Disney really has no clue what to expect, but neither does anyone else

click to enlarge An altered image of Disneyland's Lunar New Year Mickey and Minnie going viral on social media. - Image via Zane/@fugginspam/Twitter
Image via Zane/@fugginspam/Twitter
An altered image of Disneyland's Lunar New Year Mickey and Minnie going viral on social media.
Last week saw Universal Parks announce a reopening date of April 19, then a few days later, as pressure mounted for Disney to acknowledge their April 1 reopening was unlikely, the Mouse confirmed their U.S. parks will be closed indefinitely. Now, with the latest models showing coronavirus peaking in the nation just days ahead of the published reopening date at Universal, it’s clear the April 19 reopening will have to be pushed back.

A lockdown in Orange County must also be considered when looking at reopening dates. In San Antonio, an aquarium defied orders to close and was then forcibly shut down by law enforcement. No theme park wants similar negative press.

The move by Universal to give a specific date caught their counterparts at Disney and SeaWorld by surprise. Previously, Universal seemed to be onboard to announce expanded closures beyond the initial two weeks at the same time as Disney and SeaWorld. In Orlando, the three companies have long had ongoing communication between each other, as was witnessed with the rollout of security measures in 2015 where every major theme park in Orlando introduced metal detectors all on the same morning.

According to one insider at Universal, the call to break from the pact and announce the new date was from a non-Orlando-based executive who may have been unaware of the "gentlemen's agreement" that the companies in Florida have used for years.

In the days after Universal’s unexpected announcement, Disney officials held multiple conference calls to discuss their options. With the abrupt closure of the college program, thanks in part due to pressure from the various colleges with students in the program and with concerns that some employees may move out of Orlando once their April rents are due, the unknowns surrounding a reopening were enough for executives to decide an indefinite closure was the best option.

The term "unprecedented" has been used frequently to describe the current situation around the world, but it's especially true of the tourism industry.

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Reservations for Disney hotels are now unavailable through the end of May. This aligns with other potential reopening timelines that industry insiders have expected. As more people across Central Florida go without income, even those who are receiving some pay may be impacted, especially lower-income individuals who are more likely to have roommates or rely on multiple jobs. It’s still unclear how a two-month or longer closure will affect labor availability at Orlando’s theme parks and how many new employees will need to be trained once the parks are ready to reopen.

Another concern that must be addressed before reopening is certifications and ride inspections. Every amusement ride in the State of Florida is required to be inspected at least once every six months. Even though parks with 1,000 or more employees can have their own in-house inspectors, the ride inspections must still happen within this time frame. With the parks now not operating for an extended period, some attractions will enter into their needed six-month window that may require inspections before reopening. Lifeguards, drivers, security guards, and some attraction operators may also need retraining ahead of any opening. This is especially true at Disney, where there are self-imposed stricter standards for operations.

With these considerations in mind, a one to two week timeline of pre-opening preparation is expected ahead of any public being welcomed back to the resorts. Even once they do reopen, some hotels, amenities, and attractions will likely remain closed for an extended period.

The term "unprecedented" has been frequently used to describe the situation the world faces, but for the tourism sector, it remains the most accurate descriptor. This new world Disney, Universal and SeaWorld find themselves in still has many unknowns.

With so few past examples to work with, leaders across the industry are entering uncharted waters where things like market demand and crowd flow could be dramatically different than anything seen prior. As of now, it looks like such questions will remain unanswered until at least early summer.

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