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It's pretty obvious that the Disney theme parks are hurting right now. Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and all the other Disney parks around the world are closed and no reopening date is currently in sight. We know that Disney is losing something like tens of millions of dollars every day because of this closure. However, while reopening is certainly going to be a huge relief for the company, it likely won't be the end of the pain, as one analyst thinks it could be two years before attendance at the parks returns to pre-coronavirus numbers, and that's potentially bad news for an event over a year away, Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary.
Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and so the park's 50th anniversary is coming up in 2021. It's a major event, to be sure, and the park was in the middle of some pretty significant renovations and additions to get ready for it. While the event was at least a year away, it seems Walt Disney World may have bigger problems than getting everything done in time, as Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall (via Marketwatch) thinks it will be two years before park attendance is back to where it used to be.
The reason being, that people will be wary of going to theme parks until a coronvirus vaccine, or at the very least better testing, is available. According to Cahill...
We see the limiting factor as health-care technology as assets like Walt Disney World will either need to operate with social distancing in-place - significantly limiting capacity - or a vaccine will need to be widely enough available that the population will again feel safe in such a gathering,
At some point, Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and other places where large numbers of people gather, will reopen, but it's unlikely that the virus will be entirely contained at that point. As such, many people will be wary about visiting. It's possible that the parks will even need to limit capacity, though social distancing inside the park sounds like a logistical nightmare.
If it takes two years for that confidence to come back, then the timing could not be worse. Walt Disney World is currently in the middle of a major Epcot overhaul that was scheduled to be completed in time for the 50th anniversary. There's probably a lot more planned for the resort next year that we don't even know about yet.
A lot of money was in the process of being spent for the 50th anniversary, but, of course, there was an expectation of a return on the investment. Having the celebration in the first place is designed to boost attendance. If that's not going to happen, then there becomes a serious question of how much of the event will happen at all. Walt Disney World, and the other parks, haven't been making money for nearly a month, and that loss, combined with the fact that income won't be returning to normal levels when the parks do reopen, could mean that some plans for the 50th anniversary could be greatly reduced if not scrapped altogether.
At a certain point, you just have to be pragmatic about the situation that if the crowds aren't going to be there, you need to rethink the plan. This will be unfortunate for those that have been looking forward to the anniversary and are willing to go. I mean, if the parks are going to be less crowded, that in itself might draw out some fans, even under the circumstances.
Of course, maybe the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World isn't a problem. Maybe it's the solution. It could be that the once in a lifetime event will be exactly the thing that draws the crowds back to the park and helps get things back to normal. At this point, we simply don't know.