Is Disneyland Paris in Decline?

 

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In recent weeks a team of Disneyland Paris fans have been petitioning Bob Iger of the Walt Disney Company to address four major problems facing the park:

1. Maintenance. Where attractions, theming, and decor are falling apart or deteriorating.

2. Budget Cuts. Here a number of shows and parades have been cut, while attractions are opening and closing at much later and earlier hours.

3. Food. Guests have seen a decline in the quality of offerings and the hours for enjoying sit-down dining.

4. Walt Disney Studios Park. Whereas Disney California Adventure has had a major renovation, this smallest of all Disney parks has little on the horizon other than a Ratatouille attraction currently being built.

I asked Guillame, host of Le Parcorama some questions about what he sees is going on at the park.

Question: ”Disneyland Park in Paris is considered to be one of the most beautifully built parks of all the Disney parks, and yet it has always struggled with upkeep. Do you think the challenges in quality and maintenance and upkeep are even more obvious now than say 5-10 years ago?”

Answer: Definitely. A simple stroll around the parks makes this statement obvious. Disneyland Paris itself is well aware of it because a large multi-year plan to fix or update the aging hotels and outside theming is going on for a couple of years. But it’s clearly not enough: aside this big rehabilitation plan, today more than ever day-to-day maintenance proves to be insufficient to keep the resort in good condition.

Question: ”In 2012 Disneyland Park in Paris was the fifth most popular park in the world, even ahead of Epcot, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Disney California Adventure. Even the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, while the lesser visited of all Disney parks, did better than Sea World San Diego, Efteling in Netherlands and Tivoli Gardens in Denmark. Yet your impression is that the maintenance/upkeep is worse. Why do you think that to be the case?”

Answer: ”I think the Disney brand, thanks to its famous and beloved franchises, makes Disneyland Paris attractive whatever the good or bad upkeep for many people. And let’s not forget the original design from 1992 is still stunning. But Disneyland Paris seems to have difficulties to reach several local markets that have strong competitors such as Europa Park and Phantasialand in Germany or Efteling in the Netherlands. These local theme park resorts aim at a high quality standard,  they’re closer and above all, much cheaper than DLP. Which proves that the power and attractiveness of the Disney brand itself is limited. About the studios, I’d be curious to know how many visitors it would draw if it was not located next to the main park.”

Question: Bob Iger says that he doesn’t stay up at night thinking about how much something costs. Do you think this is about spending at the very top, or do you think that this is more a leadership issue in the management of the park itself–in other words–it’s about Phillippe Gas and his team as opposed to George Kalogridis earlier and his team?

Answer: ”I hear many DLP insiders saying the french management is the cause of numerous operational issues. I could hardly confirm it. On the other hand, it’s well known that the financial structure of DLP does not allow the resort to make profit, while it brings lot of money to The Walt Disney Company (through royalties and Walt Disney Imagineering – among others). Go figure.”

Question: Do some areas of the park or resort look worst than other areas?

Answer: ”I would put it this way: older locations suffer the most. So at this point, the Studios park suffer less of the lack of upkeep than its other problems : the lack of attractions, the bare environment, the unclear overall theme, the poorly designed master plan and the low capacity of the new attractions. Disney Village is also showing its age.”

Question: Disneyland Paris is investing in improvements at the Disney Village, in new entertainments such as Disney Dreams, new attractions such as Ratatouille, and a co-investment in the Villages Nature project. Do you think they are “robbing Paul to pay Peter” or in other words, taking money away from maintenance and operations in order to fund these newer endeavors in hopes of getting more people to come?

Answer: ”From what I understand, Disney Dreams costs a lot of money to operate: due to the necessity to perform it at night (otherwise video mapping projections won’t work), the park had to extend its opening hours later every day. Then again, there is a strong rehabilitation plan going on. I assume this plan, along with Disney Dreams and the expensive construction of the upcoming Ratatouille attraction is a little bit too much for Disneyland Paris to afford.”

 

I personally think the Walt Disney Company is trying to make a careful investment strategically in Disneyland Paris. I think that’s where the cash from Burbank goes–into new rides and attractions. But there may not be enough generated from the operation to really proactively keep things up. I also think economic challenges in the last little while in Europe along with bad weather this year has made it difficult for Disneyland Paris to keep from doing serious budget cuts.

What we all can agree on is that Disneyland Paris park is perhaps one of the most beautifully designed parks ever created. It’s important that the park continue to not only build new attractions, but maintain its current beauty. Whereas Walt Disney Studios Park is in need of a major transformation Disney California Adventure style, Disneyland Paris park is in need of the kind of quality overhaul Disneyland received just before its 50th anniversary. And that requires a lot of cash.

If you want to sign the petition, please visit Change.org. I don’t know that Disney really listens to petitions per se, but I do believe they take very seriously the comments they receive. There are some terrific comments on this site. Hopefully management will find some way to approach these issues.

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