There were several milestones in March that grabbed the attention of Americans to the fast developing threat from the novel coronavirus: local schools closing, California’s statewide stay-at-home order, and Disney closing the gates of its theme parks.
Some of those gates are scheduled to reopen in the week ahead. Downtown Disney starts the company’s phased return on Thursday. The Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom in central Florida are due to welcome guests back on Saturday. EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are supposed to reopen four days later.
As a Florida resident and Disney shareholder (100 shares), my interest may be motivated by more than curiosity. However, Disney’s ability to generate economic activity and its leadership position in hospitality make it a barometer for consumer, business and investor confidence during the pandemic.
The company’s fiscal second quarter profits fell 91% from a year earlier. COVID-19 cost Disney $1 billion in lost profit from its parks alone in the first three months of 2020. That was with the theme parks only closed for a couple of weeks. The hit will be larger when it releases its latest financials next month. Disney parks were closed for the company’s entire fiscal third quarter.
There’s no date for a return at its California locations; it doesn’t expect to get guidelines from that state until later this summer. Meantime, Disney has been gearing up to reopen parks in Florida despite the state experiencing record high daily COVID-19 infections, a rising infection rate and a rollback of some reopening actions.
Temperature checks, mandatory face coverings, and accepting the risk of infection will greet Disney’s guests who decide to visit the so-called Happiest Place on Earth. Visiting Disney is a practice in replacing reality with imagination. As Disney prepares to reopen, it can’t escape uncertainty.
Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM, where he is the vice president of news. Twitter: @HudsonsView