Disney Park Attendance Has Plummeted—Here's Why, CEO Says
CEO Bob Iger says you need to look at more than just shorter wait times.
Whether you're a Disney annual pass holder or have a trip at the top of your bucket list, there's no denying that these parks offer something special. People travel from all over the world to experience a little bit of that Disney magic—meeting their favorite characters, eating themed food, and enjoying a few thrill rides. But attendance at Disney parks has taken a nosedive this summer—at a time when these destinations are normally packed to the gills. Read on to find out why Disney CEO Bob Iger says it seems like fewer people are flocking to the parks.
Visitors have noticed smaller crowds.
Over the typically very busy Fourth of July holiday, visitors said that Disney World in Orlando, Florida, was uncharacteristically empty. On Reddit, a Disney-goer posted a graph from Thrill Data, which showed that wait times at the Magic Kingdom park were down by 30 percent when compared with 2022 and 2019.
"Normally we avoid 4th of July weekend like the plague, so I was surprised to see how low the wait times were at [Magic Kingdom] today," the Redditor wrote. "Especially considering it's historically one of the busiest times of the year at [Walt Disney World]."
On Twitter, a visitor wrote that they went to all four Disney parks over the holiday weekend and "Hollywood Studios was a ghost town," while "Epcot was very empty."
Redditors offered different explanations for shorter lines and fewer crowds, including the unprecedented Florida heat, expensive airfare, and tighter budgets amid inflation. But now, the Disney CEO is offering his own reasons.
Iger attributed the slowdown to a larger issue in Florida.
During a July 13 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box, Iger spoke with David Faber about Disney parks, arguing that the attendance drop over Fourth of July likely had something to do with the heat and humidity. But on a broader scale, he said the so-called declines come from comparing this year's numbers to those when Disney had less competition.
"Florida opened up early during COVID and created huge demand, and didn't have competition because there were a number of other places, states, that were not open yet," Iger said. "If you look at the numbers in Florida in 2023 … versus 2022, where not as much was open and Florida was the only game in town, there is a lot more competition today."
Iger also said that in some Florida counties, hotel tax revenue has been down between 6 and 7 percent, again indicating that the decline in tourism isn't exclusively impacting Disney.
He's not concerned about parks in the long term.
Iger further refuted claims that the feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney is contributing to the drop in visitors—and also said issues are unrelated to pricing. Iger said the company considered whether its pricing reflected value, and Disney World "is where the Disney brand lives in its most sublime form," and "it's very successful," Iger said.
The CEO added that Disney isn't "wringing our hands" over the "near-term issues in Florida." In response to Faber's assertion that Iger isn't concerned "about a significant decline over time," the CEO again reiterated that he isn't.
"You're looking at a comparison to last year, and it's very, very different," he said. "We don't have long-term concerns about that business."
Wait times have been shorter for months, but the summer slump is surprising.
While Iger's points stand about the heat and the recent decrease in hotel occupancy tax collections in Florida, CNN again points to Thrill Data, which shows that Disney's parks in Florida have had shorter than average wait times dating back to February. (For Universal, a similar trend has been in place since March). As CNN notes, longer wait times are typically indicative of more people at the parks.
Don Munsil, president of Disney and Universal guide website MouseSavers, told the outlet the slowdown earlier this month was "remarkable," pointing out that a holiday weekend in the summer is a truly surprising time for crowds to thin out.
Disney-themed content creator and travel agent Kayla Pareti also said this summer's slowdown is unprecedented. "For a year and a half after COVID, any time was a busy time," she told CNN. "Don't get me wrong, people are still coming, but it's not anywhere near where it was."
So far in July, the average wait time at Disney World is 33 minutes—the shortest wait since Jan. 2022, CNN reported, citing Thrill Data. According to data provided by CNBC, the average wait time at Magic Kingdom was 47 minutes on July 4, 2019; 31 minutes on July 4, 2022; and 27 minutes on July 4 this year.