Disney CEO: CDC mask rule will spur ‘immediate’ jump in theme park attendance

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Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek said the surprise decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift its mask requirements is “very big news” for its Disney World theme park — and he expects attendance to spike.

On a late Thursday earnings call, Chapek signaled that Disney planned to drop its own mask requirements in response to the CDC’s new ruling — which says vaccinated people can shed their masks in most indoor and outdoor settings with the exception of only a few places, such as airports and doctors’ offices.

Chapek said he expects an “immediate increase” in parks attendance, due to both the new policy and to a recently implemented reservation system. A relaxed mask policy, Chapek added, will be a relief to Disney World customers, “particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on. That could be quite daunting.”

While the CDC’s change in policy looks poised to relax the rules at Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California is still subject to the state’s mask order. Leading up to the CDC’s order, the company has required mask-wearing at its theme parks both indoors and outdoors except in certain designated areas such as dining spots.

Chapek said research on consumers “intent to visit” a Disney park has been steadily increasing of late. For Disney World, which has been open since last June, levels of the metric are “growing and are flat with 2019,” he said. For Disneyland, which reopened last month, levels are on the rise.

“As capacity limits increase, we don’t think we’re going to have any problem at all increasing our attendance to match that capacity,” Chapek said. “It’s not something that keeps any of us up at night.”

The news comes as the pandemic continues to punish Disney’s theme parks business. During the pandemic, Disney had to close its parks globally. Since last year, it has been reopening sites such as Disney World in Orlando, Florida and more recently, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, at limited capacity. In most recent quarter, the division which includes theme parks saw its revenue shrivel 44 percent to $3.17 billion from year-ago revenue of $5.66 billion.

Even as Disney World has eased some of its in-park mask rules, the CEO said the CDC’s updated policy will “make for an even more pleasant experience.” “As we’re now bringing a lot of people back to work, that is going to be an even bigger catalyst for growth and attendance.”

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