Variations On A Theme (Park) And What Disney Signals For Brick-And-Mortar Leisure

Face masks.

Socially distanced photos with Mickey and Minnie.

The (measured) reopening of Shanghai Disneyland Monday may provide a bit of a roadmap as to how entertainment giant Disney and other leisure firms can start to bring back foot traffic and revenues. But the initial steps are just part of a larger journey and beg the question: Just how will the new normal of theme parks play out?

Shanghai Disneyland has limited visitors to less than 30 percent of previous capacity, according to CNBC. The park is also checking guests’ temperatures, according to a press release. They’re required to practice social distancing.

In an interview with CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that of the visitors coming to the park — where tickets had already sold out for the week — “I look at this as a stair step. We’re going to be very conservative, we’re going to be very prudent, we’re going to be very disciplined about how we open up. And then we’re going to ramp up and increase.”

The goal, he said, is to increase attendance by about 5,000 individuals a week until it reaches 30 percent capacity, which would equate to about 24,000 visitors. The park has the capacity to host 80,000 visitors daily, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Here, then, lies a bit of friction, and the Shanghai operations represent a bit of a microcosm of a larger issue. Disney’s earnings results this past quarter, as announced earlier in the week, showed the parks, experience and products segment at $5.5 billion in revenues, down 10 percent. That, of course, does not reflect the full impact from the pandemic. In the meantime, the company took a $1 billion hit to operating income due to the sales lost from the closures.

In Florida, Disney Springs is set to begin a phased reopening later in the month, and as noted, Disney is waiting for government guidelines and input from local public health officials.

As Disney goes, so too might the rest of the leisure nation. And in terms of reopenings, it could be argued that China is a bit further along than we are, at least in bringing businesses back online. Time will tell whether there will be new waves of infections, which of course might bring us all back to where we started (or even behind).

Once things are open, will people come? Beyond the early adopters who may queue up at a theme park’s opening days, the design and necessity of limited capacity begs a question of just how well Disney (and by extension other firms) can do with a maximum of, say, 30 percent of capacity and top line, but operating costs that will be significant.

Those operating costs span everything from staff to utilities to now, active and stringent cleaning and disinfecting efforts. And those costs will be in place even if people do not come, or come in waves, or if the startups here in the states are rocky.

In addition, the economic climate is less than ideal. In the U.S., unemployment seems certainly headed above the current 14.7 percent level. Stimulus checks can only go so far. The ancillary services at theme parks, such as restaurants, likely will see depressed foot traffic, too.

As Karen Webster noted in this space, and as detailed in the fifth PYMNTS study of consumer behavior across more than 12,000 individuals, nearly two times as many Americans have little or no interest in leaving their homes to reengage in the physical world as those who do.

For theme parks, then, the gates swing open, and what’s next is anybody’s guess.