Disney Parks and Resorts' Tom Staggs

By Arnie Weissmann
Tom StaggsTom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, is responsible not only for theme parks and their related hotels but also Disney Cruise Line, the Adventures by Disney tour operation, the Disney Vacation Club timeshare division and Aulani Resort in Hawaii, the first Disney resort not connected to a theme park. Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann recently sat down with Staggs to discuss developments across Disney's leisure travel portfolio.

Q: The Aulani has now been open for seven months. How's it doing? Is its performance inspiring you to plan additional stand-alone themed resorts?

A:
I'm very encouraged by the success of Aulani so far. But it's too early to say what our next move will be. We're focusing on learning all we can about the guest experience and still tweaking things. We'll take our time about the next move.

Q: Construction of the Avatar park attraction doesn't begin until next year, and Cars Land is scheduled to open this summer. Are you doing anything in existing parks while waiting for these to be finished?

A:
We're in the biggest phase of theme park expansion in our history. In Orlando, we're redoing Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom is the most popular park, and Fantasyland is the most popular land, so that's a big deal. The second piece is Hong Kong, where we recently opened Toy Story Land. And this June we're opening the biggest "reimagination" in California Adventure, with a new entry corridor, Buena Vista Street, and Cars Land, based on the Cars movies. You have the opportunity to be one of the first bipeds in Radiator Springs.

Q: A number of the park rides are based on movies. How about the Disney Channel shows?

A:
We have an interactive experience based around Kim Possible in Epcot and will be converting it to one developed around Phineas and Ferb. It's possible that we could see other attractions that are hard assets, but we do think about what their life cycle will be.

Q: You have a park in Hong Kong and one announced for Shanghai. What are your plans for other BRIC countries? Or other new locations?

A:
Shanghai is exciting in terms of prospects for Disney Parks but also to help us grow Disney as a whole in China. As for other markets, I do think that could be a real possibility, but we don't have anything we're focused on other than China at this moment.

Q: Adventures by Disney appears to have some challenges regarding growth. Are you satisfied with its scale?

A:
On the one hand, it's a striking success. Along with the cruise line, it's the highest-rated product from a guest standpoint. Tours is a very fragmented market. We didn't start out to make it big. It's not big from a financial standpoint. But I'm pleased by how it's progressing. It's hosting a family Disney experience without the infrastructure we normally have to build. It has served us well and has informed how we approach our cruise business, how we approached Aulani. They're doing a terrific job.

Q: When will the next ship be ordered for Disney Cruise Line?

A:
Our focus today is on [the] ships we're launching. It's a possibility, to be evaluated another day.

Q: Do you anticipate any changes in your relationship with travel agents?

A:
The short answer is, travel agents are very important to our business and will continue to be. Consumers have increasing access to information. They're looking for value, and travel agents still do a good job of sifting through all the choices and helping their clients choose.

Email Arnie Weissmann at aweissmann@travelweekly.com and follow him on Twitter. 
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