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A Different look at Disney...

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In my last article (about possible contingency plans for high oil prices at Walt Disney World [WDW]), the primary discussion was about the notion of closing one park a week, possibly as soon as early 2009. That option remains on the table. And itís not even the doomsday option. If gas prices stay this high and reservations bookings (and airline flights) remain this elusive, the closing of parks may even become the "normal" plan. Doomsday planning would fold in really serious things, like another 9/11-style attack that cripples airline flights much worse than now, or a terrorist attack at Disney World itself. Or even a spike in oil prices to, say, $250 a barrel. Disney World simply doesnít have the base of locals to support operations on the scale it has now, not without air travel.

 

I have high hopes, personally speaking, in American ingenuity and capitalism, and I think we may in fact see some kind of gasoline alternative or replacement in the coming years, perhaps even in just five years. I donít know if it will be hydrogen, ethanol, water-propelled vehicles, oil from shale, oil from coal, or something exotic like algae or bacteria which produce petroleum (or some equally powerful equivalent). But I do think itís possible weíll be able to afford to drive our cars again.

But will air travel be that inexpensive? Maybe not if we canít generate petroleum. Some of the solutions for cars may not translate into inexpensive jet fuel--and that spells trouble big time for WDW if so.

But letís put doomsday and even likely scenarios aside for the moment, and consider the "now." Last time we also briefly mentioned Disneyís dilemma with resort busses, which gobble up 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel per week. With costs around $5/gallon, thatís a cool $4.4 million per year, just to power the busses. The main problem statement for today, then, is this bus situation. One idea mentioned last time was potentially charging people to ride those Disney busses, but everyone internally knows itís a non-starter politically. Visitors really wouldnít like that. So they are looking at other options now too.


Busses are a big part of the problem right now.

The consumer might well ask: why not just increase the price of the rooms by $5 per person and be done with it. No one likes the nickel and diming now going on with the airlines, and Disney shouldnít go down the same road. But the spreadsheets simply donít work that way. Disneyís divisions donít "talk" to each other when it comes to the budgets and expenses; this is yet another conflict that arises when business units are told to essentially be in competition with each other.

The Armchair Imagineer in all of us bounds instantly to the computer keyboard (at least I did!) and dreams up solutions. Why not monorails? Could now finally be the time to expand the monorail network to include all four parks? Maybe even connect all parks with all hotels, and unite the multitudinous routes via hubs like the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC)? Do the numbers finally add up to do this? The answer appears to be "not so much." Monorail tracks supposedly cost about $1 million/mile a few decades ago; the realistic price now is not $2 million per mile or even $5 million, but somewhere north of $25 million per mile. Well north. Las Vegas paid $654 million for a 4.4 mile track - ouch. So this appears unlikely, even now.


Sleek and futuristic Monorails cost a lot.

Aha, cries your inner Armchair Imagineer! I have a solution! (my inner A.I. shouted himself hoarse this week) Why not the WEDWAY? Put PeopleMovers all over WDW property! Surely this canít cost anywhere close to as much money per mile as the elevated track of the monorail. Disney could enclose them all in tunnels, and show movies or advertisements on the inside of the tunnel. It would be like riding an attraction just to get to the park, and riding another one home!! They could just connect all hotels to the TTC and then connect the TTC to the remaining parks (DAK and DHS) via WEDWAY, and everything would be solvedÖ permanently. It might even drive more people to visit WDW, since there is "something new" to experience.


What would it take to put the WEDWAY all over the property?

Even that plan may be too ambitious and too expensive. How about light rail, or electric rail? Or Maglev? I suppose, if oil reaches a ridiculous number ($350/barrel?), we may well see a rail system or a WEDWAY put into place. But all this infrastructure takes time--perhaps five years or more to build. Whatís WDW to do in the meantime? What if traffic falls off 10% and spending falls even further (since everyone is broke all the time now!)Ö wonít Disney have to do something?

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© 2008 Kevin Yee

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