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Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded

The grand opening of the new Waldorf Astoria at the Bonnet Creek resort in Orlando on October 1st, re-opened some thoughts I had about Orlando-area growth and the steadily increasing number of visitors to Walt Disney World. I know, I know, we’re in a recession right now and people are supposedly spending less. But my Dad had a saying he used to whip out when times were tough, “this too shall pass”, and it will. When it does pass, the economy will start growing again and people will go on vacations, buy timeshares and spend their hard-earned money, possibly in bigger ways than before. Of course that’s a few years down the road, so nothing to worry about, right? Not so fast, take a look at some numbers I’ve pulled together, they might make you change your mind.

All total, there are over 11,000 rooms being added or planned to be added on or around the immediate vicinity of Disney property within the next 5 or so years, most of which are in the process of being built or even open already. Here’s where they’re going:

  • Bonnet Creek Resort/Timeshare - 1,594 timeshare suites (open, not sure if they’re completed yet)
  • Bonnet Creek Resort – Hilton – 1000 rooms (open?)
  • Bonnet Creek Resort – Waldorf Astoria – 497 rooms (just opened, 10/1/09)
  • Four Seasons – 4,500 time shares and hotel units (building, opening in Fall 2010)
  • Flamingo Crossing – 4,000 – 5,000 “value priced” rooms to be built (project status unknown, no building yet)

So, if you add all these up, you’ve got 11591 new rooms. That many rooms, could add an estimated 20,000 or more guests on property per day, if you figure 70% occupancy for those rooms, and an average of 2.5 guests per room. Now, those are just my own guestimates of occupancy and average guests per room, but I think they’re within reason.

If you take a look at 2008 park attendance numbers, this means, that the average attendance per park could increase by at least another 5-6000 guests per day, 20-25,000 roughly per day.

Here’s what 2008 looked like:

  • 2008 estimated attendance across 4 major parks was estimated at  47.13 million visitors
    • Daily Average across 4 parks – 129,000 (total / 365)
    • Daily Average per park – 32,000 (Daily avg / 4)

So, if these 11,000+ rooms add on average of at least  another 5,000 guests each per day, it could look like:

  • 5 year future attendance estimate - 54.4 million (20,000 * 365 = 7.3m + 47.13m)
    • Daily Avg across 4 parks – 149,000
    • Daily Avg per park – 37,000

This makes for potentially, another 5,000 or more guests in each park on a daily basis in 5 years! The 10 year estimates are even scarier!

  • 10 year future attendance estimate – 63.3 million

     

    • Daily Avg across 4 parks – 173,000
    • Daily Average per park – 43,000

It should be noted that these rooms, and the estimate of how many guests they will bring is right in line with the average annual growth rate of WDW for the last 10 years of right around 3%. If you take last years’ attendance of 47.13 million and add 3% it looks like:

  • 2013 estimated attendance across the big 4 – @ 3% growth rate = 54.6m
  • 2018 estimated attendance across the big 4 – @ 3% growth rate = 63.3m

So, are the numbers starting to scare anybody but me?  Of course, the new hotels and rooms will make for some of that 3% growth rate, so, it’s probably about right. The point though is that WDW is growing and will continue to do so.

On my visits during the last few years, I’ve noticed that even during off-season, the parks are becoming more and more crowded. What used to be 15-20 minute waits for the major attractions,  back 5 or so years ago, now yields wait times more like 45-60 minutes. And, during peak season, it’s almost become inadvisable to make a visit. I’m just worried that WDW isn’t capable of handling another 20,000 guests per day in their parks, especially not on the busiest days of the year, when they’re already closing half of the parks due to capacity.

With all of this planned capacity being added, I think it would behoove them to start right now upgrading their infrastructure, especially the transportation options. I mean, how do they plan to move another 20,000 or more people per day, busses, really? In an era where it’s become bad publicity for big companies to not be “green”, shouldn’t they be working toward something to replace them? Sure, Disney’s busses are pretty efficient, with all or most of them converted to running on CNG, their emmissions are a lot lower than traditional diesel busses, but, what about tires and other items needed to keep these busses on the road. There’s also the cost of drivers, and then the safety issues associated with putting more vehicles on the roads around Walt Disney World.

Transportation issues aside, they still have capacity issues that will need to be addressed. There are 2 issues, as I see it.

  1. How to handle the additional guests? Nobody likes large crowds and having to wait for their favorite ride more than an hour.
  2. How to handle the newer level of guests with deeper pockets staying at Four Seasons and Waldorf-Astoria? These aren’t the typical guests who are willing to wait in line in the hot sun for an hour so Junior can ride Dumbo! No, these guests are going to want something more, something extrodinary that the average guest doesn’t get, something like Busch’s Discovery Cove where it’s just them and a few other people getting an exclusive entertainment option.

Hopefully, Disney and WDW management is forward thinking enough to address these issues.  Obviously, the new Fantasyland expansion in Magic Kingdom will help some.  However, in my opinion, I think they need to work on increasing capacity and throughput at both Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios by adding more attractions. They need to create a new, more efficient, and dare I say, more environmentally friendly transportation option that services more of their hotels. And, they need to create a new, exclusive entertainment option, which might mean a new park or mini-park to cater to the more elite crowd with deeper pockets who will be coming soon.

One other thing to think about. In 1998, prior to the opening of Animal Kingdom, the average per park, per day attendance numbers were 32,000, which is the same as where it was in 2007, according to the estimates. I’m not big on the idea of adding a 5th park, at least not yet, because there are too many other things they could improve upon right now with the parks they already have. But, if you look at the numbers, and the actual crowds in the parks, you can see that the time is drawing near when they are going to have to do something to handle the extra capacity. The consequences of not doing so, could actually mean a declince in attendance due to guest dis-satisfaction from overcrowding. Hence, the saying, I think by Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”.

So, all of this raises several questions:

  1. What will they do to handle all these guests?
  2. What will they do to accommodate the high-end guests staying at Fours Seasons, and the Waldorf?
  3. Should they build a 5th park, or will they just expand the existing parks?
  4. What about transportation and infrastructure needs?
  5. Will they be able to staff accordingly?

As Stitch would say, “Nooo sleeping… Get moving!!!” (from the WDW wakeup call).

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  1. December 31, 2010 at 2:30 am
  2. January 27, 2010 at 2:09 am

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Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved. – Walt Disney

Whenever I go on a ride, I'm always thinking of what's wrong with the thing and how it can be improved. – Walt Disney

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