This past week California officials have racked up some serious steps on their fit bit or Apple watches. In order to guide reopening plans for California theme parks, the state sent officials to tour the Walt Disney World resort last week. They intend to send them again, this time with a guided tour. They have also toured the shuttered California parks to see what precautions the theme parks have installed for their eventual reopening. All of this as an industry, a local economy, and fans nationwide hold their breath for some sign that reopening is possible.
The Disneyland Resort in California, which consists of two theme parks and three hotels, has been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March of 2020. The back and forth between the company and the state has been covered for weeks, but there seems to be some action taking place.
On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he would be sending a team of officials to the Walt Disney World resort in Florida to review the procedures Disney implemented when that park reopened this past summer. Not long after this news was announced, we got word that the state had already surreptitiously sent officials the week prior. This has been compared to the dreaded Secret Shopper that haunts any retail or grocery employee.
For those advocating for the California theme parks to reopen, it is worth noting that no public issues arose last week that would lead anyone to believe the undercover trip would bode poorly for Disney. In fact, the New York Times released an article this week, which we covered, that reported no COVID-19 outbreaks have been tied back to the Walt Disney World resort. While the timing of this report was suspect, the fact remains that (so far) it appears Disney’s safety measures have worked.
It was also reported that state officials guiding this process were going to tour the closed southern California theme parks to review safety measures already implemented in anticipation of reopening. A statement from Universal Studios Hollywood appears to confirm that these inspection indeed took place this week. This comes after Disneyland subjected itself to a county inspection from Orange County public health officials. The county review was positive and made only a handful of recommendations. Disney quickly followed up and implemented the changes.
The last month has been full of public displays of pressure between Disney and Governor Newsom’s office. There have been prepared statements released to the press, public comments made in press conferences, and positions argued in television interviews.
Disney’s Executive Chairman, and former CEO, Bob Iger publicity left Governor Newsom’s economic recovery task force at the height of this standoff. Iger is not just respected among those close to the Walt Disney Company, he is considered by many to be the gold standard for business leadership and was named Time Magazine’s Businessperson of the Year for 2019, gracing the magazine’s coveted cover page. Having a businessman of his stature publicly resign from an economic recovery task force definitely called more attention to the situation.
However, nothing was more impactful than Disney’s announcement that they were laying off 28,000 cast members form their Parks division. A large number of these layoffs were coming direct from the Disneyland Resort and others from ancillary operations like Imagineering and the Disney Vacation Club. This massive round of layoffs are not fully due to the continued closure of the California theme parks, but Disney did place partial blame on the State’s unwillingness to allow them to operate.
The recent park visits from state officials is a good sign that actual progress is being made beyond conflicting statements. While many park fans are eager for the Disneyland Resort to reopen, it is worth noting that Governor Newsom enjoys a 64% approval rating from likely voters in the state. His handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is rated “good” or “excellent” among a majority of those polled too. While the Governor’s hesitation to reopen the parks may anger Disney, cause fear for current park employees, and frustrate theme park fans, the voters seem to appreciate the cautious approach.
The battle between business interest and public health concerns is a tale as old as time. Disney feels they have figured out how to satisfy both needs, as evidenced by their successful reopening of Walt Disney World, and are eager to prove it to California officials.
Can the most magical place on earth prove enough to save the happiest place on earth? We will know very soon. Stay close to The DisInsider as we monitor this story closely and will keep you informed as news breaks.