How Will Disney Reopen its Parks?
For a glimpse at how Disney recovers from the pandemic, look no further than Shanghai, where the entertainment giant has staged a limited reopening of Shanghai Disney Resort. Adults, kids and senior citizens wear masks while wandering among staff and security guards who carry contact-less thermometers and hand sanitizer.
As some U.S. states lift stay-at-home orders, investors and park fans are watching to see how Walt Disney Co — which makes a third of its revenue from parks, experiences and products — reimagines the “happiest place on earth” for a world altered by the virus.
The high-touch, high-volume, kid-centered nature of the parks, and Disney’s need to prevent damage to a brand synonymous with safety and families, will make reopening difficult, experts said.
Disney’s ability to reopen its parks in Asia, the United States and France will also be a powerful signal about how the world can get back to a semblance of normal.
“This is the greatest challenge that the industry has ever faced,” said Phil Hettema, founder of The Hettema Group, which designs theme park rides and other experiences.
Executive Chairman Bob Iger recently said checking guests’ temperature could become routine at Disney park entrances. Among other plans under consideration, according to a source briefed on Disney’s thinking: Rides like the Space Mountain roller coaster could stagger guests in each “rocket” to enforce social distancing. Guests could be notified via app or another technology when they can go on a ride or in a restaurant to eliminate lines.
Staffers, known as cast members, and guests could be required to wear masks. But in true Disney fashion, employees’ masks would be fun, not scary, the source said.
Masks, now worn commonly across China, are ubiquitous in the shopping district outside Shanghai Disney, where workers disinfect a playground for 5- to 12-year-olds at noon and 3 p.m. daily. Temperature checks are mandated by local regulations, according to Shanghai Disney’s website.
The question that health experts and financial analysts are asking is whether any of these measures will be enough to protect employees, guests or Disney’s bottom line.
Social distancing could come at a steep price. Disney parks need to be running at roughly 50% of capacity to be profitable, according to the firm.
Financial analysts have predicted reopen dates for Disney ranging from as early as June to Jan. 1. Guidelines will be set by governors in California and Florida, where Iger and Walt Disney World Resort President Josh D’Amaro sit on state reopening task forces. The rest is up to Disney.
Although Disney and other large venues face an unprecedented challenge protecting guests from an easily spread airborne virus, experts and a former executive pointed to its experience handling crowds.
More than 157 million people visited Disney parks in 2018, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.