3. Diminishing quality

Golden statue of Walt Disney with Spaceship Earth
Image: Disney

This one has been a complaint for a while--even back when Bob Iger was running the company--but the issue has badly snowballed since 2020. Originally, it seemed simply an after-effect of the pandemic, but more and more, it seems a direct effect of much of Disney’s decision making these past three years.

The crux of the issue is longtime guests have noted waning quality across the parks. Rides are having more maintenance issues than ever before. Entertainment options have faded. Multiple reworked nighttime spectaculars have been panned by fans (particularly the implementation of puzzling elements like the Epcot “Stargate” from Harmonious). Dining also continues to be a point of controversy at many locations.

How can creatives help solve this?

Quality doesn’t necessarily always have to mean expensive. Creativity is necessary to stretch your resources in ways that don’t compromise the core values guests have come to appreciate about Disney.

While a company like Disney absolutely needs money managers setting some outer limits, you need creative innovators to come up with ways for the company to get the most quality possible out of available resources. Too often during this season, it has felt like Disney’s solution to their financial woes has been to consistently charge more but give less. This tactic provides only a short-term solution to budget issues because it loses guest loyalty in the process.

By putting creatives in the company in problem-solving roles, the company can find ways to stretch their dollars by finding solutions to increase the perceived value of a Disney vacation. What are ways the company can make a vacation at their parks a more fulfilling experience? It doesn’t always have to mean a multi-million dollar attraction or expansion (though these are certainly welcome). You can throw money at the problem, or you can get your creative teams to develop ideas that leave guests feeling fulfilled without incurring excessive costs. Sustainability has long been a core value of Disney, so it is possible to embrace this without compromising quality.

Consider Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It’s a very cool place to visit, but as neat as Batuu is, the bells and whistles of the Black Spire Outpost aren’t what makes it feel alive. Instead, it’s the people—cast members and characters throughout the land who each have their own story. In theory, you should never know what’s going to happen when you visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge if you just spend time interacting with cast members—you might be drawn into a different story every time.

Instead of throttling experiences to guard the bottom line, set your creative teams loose with the goal of finding ways to increase perceived value in sustainable ways.

4. Lack of vision for the future of the parks

Rainbow Spaceship Earth for Epcot Festival of the Arts
Image: Disney

Tied to the issue of diminishing quality is the problem that Disney doesn’t seem to have any coherent sense of vision for the future of their parks right now. The last D23 summit was a puzzling affair, bereft of major announcements for new projects that got fans excited. Instead, it felt like Disney is tossing noodles against the proverbial wall to see what sticks, such as a few vague and confusing concepts for lands focused on villains, Zootopia, and Encanto—popular IP’s, yes, but not with much storytelling or concrete ideas attached.

It’s understandable that Disney had to halt, stall, and trim a number of projects due to closures during the pandemic. The problem was the company hasn’t rebounded to a place of being willing to take risks on creative projects. The conclusion has been a distinct lack of vision, giving guests little reason to look ahead to future visits to the parks.

How can creatives solve this?

You can’t have Disney magic without Imagineers and creative minds dreaming up what could be. As mentioned, the money-management side of the business is needed to make these dreams happen, but one side shouldn’t eclipse the other to the point guests have nothing to look forward to.

Storytelling truly is at the center of Disney’s business model—not simply revenue-generating entertainment properties. Disney has an urgent need to bolster their creative departments to start generating fresh ideas for the parks. If both sides of the business can work together to start taking creative risks again, casting fresh vision for the future of the parks, Disney might just stand a chance against competitors like Universal’s Epic Universe.


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