This California theme park is set to reopen, but there's a catch
New York (CNN Business)Walt Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Disneyland plans to reopen later this month. But Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro is thinking about the next 50 years.
“It’s going to be fresh, it’s going to be technology-ridden. It’s going to be incredibly relevant to guests all around the world,” the Disney Parks chairman told CNN Business Wednesday about the future of Disney’s parks and resorts. “Every single day, these parks are changing.”
D’Amaro — who became chairman last May while Disney resorts were closed by the pandemic — spoke about what the parks will look like after Covid, if they will tie in with Disney+ and how “The Happiest Place on Earth” will enter the “metaverse.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What do Disney Parks look like post-pandemic?
First I’d say we’ve got a long legacy here. Again, at Disneyland, Walt walked these streets. I want to make sure that we protect that legacy, that we make sure that we continue to be that magic that people expect of us.
At the same time, we’ve got an opportunity to pivot and invite brand new guests into our world, and infuse brand new character and intellectual property heading to our parks. Look at new technologies that will make the experience even better than it was before we went into the pandemic.
In the last year, streaming has become the primary focus for Disney. In many ways, Disney is very much a tech company now. How do the parks fit into that new focus?
I think they fit perfectly. Clearly, Disney+ has been phenomenally successful at the Disney company. We have the benefit of having these unbelievably powerful assets in the ground and the combination of a company that’s got such a strong and growing digital footprint, with the physical footprint, I think gives us opportunity to fuse those two things together like no other company can.
I’m sure you’ve heard this word before: “metaverse.” An opportunity to essentially bring these assets into a digital framework. It provides us with unending opportunities at these theme parks. It can bring Main Street alive in ways that you’ve never seen it before, never thought about it before. You can have the whole theme park participate in a game that culminates in a celebration at the hub at the top of Main Street. The possibilities are endless and I think that’s where we’re incredibly unique at the Disney company. This combination of a very forward-looking digital footprint with our legacy assets that we have in place, and making them incredibly relevant today.
Do you think we’re going to see more synergy between Disney+ and the parks in terms of content, both when you walk into the parks or when I turn on Disney+?
Absolutely. I think that as the Disney company continues to see such huge success with Disney+, and as you see new intellectual properties start to materialize -— whether that be in the world of Marvel or the Imagineers creating something incredibly new and interesting — that is the Disney difference. We will bring those things together to take to the world in a different way.
[Marvel’s] Avengers Campus will be a campus that will never be done. As [Marvel President] Kevin Feige continues to create new stories, new characters, those stories and characters will show themselves at the park.
Can you give some examples of new technologies we’re going to see in the parks post pandemic?
We have a new reservation system in place and that’s done phenomenally well during this Covid situation. We have mobile order, [which means] people are having a much easier time finding places they want to eat and have experiences that allow them to then spend more time in the parks and with their families.
You’ll see, ultimately when we open Avengers Campus, the way that we’ve layered technology into the attractions and the merchandise and the food venues.
How does that technology help the enjoyment of your guests?
It extends the existing footprint of our parks in ways that there’s no cap on. It allows us to tell stories that are incredibly relevant to the specific person we want to talk to.
You can think about a digital overlay on any single land, any single attraction, any single merchandiser or food facility that we have, that can be constantly changing in a way that makes it feel completely new and different to a guest that visited just the day before. If you think about our physical footprint and being able to essentially make that new every day, the possibilities here are unending.
In September, Disney Parks laid off roughly 30,000 employees, or cast members as the company calls them. Can you give me any update on those jobs possibly coming back into the fold?
We’re bringing back more than 10,000 cast members at the Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World continues to bring cast members back… These cast members, they are the heart and soul with everything that we do here. I care passionately about them. And again, walking here at the Disneyland Resort today, it’s such a moving experience to see cast members back home doing what they do so well. I’m pretty pleased with what we’ve seen on that front.
This was one of the hardest years on the books for Disney Parks. With vaccinations ramping up, are the parks finally out of the woods or are you preparing for more challenging times ahead?
I think every single day the world is changing around us. Every single day we’ve demonstrated that we’ve been able to adapt and change and still create this great Disney guest experience that we’re known for.
Like I said before, I’m incredibly proud of what this team has done and what we’ve been able to do during these relatively difficult times. As that world changes and guidelines change, we’ll edit our operations and continue to accelerate into the future.
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