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Hot on the heels of major film success Disney is building a new ‘Avatar’ experience for its theme park



The Walt Disney Co. is planning to add an Avatar experience to Disneyland and explore other opportunities at its theme parks as it looks for more ways to appeal to its guests.

While Disney announced last week that it is cutting about 7,000 jobs as part of an ambitious companywide cost-savings plan and “strategic reorganization,” the company is pleased with the performance of its domestic theme parks and is actively looking for ways to grow the business. In Disney’s most recent quarter, sales at its parks, experiences and products segment grew 21% to $8.74 billion, from $7.23 billion a year earlier.

CEO Bob Iger said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call that the success of the latest Avatar film is spurring the creation of an Avatar experience at Disneyland in California. The movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” is currently the fourth biggest film of all time globally with close to $2.2 billion earned at the box office to date.

While it is unclear what type of Avatar experience will be created at Disneyland, Iger said that when Pandora – The World of Avatar was launched at Walt Disney World in Florida, it prompted more people to visit Animal Kingdom, the park where Pandora is located. Pandora includes two rides, Avatar – Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey.

“We have learned that when we invest in increasing capacity, the Star Wars lands would be a good example of that, Pandora was a great example of that, we can grow our business. In fact, if you look at the results, when we put Pandora in Animal Kingdom, from year to year, they were stunning in terms of how many more people visited Animal Kingdom,” Iger explained.

Iger, who returned as CEO in November following a challenging two-year tenure by his hand-picked successor, Bob Chapek, said that he has spoken with Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney parks, experiences and products, to look at all of the company’s franchises to see where Disney can invest in them in its theme parks to increase capacity while preserving guest satisfaction.

In another effort to keep guests happy, Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said during the call that Disney managed to achieve significant revenue and operating income growth in the quarter despite purposefully lowering capacity at its domestic theme parks during select peak holiday periods by approximately 20% versus pre-pandemic levels in order to prioritize the guest experience.

“Quarter-to-date, park attendance at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort are pacing above prior year, and based on reservation bookings, we expect to see this trend continue,” she said.

While Disney’s theme parks business has been performing well, many visitors over the past two years have been highly critical of increased prices and other moves that the company made, including the end of the Magical Express bus service from the airport in Orlando, Florida to Walt Disney World resorts, the implementation of the Genie planning and ride reservation system and its theme park reservation system.

Listening to guests’ concerns, Disney said last month that it was making several changes at its domestic theme parks, including some easier reservations.

Among the changes: it will cease charging for overnight self-parking at its Walt Disney World resorts; Walt Disney World annual passholders will be able to visit the theme parks after 2 p.m. without needing a park reservation (except on Saturdays and Sundays at Magic Kingdom) and individuals buying its Genie+ service will receive digital downloads of their ride photos taken in the park on the day of their purchase for no additional charge.

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