Companies that earn 10 percent more for a year have done exceptionally well. Conversely, companies that have fallen 10 percent or more have demonstrated troubling losses.
Nobody EVER expects 80 percent of revenue to vanish. It’s just not feasible to envision that sort of sudden drop, which is why so many people just got laid off.
Many of those suddenly unemployed people are Disney loyalists. All other things being equal, they’d spend time at the parks. Instead, some of them are petitioning Disney to let them out of their annual pass payments and the like.
While tourism drives the majority of park revenue at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the locals matter, too. These are the ones who will struggle the most to return to the parks.
So, the argument about Disney pricing out the middle class becomes a touchier subject when the parks re-open. Don’t be surprised if the company takes steps to entice all its fans to visit, not just the ones financially unaffected by Coronavirus.
Speaking of which, the final struggle Disney faces is a mental challenge. Guests must overcome their fear of the spread of germs in a post-Coronavirus world…and when I say “post,” I mean one where everyone’s aware of the issue. The reality is that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Until a vaccine exists, it remains an ongoing concern for many.
So, the final challenge Disney faces is persuading guests to lay down their burdens and return to the parks. Oddly, I’m least worried about this one.
I’ve spoken often of the Disney Bubble, that odd way that a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth soothes the soul. During a park visit, you tend to forget the outside world and relish in the comforting embrace of Disney.
I’m someone who is always thinking about work…except when I’m at the parks. It’s the rare time that I can really let go and enjoy life to its fullest. And I know that millions of people feel the same about a Disney trip. So, the fear of social gathering shouldn’t defeat the joy of a magical park day.