Citing the financial devastation the closing of the Disneyland Resort is having on the local economy and the company’s experience operating theme parks safely during the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Parks division made a plea to California government officials to release health and safety guidelines to reopen Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in Anaheim.
“We’re ready, and more importantly, it’s time,” Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro said during a virtual press conference on Tuesday.
Disney’s latest reopening push comes a week after several Anaheim officials, local business leaders and a theme park trade association pressed Newsom to release health and safety guidelines to reopen theme parks across the state despite the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, Orange County has recorded 52,201 coronavirus cases and 138 deaths.
Orange County's coronavirus numbers are faring better than other counties in the state. Earlier this month, Orange County moved from the state's most restrictive purple tier to red, which allowed the reopening of schools and businesses at limited capacity in the county. If Orange County continues its coronavirus downward trend, it could move to the state's orange tier that would allow for the reopening of more businesses and increase attendance capacity at churches, malls, shopping centers, and gyms.
Disneyland, along with other theme parks in the state, has been closed since mid-March under orders from state officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But in the six months since the closures of Disneyland and other theme parks, it has led to the shutdown of other businesses and hotels reliant on the millions of visitors that visit those parks.
The reopening of Disneyland and other theme parks, many believe, could be a catalyst to the reopening of other businesses and hotels that have either closed or suffered greatly since the closing of Disneyland and other theme parks across the state.
D'Amaro said 80,000 workers in Orange County and Anaheim rely on Disneyland's operations.
"In communities such as Anaheim and Orange County, California, Disneyland Resort is a critical part of the economy," D'Amaro said. "In addition to the tens of thousands of cast members at Disneyland, we also help generate more employment and economic activity. Suppliers, vendors, third party businesses rely on our business to operate."
In a press conference last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is close to issuing the safety guidelines to reopen theme parks, but he did not say when that will happen.
"I want folks to know we are actively working in a number of sectors and will be making public the fruits of those negotiations and efforts very, very shortly," Newsom said last week.
A Spectrum News 1 message seeking comment from Newsom about Disney's latest reopening push was not returned.
In California, the six major theme parks in the state drew in more than 49 million people last year, according to Themed Entertainment Association, a nonprofit representing members in the themed entertainment industry.
The closures of Disneyland and other theme parks have been a big blow to several city finances and the state’s tourism industry. The closures have impacted tens of thousands of workers across the state. Disneyland has had to furlough most of its 30,000 cast members. Anaheim is facing a $100 million budget deficit. Garden Grove's transient occupancy tax or bed tax is down, and so is Buena Park's tax revenue from Knott's Berry Farm.
Anaheim officials fear a second Great Recession could come if Disneyland remains closed.
D'Amaro said state officials need to release the guidelines and begin treating theme parks in the state like other sectors that have reopened. For example, zoos and aquariums have reopened and are operating at limited capacity and under new health and safety guidelines.
“We need guidelines that are fair and equitable so we can better understand our future and chart a path toward reopening,” D’Amaro said. “The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact will be to Orange County and the Anaheim community. There are tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment. With the right guidelines and years of operation experience, I’m confident we can restart and get people back to work.”
During Disney's press conference, Disney officials said they are confident that they can reopen Disneyland safely.
Disney officials point to the increased safety measures and guest health protocols after it reopened its theme parks in Shanghai, Paris, and Tokyo. Disney is also reopening its Hong Kong location later this week. Additionally, the company reopened Disneyland Resort's Downtown Disney retail strip and all four theme parks at Walt Disney World and several hotels – all with new health and safety guidelines that are continually being adjusted, officials said.
"Since [the reopening Disney World], we've been operating our parks and many of these hotels while maintaining and continually refining carefully planned health and safety measures," Disney World Animal Kingdom Vice President Djuan Rivers said. "This resort is the size of San Francisco."
Among the new safety measures Disney has implemented: new hand washing stations, guest mask requirements, a new reservation system that limits the number of visitors, increased sanitization, and the creation of a designated relaxation station at the park where guests can take off their masks.
Disney officials also point to their work in creating a bubble for Major League Soccer and the National Basketball Association so the professional sports leagues could resume play.
D’Amaro said Disney is adjusting and learning how to safely operate in a global pandemic.
"As you can see our teams are doing a fantastic job around the world bringing the magic back to life and continuing to do so in a responsible way," he said.