Peering over the plethora of mouse ears at Disney World a couple of weeks ago, I took note of the fact that even in the midst of the low season in Orlando, the place was pretty packed. Not shoulder to shoulder, but nonetheless there were long lines for rides and full tables in the restaurants. Was it its new marketing campaign to give away a free ticket in exchange for a day of volunteering? Was it the arrival of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees after winning the Super Bowl? Or is it an indicator that things are looking up?
As most parents will attest, a trip to Disney is not cheap. I would go as far to say that the cost including park tickets and food is at a price-level equivalent to a vacation at an all-inclusive, five-star resort. And I’m sure most of the families visiting Orlando made their plans in the latter portion of 2009, when there were even fewer signs of economic optimism.
Coinciding with my visit, Disney announced plans for the largest expansion in Magic Kingdom history. Obviously, its executives have an optimistic outlook. And if you look at the recent performance of their parks and resorts, you can see why.
According to their SEC filings, revenues for Disney parks and resorts during the fourth quarter of 2009 were flat compared to the previous year. Park attendance was actually up, offsetting a decline in guest spending. Domestically, their guest spending per available room was down a mere 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. I doubt any other hotel company can boast such a mild decline in guest spending, particularly when you consider that Disney’s rooms inventory increased more than 3 percent during the period.