Data, Polling, Vacations
May 4, 2021
With summer vacation time coming in the midst of a country recovering from COVID-19, Disney hopes that you, your friends and your family might take a trip to a galaxy far, far away…or at least their theme parks! With Disneyland in California finally reopening to some extent along with Florida’s Disney World full opening, Disney parks hope to be, once again, a hot vacation spot for the summer and a center for the yearly May the Fourth celebration in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Both Disney World and Disneyland top the charts in worldwide attendance of theme parks, with Magic Kingdom and Disneyland park holding the number one and number two spots respectively and other parks of each area holding rank in the top 13, according to the Themed Entertainment Association report of 2019. Each park brings in tens of millions of attendants per year and together with Disney’s experience line make up about a third of the multi-billion-dollar revenue the company takes in during normal circumstances. To keep this up, Disney goes to great lengths to stay ahead in park innovation and service, and to those lengths, Disney has made significant investments on two fronts: Star Wars and Big Data.
In 2011, Disney made a billion-dollar investment on a new platform (later unveiled as MyMagic+) to better tailor the park experience to a customer level, using new technology to better track customer trends and behavior within all segments of the parks. Roughly a year later, Disney acquired Lucasfilm, the studio behind Star Wars, for about $4 billion to ingrain the brand into their media and park divisions long-term. These investments led to some significant changes to the parks, including the implementation of the Disney Magicbands along with the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge for both Hollywood Studios in Disney World and for Disneyland park. These implementations helped to create a quicker turnaround in the parks and a 2% increase in travel to Hollywood Studios following the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge initial opening.
Thanks to COVID-19, however, Disney Parks took a massive hit due to the national and worldwide closures of the parks, pushing Disney to focus on its digital market such as its new streaming platform Disney+, which launched with a new Star Wars brand series The Mandalorian. The park closures reportedly cost Disney billions of dollars, along with thousands of job losses and millions of dollars lost to communities from the tourist revenue. One year later, Disney parks in Florida have been reopened since last summer (at a self-imposed limited capacity), and Disneyland in California has now opened to some capacity just in time for summer vacation. The question now becomes, is this another sign of turning a corner, and will May 4th be a new symbol of returning to normalcy?
Although not quite at 100% yet, there has been a new shift towards optimism in the last few months. Disney has promoted its new safety procedures along with negligible numbers of infections during the reopening period in Florida. On the other side of the coast, Orange County, California has reached infection levels low enough to enter the “orange” tier to finally allow a 25% capacity opening for locals in Disneyland after its closure last year, along with also implementing massive safety procedures. Together with the already reopened Downtown Disney, California hopes to interject some life into the ghost town that was once the bustling Anaheim.
But are a significant number of people ready to go back? According to some polls, yes! According to polls conducted by Causeway Solutions in junction with The Ehrhardt Group, eagerness and optimism are coming back to California and the nation as a whole, especially when compared to the summer of 2020. Nationwide, over two-thirds of those polled believed that 2021 would be an all-around better year with over half looking to travel within the next three months. In 2020, these numbers were significantly lower, with only 40% believing in a better rest of 2020 and only about 28% planning on traveling within the next three months. Even focusing on the more cautious state of California, this positive shift is still evident, with a little under two-thirds believing that 2021 will be a better year and a little less than half up for traveling within the next three months. This is compared to July of 2020 where only 37% believed in a better rest of 2020 and also only about 28% were planning on traveling within the next three months. Although not the full confidence many people might want, these shifts in opinion show that there is a change happening in the country, exactly the shift that vacation centers like Disney Parks want to hear. Even with California’s stricter guidelines of only allowing locals into the park, with on average more than 50% of visitors to Disneyland being local in the first place, the optimism shift in California specifically shows potential for at least some turnout upon re-opening.
Along with the optimism shift, Disney chose an opportune time for reopening. While Disney World has been slowly getting some crowds back since its reopening, Disneyland hopes to reclaim at least a portion of the crowds it once had, including some who attend the previously opened Disney Springs. While the weekend of reopening falls on May 1st, the timing of reopening allows for a Disney celebration of May the Fourth, a commemorative day to celebrate Star Wars, in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in both Disney World and Disneyland.
Once Disney purchased Lucasfilm, the parks division began adding May the Fourth celebrations to park locations in 2013, including dining experiences, character meetups, merchandise and light shows for the period. Now, with both areas having new park locations specifically dedicated to Star Wars, fans can celebrate the commemorative day at the parks for the first time, if only at a limited capacity. Although Disney has not announced specific extra events as in years’ past, the interest in that specific date is still evident, with Disneyland planning on selling exclusive merchandise and tickets for Disney’s Hollywood Studios (where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is located) already sold out for weeks for that specific day. The timing becomes beneficial for Disney in trying to capitalize on visitors who want to start vacationing again.
The reopening time for Disneyland might be perfect timing for the start to normalcy, thanks in part to Star Wars. Optimism has shifted in California and the rest of the country for both the year in general and for vacationing, especially within driving distance, during the summer. With a Disney-specific celebration day occurring right on the brink of summer vacation and within the first week of Disneyland’s reopening, May 4th becomes a good litmus test for the renewal of vacations after a year into the pandemic, especially for California. And, if the leaders of park locations can start managing significant crowds as they have before COVID-19, it might become another sign that the nation is indeed turning a new corner.
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