Disney CEO Bob Chapek anticipates Disneyland and other parks in 2022 may be mask free and without onerous social distancing for a Covid free, vaccinated populace.
Theme parks have been hardest hit among Disney’s businesses. At a conference call to talk over the media giant’s latest earnings, execs said flagship Disneyland and Disneyland Paris likely will not open during the current quarter that ends in March, although Hong Kong Disneyland might. Neither Chapek nor CFO Christine McCarthy hazarded a guess on a Disneyland opening date.
Asked, instead, when he thinks parks return to normal, Chapek said he’s looking at 2022. “We have no doubt that when we reopen up in parks that were closed, or increase capacity, that that we will have some level of social distancing and mask wearing for the remainder of this year. That is our expectation.”
But, quoting President Biden’s chief medical advisor, he said, “I believe that Dr. Fauci said earlier today that he hopes that there are vaccines for everyone that wants them by April of this year — and if that happens, that is a game changer and could accelerate our expectations and give people the confidence that they need to come back to the parks.”
“Will there be some overlap until we know that we have hit herd immunity? Sure there will. But do we also believe that we will be in the same state of six-foot social distancing and mask wearing in ’22? Absolutely not.”
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have been shuttered since March – almost a year. Last week, two California assembly members introduced legislation to let large theme park operators reopen earlier than proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current regime. The regs now allow small theme parks reopen if their cities are in an orange tier (based on Covid infections), but force larger parks to stay closed until the more difficult yellow tier. The bill wants big and small parks to be treated the same. In another ray of sunlight, as part of Disneyland’s California Adventure’s 20th anniversary, officials announced plans to expand dining outdoors at the theme park in Anaheim by mid-March.
The execs were kind of upbeat on parks despite taking another $2.6 billion hit on the business last quarter as revenue plunged more than 50%. McCarthy noted that only Walt Disney World and Shanghai Disney were open all quarter. Besides Disneyland being shuttered, Paris Disneyland was only open for a third of the quarter, and Hong Kong Disneyland for about two thirds of it. The open parks were operating at a significantly reduced capacity but she said all “achieved a net incremental positive contribution” – meaning revenue generated exceeded the variable cost of operating the park.
Attendance is rising, reservations too, outpacing supply in some cases.
“We have ample demand for our parks. Despite everything that has happened with the pandemic, we have made a pretty big impression our guests and prospective guests in terms of safety measures to give assurances to people that they should come, and bring their families, and we are very, very pleased with the response,” Chapek said.
He noted that engineering teams have figured out how to boost capacity safely and and the overall business will emerge stronger post-Covid. “There is nothing like a pandemic to challenge the status quo and make you be fairly introspective about many things.”
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