Disney World’s Dwindling Crowds: CEO Bob Iger Responds Amid Rising Concerns

Walt Disney World Resort entrance | Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Disney CEO Bob Iger has addressed the recent reports indicating a significant decrease in the wait times for rides and attractions at Disney World this summer, hinting at a possible dip in visitor numbers. Speaking to CNBC, Iger attributed this trend to a broader decline in tourism to Central Florida, where the theme park is situated.

Iger explained that Florida, having opened early during the COVID-19 pandemic, experienced a surge in demand as it faced little competition from other states that remained closed. However, with more states now open, Florida faces stiffer competition, leading to a potential drop in visitor numbers.

Despite this, data reveals that the queue times for attractions at Disney’s most frequented park have been steadily decreasing. The Wall Street Journal reported that the average wait time has dropped from 47 minutes per ride in 2019 to 31 minutes in 2022, and further down to 27 minutes in 2023.

When questioned about the ongoing dispute between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Iger dismissed any impact on attendance. Disney has been locked in a legal and political battle with DeSantis, partly due to the company’s outspoken opposition to a bill that prohibits discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

Iger also pointed out that the Wall Street Journal’s recent report did not consider Central Florida’s weather. He noted that the high temperatures and humidity during the summer months could be a factor in the lower attendance. He also stated that the Fourth of July wait times reported by the paper may not be entirely accurate as they only represent a single day.

Despite the current situation, Iger expressed no long-term concerns about the Orlando resort. He also mentioned that hotel tax revenue across the state, which is publicly available, shows a decline in some Florida counties.

However, the recent attendance figures suggest a more severe situation than anticipated. Becky Gandillion of Touring Plans described the low crowds as “not normal” and “shockingly low.” She added that if the weekend crowds at Walt Disney World don’t improve, it’s unlikely they will in the foreseeable future.

Visitors to Disney World also shared their experiences of surprisingly low crowds during the Fourth of July holiday. Kayla Pareti, a content creator focusing on Disney-themed content, described the sight of an empty Hollywood Boulevard, the park’s main thoroughfare, as “strange.”

This comes as Disney recently increased the price for one-day tickets at its Orlando theme parks, and announced layoffs at ESPN. Investment company KeyBanc Capital Markets also recently downgraded Disney’s rating.