Price Hikes And Ride Failures Angered Customers Ahead Of Bob Chapek’s Departure

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Topline

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek was replaced Sunday night by Bob Iger, the company’s previous CEO—a sudden move that came amid simmering discontentment at the entertainment giant’s theme parks, where price hikes and other post-pandemic changes to the resorts’ operations have sparked widespread backlash in recent months.

Key Facts

Since reopening after Covid-19 closures, Disney’s U.S. theme parks have generated controversy for getting rid of previously free perks like FastPasses to skip lines, free Magic Bands for theme park resort guests and the bus service that carried guests from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World hotels, forcing guests to instead pay for those privileges instead.

The increased cost of a trip to the parks sparked widespread unhappiness among guests, outlets including CNN, the Wall Street Journal and Orlando Sentinel have reported in recent months, though the price hikes have led to record revenues for Disney’s theme park division.

Disney had continued to raise prices as recently as Tuesday, when Walt Disney World announced it was raising its ticket prices and will now charge a different ticket price depending on which theme park the guest is visiting.

The company has also angered its annual passholders by freezing pass sales and limiting how often they can go to the theme parks—favoring daily guests who visit less often but typically spend more money—sparking multiple lawsuits from Disneyland and Walt Disney World passholders protesting new changes to the passes.

Wait times and unplanned downtime for theme park rides have increased over the past several years, according to an analysis of third-party data from the Wall Street Journal, with average monthly ride stoppages rising by 58% at Disneyland and 42% at Walt Disney World between 2018 and 2022 (Disney disputes the unofficial data and told the Journal its “ride reliability remains strong and is consistent with prior years”).

Tangent

In addition to issues felt by Disney guests, Chapek’s CEO tenure has also been marred by discontentment from theme park division employees in California, as the company announced in July 2021 it would force 2,000 workers to relocate to a new campus in central Florida. That move has since been delayed to 2026, which the company said was due to construction delays, after sparking opposition from employees. Some had protested the move in an open letter after Florida passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which called for the company to stop the relocation plan and guarantee employees who didn’t agree to relocate would not be terminated.

Big Number

$15. That’s the lowest price per person, per day to use the Genie+ service at Walt Disney World, which allows guests to skip ride lines and had previously been provided free of charge. (The starting price is even higher at Disneyland in California, at $25 per day.) The price increases based on demand during more crowded times, however, with the service costing $29 per day on Monday ahead of Thanksgiving.

What We Don’t Know

How things will change for Disney’s theme parks with Iger back at the helm. Disney’s theme park division will be keeping its same leadership with parks chairman Josh D’Amaro, even as the head of the larger company changes, and it’s unclear if Iger will push for any changes to the price hikes and other issues that emerged during Chapek’s rule.

Key Background

Chapek assumed the role of Disney CEO in 2020, replacing Iger after his 15-year tenure as CEO that began in 2005. Iger had left the company entirely in 2021, after briefly continuing on as the company’s executive chairman as Chapek started his role, before Sunday’s shock announcement that he would return to the company once again. While Disney’s board had signaled its confidence in Chapek and extended his contract as CEO by another three years just a few months prior in June, the board reversed course and said Sunday that Iger was instead “uniquely situated” to lead Disney as it “embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation.” Chapek’s departure came after the company posted “peak losses” in the fourth quarter of 2022, with $1.5 billion in losses for Disney’s direct-to-consumer division amid issues at its Disney+ streaming service. In addition to the theme park issues, the ex-CEO had also faced controversies in other areas of the company throughout his tenure, including reported backlash over how Chapek reorganized the company, a legal battle with actress Scarlett Johansson over pay issues for the film Black Widow and widespread outrage from employees over the company’s initial refusal to publicly condemn Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney shares surged by 9% on Monday morning following news of Iger’s return.

Further Reading

Robert Iger Returns As Disney CEO After Successor Bob Chapek Is Ousted (Forbes)

Disney Shares Jump 9% On Return Of Bob Iger’s ‘Magic’ (Forbes)

Disney World Is About To Get A Lot More Expensive (Forbes)

Disney Parks’ Ride Stoppages and Wait Times Grow as Ticket Prices Rise (Wall Street Journal)

Some recent Disney price hikes outpace inflation. But the crowds keep coming for now (CNN)

It’s Not Just You—Everyone Is Paying More At Disney (Wall Street Journal)

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