Hurricane Ian could cost Disney millions

Disney world
Still, there is a potential silver lining for Disney’s pocketbook.

Hurricane Ian could cost Disney World up to $75 million, one theme park consultant warned.

Disney World has announced the theme parks are closed for at least Wednesday and Thursday as the storm approaches Central Florida.

“We are continuing to closely monitor Hurricane Ian and are making necessary operational adjustments to maintain the safety of our Guests and Cast Members,” the company said on its website. It also canceled Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel stays and Thursday’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

Shutting the theme park giant for two full days potentially means a financial hit of $60 million to $75 million, predicted Dennis Speigel, CEO of International Theme Park Services.

“It’s significant,” Speigel said.

Orlando International Airport shut down Wednesday morning, so people cannot fly in for their vacations. Some tourists may not immediately rebook as they wait to see how badly Florida and the airline industry are impacted by the dangerous storm. Even if travelers decide to reschedule their trips, they could face challenges getting into their favorite park since Disney requires people to make advance reservations in addition to having tickets. The days of spontaneously visiting the theme parks are over for the time being.

“There’s a lot of logistics that are impacted with something like this,” Speigel said.

When Disney World reopens, parks’ attendance could also be impacted in the short term, especially as locals and Floridians clean up and recover from the hurricane in the ongoing days, Speigel said.

Still, there is a potential silver lining for Disney’s pocketbook.

Disney World’s hotel occupancy could be high — an unexpected revenue bump — as people evacuate from the storm and come to Orlando, one hospitality professor said.

“If your hotels are running half occupancy because it’s a slow time of year, now all of a sudden, you probably have a lot of people coming in from Tampa and the west coast that need housing,” said Scott Smith, an associate professor who teaches theme park management at the University of South Carolina and used to live in Orlando.

The timing of Hurricane Ian also lessens the financial blow to the theme parks, both Smith and Speigel said.

The theme parks are shutting down mid-week during a slower part of the season in late September.

“Thank God, this didn’t happen during peak Halloween,” Speigel said as Universal, Disney World and SeaWorld host popular special ticketed events leading up to Oct. 31, where Halloween has become a major season in Orlando.

For the parks to close for bad weather is relatively rare.

In September 2017, Disney World closed for two full days because of Hurricane Irma — only the sixth closure at the time in the park’s history. Irma cost Disney World $100 million, the company disclosed.

Disney World also closed early before Hurricane Dorian in September 2019.

However, the longest shutdown in Disney World’s history was from the COVID-19 pandemic when the parks shut down for nearly four months in 2020. The closures walloped The Walt Disney Co.’s pocketbook, costing them billions as movie theaters, parks and cruises stopped abruptly.

But after the parks reopened in July 2020, Disney’s theme parks have returned to being moneymakers once again. It was clear: People were excited to vacation again.

That serves as a reminder of The Mouse’s strength during Florida’s hurricane season.

“That’s the one great thing about our industry,” Speigel said. “We’re not hurricane proof. … But we’re resilient.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is a journalist who covers theme parks and Florida tourism. She previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Toledo Blade and the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from Michigan State University.


One comment

  • Tom

    September 28, 2022 at 4:19 pm

    I bet a guy $1000 he couldn’t catch a wave in these conditions. This was a few hours ago in Ft. Myers. He took the bet. He lost…I mean really lost. He died!

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