“If you’re a little kid and you just want to have that visceral enjoyment … you’ll have that, but if you’re a Disney-phile and you really want to get those deep, deep, deep stories, they’re here too,” said Lisa Girolami, senior show producer of Walt Disney Imagineering, on a recent tour.
Along with encouraging longer stays, the investment helps Disney’s image, since the parks are a way millions of people are exposed to the Disney brand every year. Gate prices also rose last month, to $200 for a two-day “park hopper” pass for visitors aged 10 and up, compared to $173 previously.
“When you spend more time in a park, you spend more on drinks and food and souvenirs,” said Gene Jeffers, executive director of the Themed Entertainment Association. “The perception of the value you got for that ticket goes up quite dramatically and it helps with repeat visits.”
The new touches are part of a wave of investment by Disney in parks and resorts that is expected to top $3 billion in the fiscal year through September, the highest in company history.
Among the recent projects:
_ the Aulani resort in Hawaii opened in August 2011;
_ an expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland opened in November 2011;
_ the Disney Fantasy cruise ship launched in March;
_ the first phase of an expansion of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., opened in April.
Disney is also building a new theme park in Shanghai.
In an interview with The Associated Press in March, Iger said that even though the parks and resorts division doesn’t make as much in profit as the company’s TV properties like ESPN and Disney Channel, they are a link in the Disney ecosystem that connects people back to its characters, movies and shows.
“It’s not just about being in the media business. It’s about being in the Disney business,” he said.
The investment in parks and resorts has hit $10.5 billion since Iger became CEO in October 2005, significantly more than the $8.2 billion predecessor Michael Eisner spent in the last seven years of his tenure.
Over the same time, Disney’s stock has nearly doubled from $24.13 to $46.24.
“They’ve set themselves up for long-term growth in the parks business through these strategic investments,” said Tony Wible, an analyst with Janney Capital Markets. “I would have thought it was a pretty mature asset but they’re managing to squeeze some real growth out of it.”