Tom Wolber said so himself during the shareholders meeting in February 2016: “Competition within the theme park industry within Europe is increasing.” Disneyland Paris faces many challenges: remaining the European leader, increasing customer satisfaction, and growing while reaching profits. How did they do this in the last ten years, and what did they do to reach the results seen today?
In this first part, we will be discussing 2006 until 2011. This first half of the last ten years was quite important for the resort as attendance increased by almost 3 million visitors. In 2010, you may clearly notice a change in visitor behavior as well. More guests started their day at the Walt Disney Studios instead of Disneyland Park. We’ll go into to this some more, later on.
Attendance is one thing, but more importantly is the financial overview of the last ten years. Once again, we’ll limit us ’til 2011 but I believe the graph itself is self-explanatory. 2008 was the only ‘positive’ year in the last ten years, but why?
To get a better understanding of these graphs, we reviewed 2006 through 2011 year-by-year to see what influenced the results. Let’s travel back in time and start ten years ago in 2006. From then on, we move towards 2011, right before the popular 20th celebration of the resort. Are you ready?
The Year of the Newest Ride at Disneyland Park
2006 was the last time that a new ride opened at the Disneyland Park, in the spot of the existing ride: ‘Le Visonarium’. The ride was a circle-vision film and was only to be found at the Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. All three versions of the ride around the world were replaced by a different ride, and in Paris, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast was added.
During this year, they realized that the Studios needed a lot of improvements. With three new rides on the way, there were several more rumors about future attractions. Those rumors had it that Studio Tram Tour would receive an update with new scenes in 2008, and that Soarin’ would be introduced in 2010. We now know, of course, that this did not happen. The Studio Tram Tour update is now planned for 2016-2017, and will indeed reopen with new scenes. But there are no plans whatsoever for a Soarin’ attraction. The year 2006 was marked with a loss of 89 million euros and 12.8 million visitors. Compared to the year before, they had a slightly smaller loss, which by itself was a good sign. Additionally, attendance rose with 500,000 indicating that even with high costs, there were improving results. So it could only improve during next year’s 15th celebration, right?
The Year of the 15th Celebration
The 15th Celebration party started in 2007. The castle received a make-over once more, with golden character statues that lit up a candle during the special fireworks. We have to admit that they really invested a lot in the resort for this major celebration. They introduced a brand new parade: ‘Once Upon A Dream Parade’ and at the Walt Disney Studios, three new rides were opened. ‘Cars Quatre Roues Rallye’ and ‘Crush’s Coaster’ were the latest additions to the ‘Toon Studio’ area. But more importantly for fans was the spectacular thrill ride: ‘Tower of Terror’. This new icon for the Walt Disney Studios was one of the biggest investments at the resort in years and it still remains to be a fan favorite. Attendance immediately rose with almost 2 million visitors, and once again the loss was reduced to 41.6 million euro. Marketing had worked well and many Europeans wanted to ‘faire la fête’ (party along!).
Another Year of the 15th Celebration
Since the park had invested so heavily in 2007, they were able to reap the benefits in 2008 as well. For the first time in a long time, the resort made a profit of 1.7 million euros. This due to the continuation of the 15th celebration, the success of the added rides the year before, and an additional attraction at the Walt Disney Studios: ‘Stitch Live!’. The resort was finally back on track and they were ready for the future. Attendance increased once more with 800,000 additional guests. When I went to the resort that year, it was the first time since 2002. The difference with the Studios back then and that year was incredible already. Not yet incredible enough to spend my entire day there, but luckily park hopping is very easy as both parks are so close together. ‘Tower of Terror’ was a revolutionary ride for Europe, the theming and the experience were unseen for many regular guests. No doubt that it’s one of the main reasons why the resort was doing so well. But unfortunately, the financial crisis was lurking…
The Year of Mickey Mouse
In 2009, it was time for Mickey’s Magical Party Time. Even though Mickey officially celebrated his birthday the year before, Disneyland Paris was holding its party then. The old Disney Hollywood Studios parade was shipped over to open as a new parade for the Walt Disney Studios: Stars ‘n’ Cars. One new ride was introduced as well: ‘Playhouse Disney! Live on Stage’. It was the year entirely focused on Mickey, and even though the attendance went up slightly, a new loss appeared. The financial crisis had struck Europe and Disney wasn’t spared either. Guests were spending less since one of the first things people saved on, were their holidays. On the other hand, the parks reached full capacity for several days, as well as the hotels, which were empty the first years of the resort, were now fuller than ever. Attendance was pretty steady, even a bit higher than the year before, but as mentioned, guests spent less during their visit.
The Year of the New Generation
After Mickey was the center of attention and star in 2009, this year was all about the new members of the Disney family: the New Generation Festival. The Walt Disney Studios received another expansion, Toy Story Playland, which was well received as well. Next to the Toy Story characters, the other new movies were the center piece all around the resort. Princess Tiana, Remy & Emile, The Incredibles… were found everywhere. When we look at the visitor numbers of this year, we see a spectacular increase for the Studios and a downwards fall for the Park. This is because Disney counts the first entrance to the park daily (which is either Disneyland Park or the Walt Disney Studios). So this simply meant that more people started their day at the Studios instead of the main gate. The total attendance dropped a little in comparison to the year before (15.3 million to 15 million). Once again, a loss of 45.2 million euros but this was a better result than the year before at least. The crisis was still very much at hand, but the resort did fairly well.
Important decision made this year was the new agreement with the French government as the original plan was that a third gate should open in 2017. The year long negociations came to an end and the result was that this was extended to 2030. This leaving more space for the resort to invest in the future of the current resort and providing extra time as costs were already pretty high at that time.
The Year of the Magical Moments
Similar to this year (2016), it was a year all about renovations. The castle received a full repaint, and quite a few rides were closed for rehabilitation. To offer something extra to guests during this period, several ‘Magical Moments’ were installed. These were special character meets and/or little shows, such as “Following the Leader with Peter Pan”. A very clever approach and it worked well, since attendance went up again, to 15.6 million visitors. Unfortunately, in the end they ended up with a loss on the balance, due to higher costs. These occurred partly because of the extra entertainment and longer opening hours. Yet, the guest experience had definitely improved a lot since there are only a small amount of shows at Disneyland Paris, especially in comparison to the other Disney resorts.
Speaking of the repainting of the castle, here’s a rare photo of the castle with two different colors on each side!
Thank you very much for checking out the first part of our Disneyland Paris analysis! Be sure to read part 2, where we continue with 2012 till 2015. In the final part we will conclude our Disneyland Paris special with the future of the resort!