In a surprising turn of events, Walt Disney World and Disneyland are experiencing a significant decline in visitor numbers this summer. Wait times for rides have dramatically shortened, indicating a worrisome trend for the entertainment giant. It seems that exorbitant ticket prices are deterring potential guests, leaving the Mouse House grappling to attract visitors.
According to a recent report, data from the analysis firm Touring Plans reveals that not only Disney theme parks but also their competitors are witnessing smaller crowds. This thinning traffic poses a significant challenge for The Walt Disney Company, which is currently in the midst of a $5.5 billion cost-cutting spree, resulting in widespread layoffs across its divisions, including the renowned sports cable empire ESPN.
Touring Plans, which measures wait times through information posted on Disney park mobile apps, has compiled data comparing average wait times for rides at the four Walt Disney World parks in Orlando, Florida. The statistics paint a clear picture: in 2019, the average wait time to board a ride in the Magic Kingdom was a staggering 47 minutes. However, the pandemic-stricken year of 2022 saw this wait time shrink to 31 minutes, and so far this year, it has decreased even further to just 27 minutes. Similar trends in wait times have been observed at EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
The gravity of the situation is exemplified by the case of Hollywood Studios, known for its popular Star Wars attractions, which experienced one of its slowest days in the past year on the Fourth of July, according to Touring Plans. Jaime Brown, a Walt Disney World annual pass holder residing in Celebration, Florida, shared her experience with The Journal, stating that during the week of July 4, she had no trouble enjoying normally high-demand attractions such as Spaceship Earth and the Topolino’s Terrace restaurant. “I couldn’t believe how light the crowds were,” she remarked.
Travel agents and industry analysts offer possible explanations for this downturn in foot traffic at the Mouse House. They believe the combination of high theme park ticket prices, Florida’s scorching summer heat, and the allure of visiting Europe and other foreign destinations may be diverting potential visitors. It seems that Disney’s pricing strategy may not be resonating well with consumers, especially in comparison to alternative travel options.
Earlier this year, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, who returned to lead the company after a tumultuous reign by his handpicked successor, Bob Chapek, made some adjustments to pricing and services at the theme parks. In an effort to alleviate visitor concerns, Iger rolled back some price hikes and reinstated certain free services that were previously available. Additionally, he increased the availability of $104 tickets while decreasing the number of days in which the highest price tier of $179 would be charged to adults. Parking fees at Disney-run hotels, which had sparked visitor outrage when implemented in 2018, were also scrapped.
In fiscal year 2022, Disney theme parks generated a staggering $28.7 billion in revenue, with $7.9 billion in profit, surpassing their pre-pandemic performance in 2019. Despite these impressive figures, the recent decline in visitor numbers is cause for concern.
As Disney strives to navigate these challenging times, it finds itself embroiled in political controversies as well. Clash with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over various issues, such as sex and gender education for young individuals, and the status of the formerly autonomous tax district governing the land on which Disney’s theme parks sit, has further complicated matters.
It remains to be seen how Disney will address the decline in visitor numbers and whether it will reconsider its pricing strategy to entice guests back through its magical gates.