As Disneyland puts away the 50th anniversary party hats from its 18-month celebration, Walt Disney Co. executives are faced with their next challenge: how to avoid a midlife crisis at the company’s theme parks.
Banking on the momentum of their packed theme parks, Disney executives on Wednesday said they planned to lure tourists back using advertising, prizes and new attractions.
Gary Slade, editor of Amusement Today magazine, said Disney needed to come up with something fresh.
“The 50th is probably starting to wear a little bit,” Slade said. “People have done their 50th trips. They’ve got their souvenirs bought, their pins bought, their photos and all that. And now they’re ready for some new Disney magic.”
To that end, Disney said it would launch its first global advertising campaign, pushing the theme “Where Dreams Come True.”
They plan to offer unique experiences to U.S. theme park visitors through more than 1 million giveaways that include a stay in a royal bedchamber being constructed inside Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and a new Mickey Mouse penthouse at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
They also will roll out new rides and attractions.
At Disneyland, Space Mountain will get a twist next spring with redesigned lighting, technology and music, becoming Rockin’ Space Mountain. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage will open next summer, a remake of the submarine ride that closed in 1998. A Finding Nemo attraction will also debut at Epcot this year, as will a musical at Animal Kingdom in Orlando.
“At this moment, we stand on the verge of what promises to be a very exciting future,” said Jay Rasulo, chairman of Disney’s theme park division.
The marketing campaign will feature work by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz and ad agencies Leo Burnett and McGarryBowen, all focused on “transformational moments” experienced by visitors to Disney theme parks, such as encountering swashbuckling pirates or seeing a princess.
The U.S. campaign will be “Year of a Million Dreams,” he said, with theme park employees giving away prizes big and small.
The prizes, which will be awarded to visitors chosen statistically by a third-party company, will include free dinners, Fast Passes that get people to the front of some lines and a lifetime of Disney vacations. Guests may also be named grand marshals of parades or given access to the exclusive, members-only Club 33 at Disneyland.
Although each park will use the “Where Dreams Come True” campaign, the promotions and marketing will be tailored. Disneyland Paris, for example, will promote its 15th anniversary and new attractions such as Tower of Terror and Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast.
Company officials are still enjoying the success of their 18-months of fanfare from the 50th anniversary of the Anaheim landmark.
The anniversary exceeded expectations, Disney Chief Financial Officer Thomas O. Staggs told investors and analysts during a conference call in May. He cited the Burbank entertainment giant’s overall profit increase of 12% in the second quarter, thanks in part to its busy theme parks.
An estimated 63.1 million people visited Disney’s six parks in Anaheim and Orlando last year, according to Amusement Business magazine.
Attendance at Disneyland was up 8.5% last year over 2004, said John Robinett, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Economics Research Associates, an entertainment and real estate industry consulting company.
“It’s pretty clear that the 50th anniversary certainly had a positive impact and probably tipped the scales toward Disney when people were making a choice, along with the other reinvestment that they undertook,” Robinett said.
Although Disneyland’s performance was strong, other regional parks didn’t fare as well in 2005. Knott’s Berry Farm’s attendance decreased 3% and Universal Studios’ tumbled 6%, Robinett said.
Attendance at Disney’s big U.S. properties has been strong throughout the year, said Slade of Amusement Today.
“Every time our staff has been to one of their two properties -- either on the West or East coast -- they’ve always called back and said, ‘Gary, you won’t believe it. This place is a mob scene,’ ” Slade said.