Throwing in the Towel

Written by Tim Grassey. Posted in Features, Walt Disney World

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Published on July 21, 2013 at 3:00 am with 95 Comments

It’s not that I’m mad, I’m just disappointed. Disney used to be the leader. They used to pride themselves on besting their competition when in reality, there was no competition. Disney was Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky all rolled into one. What made these athletes great was their own belief that they could fail. They still had an inferiority complex. Whether it was the coach that said Babe Ruth was too fat, that Michael Jordan was too short, or that Wayne Gretzky was too Canadian, the inferiority complex gave each of them the fuel to compete. Disney used to have that inferiority complex as well. There was something in the back of their mind that produced doubt. That doubt led them to competitive decisions that fueled growth for decades.

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During Michael Eisner’s reign he often asked, “Why are people leaving property?” This question led to a mentality that fueled the growth of the resort. Tourists and locals were spending time at Church Street Station, so Disney built Pleasure Island. The Seas pavilion was built because people were visiting Sea World. The number of hotel rooms increased dramatically because people were staying off property. MGM Studios was fast tracked for fear of losing guests to Universal Studios. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was built because people were driving to Busch Gardens in Tampa.

This mentality was great for growth but also had its pitfalls when corners were cut. In California, this approach led to a park where the “best” of California was built in the Disneyland parking lot. However, it took an investment of over $1 billion to make the park successful. Similar shortsightedness also existed in Florida when MGM Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom each opened with only two major rides. However, it wasn’t shortsightedness that ended this level of competition. What ended it was Universal’s Island of Adventure.

Universal Islands of Adventure

Universal Islands of Adventure

A little more than a year after Disney opened the Animal Kingdom, Universal opened Islands of Adventure. During development, word spread that Islands of Adventure would open with three world class roller coasters as well as a ground breaking Spider Man attraction. Disney was ready to react with additions at all four theme parks. When the doors opened for Islands of Adventure the rumors proved true. The Hulk, and Dueling Dragons were world class roller coasters and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman was the most innovative theme park attraction in history. There was just one minor problem with all this: it didn’t affect Disney’s attendance at all.

It was at this time that the inferiority complex disappeared. Disney’s closest “competitor” built the greatest theme park ride to date in a park full of major attractions but theme park fans opted to return to their classic favorites at Walt Disney World. How could Disney fear any competitor at this point? They had no reason to believe that anything could disrupt the gold mine that was the vacation kingdom of the world.

For years, the “competition” struggled. They humbly accepted what little market share Disney had allowed them, and survived off the few guests that were looking for a day away from the resort. During this time, additions at Disney World were few and far between because they were deemed unnecessary.

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Disney began to believe that the theme park market had matured and the only responsibility now was to maintain their empire. This began the shift that Kevin Yee mentioned in a recent article. Disney stopped looking for more guests to enter the parks and began looking for those guests to pay more per visit.

While annual price increases typically mark the beginning of every summer travel season, that alone wasn’t enough to meet Disney’s profit targets. Disney looked at what the average guest spent on vacation and the question changed from “Why are people leaving property?” to “Where else are people spending money?” If a family was spending a fixed dollar amount on a Disney vacation, Disney wanted to make sure they were getting as much of that fixed dollar amount as possible.

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Several steps were made to ensure that more dollars were spent at Disney than in previous years. The Magical Express buses helped fill Disney’s hotel rooms, and Disney indirectly took profits from rental car companies and offsite hotels. Perhaps more importantly, it kept these guests on property and away from other theme parks. The Disney Dining Plan allowed guests to prepay for meals, once again keeping them on property while providing the added benefit of fixing food costs. These efforts accomplished exactly what Disney had hoped: an increase in spending per guest.

For years, this model worked because the “competition” was struggling to survive. Ironically, it was Islands of Adventure that again acted as the catalyst of change to the Orlando theme park landscape. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter proved that the theme park market in central Florida wasn’t mature, it was just dormant. With Harry Potter, Universal moved from “competitors” to competitors. Unfortunately, Disney’s inferiority complex is long gone and has been replaced by something wholly different. Whether it was replaced with arrogance or ignorance is unknown and unimportant. What is important is that it changes.

Repackaging what’s there can no longer succeed in the face of real competition. Disney needs to regain that fire that stems from their inferiority complex. They need to know they’re not the best in the business of themed entertainment anymore.

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Is it possible that we will we soon see the Universal parks pass the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and perhaps even Epcot in attendance? What do you think? Can Disney return to their old competitive ways or have they thrown in the towel?

 

 

About Tim Grassey

Three months before being born, Tim enjoyed his first trip to Disney World. Ever since, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland have helped feed the obsession. After a three year run as a podcaster, Tim currently co-owns the Disney information site, WDWThemeParks.com. You can follow the site on twitter @wdwthemeparks or follow Tim directly @tgrassey

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95 Comments

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  1. Living on a fixed social security income makes it impossible for us to afford a Disney Vacation. However Knott’s Hotel has great package deals, at about $110 a night per person with park admission. And I think you get buffet at the hotel with their packages. On the Halloween Haunted Dreams package I know you get Hotel, Haunted Park early admission, breakfast buffet, Haunted dinner buffet and a free Haunt t-shirt for about $110 a person. It is one of the biggest bargains out there! We have gone the last 3 years. I realize that some will think this is not a big deal as you are in the park for about 6-7 hours depending on the day of the week. But with hotel prices what they are nowadays it is well worth the money. It only takes us about 7 minutes to walk to the park too.

    • I just stayed at a Good Neighbor Hotel…six nights with Park Hopper tickets for four days, ran less than $600 a person.

  2. It’s the little things that made Disney special. The resorts having different mugs, free plastic cups for the kids, taking home napkins with the Disney logo to be used for the kids lunches, etc..

    As a 15 year DVC member, the changes they have made with the program have got to stop. They’re restricting pool hopping, lessening or taking away discounts. Membership no longer has its “perks”.

    Disney Quest is outdated and Cirque needs a new show. Stop pumping out new pins, vinylmations and other collectible, limited item, rare crap that is only a step above Beanie Babies.

    The hand drawn artist sketches that can be found in the parks, downtown and at the Art of Animation used to be drawn freehand. Now they are lightboxed. It’s nothing but a tracing selling for $30-$50.

    Last week we were going to buy a plastic license plate frame and it was $20!!!! They have quickly over-priced themselves.

    The dining plan is no longer a good deal. They used to include an appetizer and included gratuity. It’s not worth the time and money.

  3. Why has nobody noticed that everything good about Disney’s future they bought? Star Wars was somebody else’s idea. Pixar was bought. Disney bought Marvel. What have they created in house in the last 10 years?

    What has Disney created themselves? Jon Carter and Lone Ranger?

  4. I just look at my own Facebook feed for the answer.
    There are 20+ people on there who are “certified Disney agents” constantly – CONSTANTLY pimping “free dining” and getting people to go back again and again and again. There are people on my feed who go to WDW and stay in a hotel and go to the theme parks upwards of six times a year, the whole family.
    As long as the parks and hotels are full, why, asked the Devil’s Advocate, should Disney make any effort whatsoever? Their job is to create revenue for their stockholders, who don’t give a rat’s ass (sorry) about quality or “magic”.

  5. I just came back from wdw two days ago. I don;t know where to start but here it goes. It is becoming dilapidated. Plain and simple. space mountain broken down when we went to get on an for hours. I thought this was just repaired. Expedition everrest the same. gum stuck to the ground pavers and ground. My mom stayed at the polynesian in may and she said it needs rehab. We always stay at the yacht and beach club wow where do I start. In the laundry room my the quiet pool three of four washers broken, five of eight dryers. My husband said the pool bath had a broken urinal. Splash mountain broken parts in the ride. loose carpet in the hallways of beach club and boardwalk had so many moldy carpet issues when we stopped in there to meet up with friends. Who arrived two days before we left. Another laundry room had two washers and one dryer broken. Disney is lacking not only in maintenance badly. They need to add more teen to adult rides. They think they don’t need to compete with universal. Sorry they do. I have kids ages 24 to five. So I can tell you I have alot of age ranges to please. This july trip may be the last til disney gets it together. If they can. profit is completely outweighting guest, If you please a guest you will get profit. I heard brazilians are needed at this point to help keep profits up and they are destroying property. I heard from a disney cast member they kicked a hole from one room to another to make an adjoining room. I hear they smear cupcakes icing into table clothes at be our guest.Take their names ban them permanantly. What it is costing to fix their destructiveness is not worth their business. I am not going to say this is all brazilians. Some of them young girls are dressing with their butts hanging out come on it’s a family park. I am only a size six for those of you that will comment and think I said it because I am jealous trust me what I saw how some of them dress they don’t belong wearing shorts that short at any age. We were dispite problems going to go back in october after reading that I can go to portofino bay cheaper. I am trying that this october. I am celiac gluten intolerance and disney did not even do a great job at that while I was there. I couldn’t get a life vest for my child at the pool hotel they didn’t have enough of them. How can this be? Rides Disney needs an avatar ride with a part like spiderman and the beauty of avatar. They need to get rid of the great / bad movie ride. expand and rapidly do starwars. A ride and maybe an interactive jedi experience. One thing disney does have they need to expand on is living with the land. Although we love toy story mania the lack of teen adult rides is showing at disney. Purchasing avatar and star wars cost them a huge chunck of change. Now they need to do something like universal would do with it. quickly along with maintenance in the park. Gone are the gays where older well mannered employees are at the park. All the young not trained well employees are showing. A vacation at the yacht club for 12 days with nine people premium dining I see now I can be treated better and have other options at universal. I may do two disney days and the rest at universal. That will please my five year old and I will not leave my vacation feeling unappreciated and abused by disney no longer caring about their guest. I waited an hour for a manager at a quick service in magic kingdon for him to bypass me to get someone to refill ketchup instead of healping me and my son with our gluten free food order.After three hours all I could find was gf macoroni, I was starved and My five year old in tears cause I couldn’t get help in the magic kingdom from places on the list of gf foods. Sent away with no help from two managers at two quick service and one grand marshall at the parade line. I cannot have seafood and the one place that had gf chicken fingers didn’t have a decicated fryer free from seafood. Come on disney you can do much better than that. I will say at certain number two point restaurants serivce was excellant and fod was great. I had five good meals out of 16 meals. I ate in seven two points and seven one points which were great and decent and one quick serivce which was the worse expeience of my life looking for food. No manager had a list of what other quick service restaurants had to offer. We cannot have not dogs and hamburgers do to medical dietary restrictions. Deluxe dining prices are now not worth what you pay. Cheaper to just pay cash.

  6. true bring back the sketch artist. My kids loved these. I have purchased my kids stitch litographs and disney castle pictures on trips that cost between 285. and 500. and they used to love going through the artist and watching them draw and getting a sketch. I would pay for the free hand sketch. It would pay the artist for the day. go back to what walt wanted and you will have bigger profits. So many people are noticing. You cannot stay on the path you are on. you can only ride a name and dynasty walt built for so long. wise up!!