by Ray Keating
July 31, 2020
Earlier this month, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) released its annual report on global attractions attendance for 2019. While Disney obviously remained the theme parks powerhouse regarding attendance – with its various parks around the world pulling in an estimated 155.99 million guests – its overall attendance in 2019 actually declined slightly (falling by 0.8 percent) versus 2018.
This small decline in 2019 attendance actually was part of Disney’s strategy, as opposed to the 2020 phenomenon of a pandemic closing parks, and crushing attendance, revenues and profits. As noted in the TEA report, “Disney’s domestic park attendance numbers were flat overall for 2019 compared to the previous year which could be attributed to the operator emphasizing its yield strategy by prioritizing the quality of guest experience and per caps. This operating model has emerged over the last decade and will likely serve operators well moving forward, with respect to capacity limitations in parks and the continued need to stay competitive.” Or, as stated in an Associated Press story, “The flat attendance is likely due to an effort by Disney to limit entry, while charging higher prices, so that visitors have a more enjoyable experience…”
Here's a rundown in Disney’s 2019 attendance figures.
• Among amusement/theme parks in North America, Disney parks filled the top five spots, as well as number eight:
1) Magic Kingdom attendance was up by 0.5 percent in 2019, registering 20,963,000 compared to 20,859,000 in 2018.
2) Disneyland (California) attendance saw no growth in 2019, registering 18,666,000 in both 2019 and 2018.
3) Animal Kingdom attendance was up by 1.0 percent in 2019, registering 13,888,000 compared to 13,750,000 in 2018.
4) Epcot attendance was unchanged in 2019, registering 12,444,000 in both 2019 and 2018.
5) Hollywood Studios attendance was up by 2.0 percent in 2019, registering 11,483,000 compared to 11,258,000 in 2018.
8) Disney California Adventure attendance was unchanged in 2019, registering 9,861,000 in both 2019 and 2018.
• Disney World’s two water parks ranked one and two in terms of attendance among water parks in North America:
1) Typhoon Lagoon attendance fell by 1.0 percent in 2019, registering 2,248,000 compared to 2,271,000 in 2018.
2) Blizzard Beach attendance also declined by 1.0 percent in 2019, coming in at 1,983,000 versus 2,003,000 in 2018.
• In the Asia-Pacific region, Disney claimed four of the top ten parks in terms of attendance:
1) Tokyo Disneyland attendance saw no effective growth in 2019, registering 17,910,000 compared to 17,907,000 in 2018.
2) Tokyo DisneySea attendance also was effectively flat in 2019, coming in at 14,650,000 versus 14,651,000 in 2018.
5) Shanghai Disneyland attendance was down by 5.0 percent in 2019, coming in at 11,210,000 versus 11,800,000 in 2018.
10) Hong Kong Disneyland attendance dropped by 15.0 percent in 2019, registering 5,695,000 versus 6,700,000 in 2018, thanks to protests against the infringement of the communist government in Beijing on the governance of Hong Kong.
• In Europe, Disney claimed two of the top four spots in terms of attendance:
1) Disneyland Paris saw attendance decline by 1.0 percent in 2019, coming in at 9,745,000 versus 9,843,000 in 2018.
4) Walt Disney Studios Paris also saw an attendance decline of 1.0 percent in 2019, registering 5,245,000 compared to 5,298,000 in 2018.
The Disney strategy of enhancing profitability by increasing prices, investing in park upgrades, and improving the guest experience wasn’t a secret, and the 2019 attendance numbers line up with this strategy.
The question now is, of course, what happens to such a strategy during and after a global pandemic? Barring a complete snap back in terms of attendance once vaccines and therapeutics reach the market, it would seem that, at least for a short period of time, Disney will need to offer more price breaks and slow some capital investments until attendance, revenue and profits return to where the company and its shareholders wish to see them.
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