Disney park attendance back on the way up

TWcrossroads associate editor Rebecca Tobin is on-site at Walt Disney World, attending the 100 Years of Magic birthday celebration.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Walt Disney World park attendance is creeping back up following a post-Sept. 11 downturn, said Al Weiss the president of Walt Disney World theme park, although October levels were still about 25% below last year's attendance figures.

Hotel occupancy also is on the uptick, although it's still below what Disney would like to see, Weiss told a select group of reporters here during the 100 Years of Magic celebration kick-off.

In terms of getting people traveling, Weiss said, "It's not just a Walt Disney World effort. It's a worldwide effort. We're spending $25 million to launch the 100 Years of Magic and the governor [Jeb Bush of Florida] allocated $20 million to the Visit Florida campaign."

But Weiss, and other top Disney officials here, agreed that travelers want to be with friends and family -- and that Disney can provide the setting for people to do that.

"[Sept. 11] makes us more important than ever before," Weiss said. "We see a situation where people, because of family and friends, will choose a place like Walt Disney World."

According to Disney's fourth-quarter report, operating income in the Parks and Resorts division (which includes all Disney theme parks) dropped 13% compared with fourth-quarter 2000.

Since Sept. 11, there's also been a shift in booking patterns: Travelers are booking their trips closer to their departure dates, which makes predicting future revenue streams and making business decisions more challenging.

A few of the things Walt Disney World has done since Sept. 11 is move some staff positions; close sections of the resorts, such as the Port Orleans, and reduce park hours and attractions.

Disney's Pop Century resort, for example, which was scheduled to open in March, is now waiting in the wings. Weiss said half of the 5,760 rooms will be fully finished and furnished so it can be opened quickly when the demand exists. A rumored fifth theme park is "not on the drawing boards," he added.

But several new attractions and parades have been introduced for the 100 Years of Magic celebration. And Imagineers, the term Disney gives to their creative teams, are hard at work on new attractions tabbed for five to 10 years down the line. And, he said, the question of economic recovery is "not if, but when.

"We've had impacts to our business before, but we've always recovered," he said.

"I'm proud we're still here," said Roy Disney, the chairman of The Disney Co. and Walt Disney's nephew. "We have an enormous history of things that Walt handed down to us, and to keep that alive and to build on that -- you got to be proud of that."

Get More!
For previous installments of Rebecca's reports from Disney's 100 Years of Magic birthday celebration, click a link below:
Disney in December gets guests in the spirit
Disney celebration includes 'One Man's Dream'
Disney resorts offer variety of style choices

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