Disney parks are its top money maker; it’s spending to keep it that way

Visitors wearing emblematic Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse ears walk in front of the Sleeping Beauty-inspired castle at Disneyland Paris, Oct. 16, 2023.

Ian Langsdon | Afp | Getty Images

Three years ago, Josh D’Amaro stood in a nearly empty Disneyland.

The California theme park’s Main Street was quiet: no cheery tunes from famed barbershop quartet the Dapper Dans, no clanging railroad bell, and no wafting scent of waffle cones from the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor.

It had been more than a year since the Covid pandemic had forced Disney’s domestic parks to shutter, but D’Amaro, chair of Disney’s experiences division, was confident guests would flood back in when the gates reopened.

His confidence was well founded. D’Amaro’s division is now Disney‘s best-performing segment, rebounding and offering stability in recent quarters as Disney shuffles to adapt its entertainment business to match consumer habits that changed after the pandemic.

On that quiet day in 2021, D’Amaro had been in charge of the parks, experiences and consumer products division, now just called experiences, for only a little more than a year. He took the helm when Bob Chapek was tapped as CEO in early 2020. D’Amaro spent much of those 12 months dealing with substantial operating losses from global park closures, a docked fleet of cruise ships and a plunge in hotel visits.

Revenues fell 35% in 2020, a nearly $10 billion decrease from the $26.2 billion the experiences division had tallied in the year before the pandemic. Then revenue dropped an additional 3% in 2021.

But a lot has changed in three years. D’Amaro — sitting in a conference room in Burbank, an hour north of Disneyland and just a few miles from the heart of Disney’s theme park creative engine, Walt Disney Imagineering — has much to brag about.

The experiences division posted record revenue of $32.5 billion in fiscal 2023, a 16% increase from the prior year. Operating income jumped 23% to $8.95 billion.

D’Amaro described the pandemic as “an opportunity to take a breath” and a time for his division to “think about what we wanted the future to look like.”

“So, as difficult as that situation was, we saw it as a platform, a new vantage point for us to look at the operation,” he said.

While its parks were shuttered, Disney continued construction of its Avengers Campus themed land in Disneyland and touched up old favorites such as the King Arthur Carousel. And it built new rides, and refurbished others, in the years that followed.

Avengers Campus at Disneyland in California.

Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

World of Frozen opened in Hong Kong Disneyland in November, and a Zootopia land opened in Shanghai Disneyland in December. The company also launched two new rides at Walt Disney World in Florida: a “Guardians of the Galaxy”-themed ride in its Epcot park in 2022, and a “Tron”-themed roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom in April 2023.

Additionally, the company has revamped attractions and themed park areas, turning the Pacific…

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