Mickey Meets Popular Demand


You only have to see two black circular ears to spot that famous name from a mile off. Yes, that’s the one: Mr Mickey Mouse – the face of Disney. Those little ears have become so familiar to us over the last few decades, and therefore it comes as no surprise that Disney were named the “World’s Most Powerful Brand” last year (2016). Indeed, Disney is now a household name and visiting ‘Disney’ seems to be a rite of passage for young families. True, you’ll find few kids (or adults) today who will turn down a trip to see Minnie and Mickey. So, how did Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (WDPR) become so popular, and are they showing any signs of slowing down? Let’s find out…

A Minnie History

Described as the “happiest place in the world” by Mr Walt Disney himself, Disneyland has spread that “happiness” from a single resort in California in 1955 to six destinations across the globe: California (Disneyland Resort), Florida (Walt Disney World), Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disney Resort and Tokyo Disney Resort. In total, WDPR comprises of 12 theme parks and 52 resorts across three continents. They claim to be one of the “world’s leading providers of family travel and leisure experiences.” To give you an idea of the numbers, Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park attracts 20 million people every year.

A “Magical” Experience                     

Very few realise that ‘Disneyland’ came from a very straightforward vision. Over 60 years ago, Mr Disney simply wanted to create “a place where children and parents could have fun together.” The lack of entertainment options available to him and his daughters was one of the major motivating factors behind Mr Disney’s investment in a theme park. However, the more he dreamed of a “magical park”, the more imaginative and elaborate the vision became. A roller-coaster was no longer a winding track in mid-air but a runaway mine train travelling through the Grand Canyon. And so the Disney theme parks were born, bringing with them a new era of family entertainment, specialising in storytelling and immersive experiences.

Has Disneyland Lost its Sparkle?

Attendance at the top US theme parks grew by less than 1% in 2016 (from 116m to 117m visitors) – the lowest growth rate in over five years. Tourism analysts, however, remain positive about future growth. The Orlando Sentinel identified Hurricane Matthew and the strong US dollar as two of the contributing factors but say Disney’s US parks have a trick up their sleeve. 2019 will see both parks open Star Wars-themed attractions – a move Dennis Speigel from the International Theme Park Services describes as a “huge home run for Disney.”

Star Wars attractions aside, the Orlando Sentinel also stated that if the US dollar were to remain expensive (against the pound, for example), the US will have “difficulty attracting foreign visitors.” Disney, however, already seem to be a move ahead as Travel Weekly announce two new “value-driven” hotels will be opening in the Universal Orlando Resort, offering 2,800 rooms between them by 2020. Frank Belzer, vice president of sales, at Universal Orlando Resort said the move is based on their research which “shows… we need to provide a hotel for a segment of the market that is more price conscious.” Belzer added that the new hotels will be appealing to UK customers, given the pound’s recent drop in value against the dollar.

In Europe, 2016 also proved to be a tough year; attendance levels at Disneyland Paris dropped 14% following the terrorist attacks in July (2016) combined with bouts of bad weather. They are hoping their “Marvel makeover” in summer 2018 will boost their ticket sales with the introduction of the world’s first superhero hotel modelled on Stark Towers (Iron Man’s pad). They will also be offering Marvel fans a new immersive 360 experience.

Disney’s other destinations will also see improvements made in the near future. Tokyo Disney Resort is expanding with a new Beauty and the Beast attraction, Hong Kong Disneyland have begun construction on a six-year expansion which will see new attractions and entertainment experiences brought to the park, and Shanghai Disney Resort are adding a seventh area to their park: Toy Story Land.

The Park with a Powerful Spell

There may be a number of unavoidable factors such as national ‘incidents’ and changes in GDP that affect the attendance levels of tourist attractions, but it’s Disney’s attitude to never stop bettering their products that contributes largely to their successes worldwide. That combined with the “magical experience” they can offer customers which they won’t find anywhere else. Los Angeles Times adds that Disneyland is calculated right down to the smallest detail – from the candy shop and bakery exhaust fans blowing cinnamon scents into the air and cheerful music delivered to every corner of the park, to the high fences that make Disneyland feel like its own little world. They describe Disneyland as a “Utopia in nature” – a place where all negativity is banished and replaced with positivity.

The sun never falls on the Magic Kingdom; will Mickey and the gang continue to ride out every economic storm thrown their way? Well, it certainly looks like it for now. Whom or what can really take down or compete with “the happiest place on Earth?” Everyone wants a little bit of that sparkle in their life.

Are you interested in the ebb and flow of tourist numbers? A travel and tourism HND gives you the opportunity to create your own case study project where you could discuss a topic just like this one. Why not give one of our HND advisors a call today to discuss whether a tourism HND is for you.

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