The company said it would continue to pay its employees while the parks are closed. Refunds will be given for hotel bookings during the closure period.
In recent days, as sporting events, concerts and other mass gatherings have been canceled in response to the pandemic, Disneyland and Walt Disney World, its bigger sibling, remained crowded. So many people were trying to get on Space Mountain at Disneyland on Wednesday at 9 p.m. that the line stretched more than an hour. Disneyland’s Indiana Jones ride had a 45-minute line.
Disneyland, the company’s original theme park, looms large in the popular imagination as the “happiest place on Earth,” where visitors trade an imperfect world for a perfect one. There is no trash blowing down Main Street U.S.A. Dream big, and the utopian technology of Tomorrowland just might come true. The animatronic figures inside It’s a Small World never stop smiling and singing. The park receives almost 19 million visitors from around the world each year.
However, in a statement posted online shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that gatherings of 250 or more people “should be canceled or postponed” to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” Governor Newsom said. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease.”
That seemed to apply to Disneyland and other California theme parks, including Universal Studios in Los Angeles and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif. But Mr. Newsom backtracked at a Thursday morning news conference, saying that his guidelines excluded large parks like Disneyland and places such as casinos and movie theaters because of “the complexity of their unique circumstances.”
Disney made its announcement regarding Disneyland’s closing shortly thereafter.
“After carefully reviewing the guidelines of the governor of California’s executive order and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure,” the company said in a statement. About three hours later, Disney announced the closure of Disney World, Disneyland Paris and Disney Cruise Line “in an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and employees.”
Disney World, which employs 75,000 people, has experience with sudden closures. The mega-resort has been shuttered for various lengths of time because of hurricanes, including Matthew in 2016, Frances in 2004 and Floyd in 1999.
Disneyland, which employs roughly 31,000 people, has had unscheduled closures only two times since opening in 1955. The first time was in 1963 for a national day of mourning after the assassination of President Kennedy. The second was after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The California resort has grown substantially since the last closing. It now consists of two popular theme parks: Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure, which together recorded attendance of roughly 28.7 million in 2018, the last year for which figures are available. Disney also operates three hotels in Anaheim and a shopping district called Downtown Disney, which will remain open.
Hundreds of other businesses in Anaheim and the surrounding cities rely on Disneyland to keep their cash registers ringing, from nearby mom-and-pop motels to fast-food restaurants outside the park gates to busing companies that shuttle families to and from airports. A 2018 study by professors at California State University, Fullerton, found that the Disneyland resort had an $8.5 billion annual impact on Southern California.
The coronavirus has already caused major problems for Disney overseas. The company’s entire Asian theme park operation has been closed for weeks — four parks in China and Japan that together attract 51.2 million visitors annually. Disney has said its China parks will remain shuttered until the end of March and perhaps longer, although its Shanghai property began what it called a “phased reopening” on March 9 by allowing guests to enter a shopping and dining area outside the park gates.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea are scheduled to remain closed through early April. The Oriental Land Company owns those properties; Disney receives a royalty of about 7 percent of revenue.
Disneyland Paris, which includes two separately ticketed parks with combined annual attendance of 15 million, has kept its gates open, although some experiences — princess meet-and-greets, the Illuminations fireworks show — have been canceled. France has banned public gatherings in some areas around Paris in a containment attempt.
Over the weekend, a Disneyland Paris maintenance worker tested positive for the virus, according to a Disney spokesman, who added that the worker had no contact with guests.
In terms of the financial impact of closures so far, Disney has not commented since its Feb. 4 earnings conference call with analysts. The company said then that the closings of its China parks would cause it to lose roughly $175 million in profit. The Japanese properties had not yet closed. Since Feb. 4, Disney’s stock price has declined 35 percent, to about $94.45. The S&P 500 has fallen about 20 percent over that period.
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