Enormous hype for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge didn’t translate into more people coming through the gates of Disneyland in 2019, according to an annual report on theme park attendance.
The Theme Index from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and economics practice at professional services company AECOM provides a yearly look at theme park attendance around the world. The 2019 report shows the impact that the 14-acre Galaxy’s Edge expansions had on Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
For Disneyland, attendance was flat in 2019, remaining at 18,666,000 visitors. In Florida, Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ attendance rose by 2 percent, to 11,430,00 visitors.
“Disney’s domestic park attendance numbers were flat overall for 2019 compared to the previous year which could be attributed to the operator emphasizing its yield strategy by prioritizing the quality of guest experience and per caps,” Kathleen LaClair, associate principal for the Americas at AECOM, wrote in the report. “This operating model has emerged over the last decade and will likely serve operators well moving forward, with respect to capacity limitations in parks and the continued need to stay competitive.”
These statistics fall well far short of the pre-opening predictions. Disney boasted in the years ahead of the debut of Galaxy’s Edge that it was expecting huge demand without much marketing. Bill Zanetti, an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospital Management, once predicted to Theme Park Tribune that 200,000 visitors would show up on the land’s opening day on the West Coast.
Instead, the opening at Disneyland led to lower crowd levels throughout the resort. The exact reason why is a matter of debate, but industry experts have cited a variety of factors, from the decision to open the land with the lesser of its two attractions to basing the land off the newer “Star Wars” films instead of the trilogy to the hype scaring away potential guests.
In some segments of the Disney fandom, the debate turned to conspiracy and conjecture. Some fans accused theme park media of unfair coverage. On the other side, critics promoted baseless claims about the land being quickly rethemed to “Aladdin.”
Publicly, Disney said the land met expectations. Now-Disney CEO Bob Chapek called it a “runaway success” while his predecessor, Bob Iger, said the two versions of Galaxy’s Edge “have been far more successful than have been reported.”
Public opinion appeared to shift once the land’s marquee attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, debuted. However, the new ride would have little impact of attendance figures; it didn’t open until December at Disney’s Hollywood Studios while Disneyland guests had to wait until January of 2020 to experience it.
Next year’s TEA/AECOM report is unlikely to settle the debate. Instead of providing a glimpse into what a full year of Galaxy’s Edge does for Disney’s domestic parks, attendance numbers will be dramatically decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the parks for months. In Disneyland’s case, there’s no reopening in sight.
“Some are predicting 30.0% to 50.0% of normal business volume for the coming months, and surveys show positive demand from the market,” wrote John Robinett, senior vice president of economics at AECOM. “However, it may take one to several years to return to pre-COVID operating levels, and the investment horizon of many owners may be altered due to cash flow loss.”
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