Disney CEO Says Guests Are Deferring Park Visits Until New Ride Opens at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger says Disney’s domestic theme parks experienced lower visitation because guests are deferring visits to California’s Disneyland Resort and Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is fully open. Both the west and east coast parks have yet to open their second E-ticket attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, set to premiere in Orlando Dec. 5 before launching Jan. 17 in Anaheim. Despite lower than expected turnout to its theme parks in 2019, Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products division saw an 8% increase in revenue this quarter to $6.7 billion, according to the company’s fourth quarter earnings report revealed Nov. 7.

“We believe there was some delayed visitation to Galaxy’s Edge at both Disneyland and Disney World, people waiting for the second E-ticket attraction to open,” Iger said on the call Thursday. “We sense that there are people just waiting for the whole thing to be open.”

Disney spent $2 billion constructing its pair of Star Wars-themed expansion lands at both parks, the largest single-themed expansion in Disney Parks history. Growth was propelled by guests spending more on tickets, merchandise and food, and Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy reported booking rates at Disney’s domestic hotels were up 5% compared to 2018.

Iger also reported both Galaxy’s Edge parks drove increases in per-capita spending, merchandise and food-beverage sales, adding the two lands have been “far more successful than been reported.”

“We still feel very good about the demand for our domestic park product,” McCarthy said on the call, adding Walt Disney World saw an increase in visitor spending this quarter despite a detrimental impact from Hurricane Dorian. Florida opened its Galaxy’s Edge Aug. 29, following the May 31 debut of its identical Anaheim counterpart.

“The guest experience, guest satisfaction, are very, very high and ride availability or attraction availability in the high 90s,” Iger said on the call, noting the “very, very complex technological attraction is running really well.”

When asked about lighter than expected attendance numbers in August, Iger said: “First of all, helped in part by some of our efforts, there was tremendous concern in the marketplace that there was going to be huge crowding when we opened Galaxy’s Edge. So some people stayed away, just because they expected that it would not be a great guest experience.”

Disney introduced innovative digital planning tools and a virtual queue system to ease crowding and maximize guest experience when Galaxy’s Edge opened in Anaheim in May. The Disneyland Resort also premiered the Disney Flex Passport ahead of Galaxy’s Edge over the summer, to offer guests more flexibility and to better manage crowds.

Though Iger said on the call Star Wars films will go on a hiatus following Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December, he noted Disney feels “really good” about the creative and commercial direction of both its Star Wars and Marvel franchises as a whole, which extend beyond the big screen.

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“As we look at these businesses, they’re film businesses, they’re TV businesses, they’re still big consumer products drivers, and more and more, they have a greater presence in parks and resorts,” Iger said. “We feel really good about both their creative direction, but also their commercial direction.”

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opens within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Dec. 5 at the Walt Disney World Resort and Jan. 17 at the Disneyland Resort.