Bad news from Disneyland Paris as the management announced an emergency meeting of the works council for tomorrow Monday at 7 am. Park attendance continues to erode and the management said that the financial situation is "catastrophic" and as said one sources to the AFP "This meeting does not feel good". This unusual very 7 am morning schedule is also another indication that something important will be announced as it's probably also linked to the opening at 9:00 of the Paris stock exchange. Financial communications taking place in principle outside the operating hours of the stock exchange where a company is listed, to don't create too much disruption for the stock price. Now, what's happening, how we arrive to this situation, and why the problem is probably deeper than we think, that's what i'll try to explain to you now. But, first, don't count on me to speculate on what DLP will announce tomorrow, the meeting will take place in a few hours from now and you'll have the answer by Monday early afternoon, Paris time.
So, even with the opening of the Ratatouille ride - which WDS guests like a lot - the financial situation is considered being catastrophic by DLP management, and although Ratatouille has bring more guests inside the WDS, the same effect might have not happen for the Disneyland park attendance, which would mean that DLP would be back to square one. Let's go back in time now to see how all this financial mess began.
As we know, the first big mistake was to have built too many hotels at the start, in 1992. Now the hotels attendance is very good at DLP but back in 1992, to open 7 hotels ( counting the Davy Crockett ranch ) with around 6000 rooms at 45 minutes from Paris in a concept - a theme park - which was new for french was considered as pure madness. But Michael Eisner has always been a "wannabe architect" and to hire some of the world's best architect to built all these hotels was apparently a way for him to make his own dream come true through real architects. Unfortunately all these had a maintenance cost who started to put in red the DLP financial results. Then arrived as DLP CEO Philippe Bourguignon and the opening of Space Mountain as well as three others attractions the year before, and Space Mountain boosted park's attendance, which was fine.... but not enough some years later.
Then it was decided to build and open in 2002 DLP second gate, the Walt Disney Studios, and here came the second big mistake, with the opening of a park so small and so disappointing for guests coming from such a wonder that is Disneyland Paris park next door that even someone blind would have seen the difference. Here, too, we have to thanks again - ironically - Michael Eisner who, always WDC CEO at that time, decided to don't put the necessary amount of money to make the WDS a decent park from day one. Instead, we had the biggest mistake in Disney theme parks history, even if all WDI Imagineers did their very best with the ( small ) budget they had at their disposal.
The situation got a bit better with DLP 15th anniversary and in 2008 the WDS Tower of Terror opened with the hope it'll have the same attendance effect that Space Mountain did for the first park in 2005. It did quite well, but a third fatal mistake was also done by building the TOT where it is now, instead to built it at the end of a kind of "Sunset Blvd" like they did in Florida, as a master plan from WDI Imagineers suggested it. Why was it a mistake? Not only because the building is so big that you have it "on the nose" when you exit Studio 1, but also because putting the TOT there - officially because the water table was low enough at this location - ruined the possibility to have a decent master plan for the WDS. Now, it's screwed forever, meaning that the possibility to have a park as nice and well thought as DLP first gate will never happen. Sure, they can do a big placemaking and create a Marvel land in Backlot but this won't change the global bad design of the park.
The WDS Tower of Terror Grand Opening in 2008.
By that time, in 2008, the financial situation of DLP was always chaotic and we had to wait five more years to see the WDC finally doing what should have been done since a long time, i.e to give to DLP the money to end its insane debt to the banks. In the meantime Bob Iger did the right thing for Disney's California Adventure - okay, there was no other choice than to do the huge DCA platemaking but he did it - and for Hong Kong Disneyland - where also there was no other choice as there was no way to have a successful park in Shanghaî if the Disney Parks image was not restored previously in Hong Kong - in addition to the fact that HKLD really needed the new additions. As we know, DCA, HKDL and WDS mistakes happened at the end of Michael Eisner reign and Iger had to pay a phenomenal price to resolve them. But, even with the 1.332 billion euros that the WDC gave to DLP to refinance the bank debt ( now DLP owes the money to the WDC instead to the banks ) and all the WDC "credit lines" to finance Ratatouille, the financial problem remains critical. The WDC is now in this situation where they've spent probably the same amount of money than they did to make DCA the beautiful park it is now, but without changing or adding nothing in DLP parks. In two words, the 1.332 Billion euros surely helped to stop the insane cost of DLP banks debt but they must spend now probably the same amount of money to finally really start to resolve the problems in the two parks, do a huge WDS pacemaking, add new rides and attractions in both parks, etc...
Because DCA and HKDL placemakings were a priority DLP "had to wait", then came Shanghaî Disneyland - Bob Iger legacy - which is a priority and also have a huge cost, and i don't mention others costs that the WDC had to pay recently like the crazy My Magic + at WDW. You'll tell me: "Good, now may be able they'll finally do for DLP what they did for DCA or HKDL". Yes, but the task now is going to be even harder, as something else happened at DLP, and it won't be because of the global economy crisis even if Europe economy is not going well.
The park finally launched a welcome seasonal events which bring back entertainment life in the park and although philippe Gas was not perfect - who is? - two E-Ticket opened when he was there, Ratatouille recently and the great E-Ticket show Disney Dreams for the 20th Anniversary. But all the other savings had an effect on the guests, DLP wasn't anymore as magical as it was, and even the most hardcore fans will tell you how they are disappointed by all this and the park condition. The result is something devastating for any brand, i.e the mental image that people have of it is collapsing. And once it's down, you need not only a huge amount of money but literally years to change it again in the mind of people. A good friend of mine, Disney theme parks fan since decades decided months ago to don't renew his AP membership, so outraged he was by all what i just explained. And he's not the only one, i'm afraid. Add to this that DLP is 35 km from Paris, certainly one of the most beautiful city in the world, but also a city where parisians, as defined by foreign correspondants, can be incredibly posh, and you'll understand why i heard recently people in Paris saying that Disneyland Paris was now like something "out of the ark". When you remember the hype and how excited people were to go at DLP, it hurts to hear that, and you know that something deeper has changed in the minds. Before, when DLP was opening a new ride it was "let's go next week-end to ride it!". Now it's "who cares?". Not for DLP fans, of course, but real DLP fans are not more than 100.000 probably, and although they spend money in the parks it's not them who counts for DLP management, it's the regular guests who decide to spend their week-ends here or there. And with high prices and no new rides each year, the mental image they have of the park finally changed.
And here is why this question of brand mental image is so important: If someone asked you what is "ruling" the world, some might answer: "money", may be others would say "the U.S", but the right answer is neither this one or the other. What is REALLY ruling the world - of human beings, of course - is something that should be learned at school from age 5, and it is: mental images. Or, if you prefer, human beings created and are ruling money, and mental images are ruling human beings. Some of you may think that a human beings are creating themselves these mental images, but i'm sorry to say that it's more complicated than that and i could explain you why in details, but it'll be too long.
Now, think about it: why are you waking up in the morning to go working? Well, because it's time to go to work, you say. Sure, but how does it happen? What is in fact happening, after a long night of sleep and dream is that each of us wake up slowly, and suddenly, during this time when we are in between being awake and asleep, an image pop-up in your mind and you silently think "damn', got to wake up and go working". And it's the same for any project you'll have which always start with a mental image in your mind. Or for your next trip in a country where you've never been before - simply because you have a good mental image of the country - often romantic - and what we secretly hope is that the reality of the country where we've always dream to go will match the mental image that we have in mind. And the list could go on and on for anything we're doing or what's happening in our lives. Even when you're jealous of someone, when in fact it's a storm of mental images that took the control of your mind and drive you crazy. Mental images are ruling our lives and are at the start of anything that we do and that's why being conscious of the ones who are driving you is so important, because of the consequences they will have - remember how Michael Eisner and is "wannabe" architect dream started all this mess.
And also because, as the Hindus are always saying, because "everything is illusion". The best way probably to define reality is that everything is at the same time real AND an illusion. But this is something which can't be understood "intellectually", you need to understand it physically, to have an insight for a perfectly clear vision of it. And by the way, Disneyland is a good example. Why do we love so much Disney theme parks? Because they give us the illusion that what we are living is true - whether you're travelling through space in Space Mountain or explore a lost temple in Indiana Jones Adventure, or travel through galaxies in Star Tours, etc... when it's just a fantastic illusion created wonderfully by WDI Imagineers. Disneyland is at the same time real and an illusion. But for a few hours you believe that reality is different than what it is until ,of course, you come back to the parking lot and drive back to your home.
Let's come back now to Disneyland Paris as you probably understood now why this question of mental image that people have of DLP is so important. Whatever is announced tomorrow it will take not only time and money but also some brilliant minds to change this, as for sure the task will be harder than for DCA or HKDL.
Pictures: copyright DLPWelcome, Disney and more