Travel: Disney gets second chance with Orlando’s Star Wars land

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 29, 2019.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, the US.

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WALT Disney Co (Disney) is getting a do-over on its Star Wars theme park attraction.

A second Star Wars-themed land is set to open today at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in Orlando, Florida. This time, the Galaxy’s Edge opening lacks many of the restrictions that hurt attendance when the first one opened in California in May.

The Florida attraction will open without any requirement for reservations. That is a reversal of the California version, where guests had to be staying at one of the company’s hotels or sign up for online reservations that were quickly filled up.

Restrictions that limit access for many annual-pass holders during the summer months will end on Sunday, allowing more guests to enter the Florida attraction without paying extra. That was not the case in California, which opened at the start of the peak summer season when many annual-pass holders could not use them. Restrictions that limited free attendance for Disney employees and their families will also not be in place in Florida.

Disney took a big bet on Star Wars this year, with two theme park expansions costing US$1 billion (RM4.21 billion) each in Orlando and the company’s original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Attendance at Disney’s US resorts fell 3% in the quarter that ended in June, a surprise to the company, which had expected a surge in guests to visit the new attraction.

 

Staying sway

On a conference call with investors earlier this month, Disney chief executive officer Bob Iger said some fans may have stayed away because they thought Disneyland would be too crowded. Local hotels raised prices, a further deterrent, he said. Both new theme parks are opening with only one of the two main rides finished, something that may have further discouraged guests waiting for them to be completed.

Iger said he considers the attraction a success, with customer satisfaction scores “extremely high” and guest spending on the US parks up 10%.

“We build these things for the long term,” Iger said on the call. “We have no concerns whatsoever about them.”

Fans in Florida will be able to come inside the park as early as 6am, three hours earlier than the regular opening time, under a promotion announced in May. Two weeks ago, Disney announced discounted ticket prices for guests who wait until noon to enter. The company often offers promotions throughout the year.

Orlando-area hotels are offering discounts timed to the Galaxy’s Edge opening. Four Seasons, for example, is giving a US$500 Disney gift card to guests staying more than two days in a suite. Orlando is a much larger market than Anaheim, with Disney alone operating four theme parks and 18 hotels.

There will be one other difference on the opening day between Galaxy’s Edge in Orlando versus Anaheim’s. The Disneyland attraction opened with a specially designed, reusable metal spork, which guests looking for souvenirs instantly stole. Some of them are now up for auction on eBay for US$200 and higher. Disney substituted them with regular forks within days of the opening, and no sporks will appear at Orlando. — Bloomberg