Friday, August 20, 2010

Theme Park Design – Hotels

Hotel accommodations have been an important part of the theme park mix since Disneyland first began.  Walt Disney was very cash strapped while building Disneyland and adding his own hotel, at the time, was beyond his means.  Walt struck a deal with his good friend, Jack Wrather, to provide the hotel – Walt would provide the name and the guests.  The Disneyland Hotel occupied approximately 40 acres and grew from a few hundred rooms to over one thousand. 

When Walt moved to Florida he was looking to stretch his control over the guest’s experience, and he wanted to add his own theme hotels.  Two hotels were planned for opening day with a total of 1,500 rooms.  Nearby, in Disney’s own town of Lake Buena Vista, Disney leased several hotel sites to outside operators.  Disney World would expand its own hotel operation only when it was financially feasible.  In the meantime, outside operators could have some of the spillover business at high season, and take all of the risk.  The result of this strategy enabled the Disney hotels to maintain 99% occupancy, while the rest of the industry ran at only 70%.

When Disney went to Paris they made a big miscalculation in hotel rooms.  In 1955, the original Disneyland needed about 500 rooms while park attendance grew to 7 million.  In 1971, Disney World opened with 1,500 rooms with park attendance of 8-10 million.  Disneyland Paris opened with around 2,500 rooms for park attendance of only 8-10 million.  Unfortunately, there are outside factors involved beyond the number ratio of hotel rooms to the park attendance.

In Orlando, Florida, back in 1971, there were less than 2,000 rooms in the city.  The park desperately needed to provide its own accommodations.  But in Paris, in the 1990s, there were thousands and thousands of rooms in one of the most exciting cities in the world.  Disneyland Paris guests could easily stay in Paris and take a train to the park for a day trip.  There was no reason to stay so close to the theme park.

The Disneyland Paris theme park hit its expected attendance goals during the first years of operation, but the high price of empty hotel rooms caused the entire resort to suffer and tainted the project as an initial failure.

When planning a new theme park an onsite hotel is a good consideration.  For an attendance of 3-5 million, plan a hotel of 250 to 500 rooms on a 40-acre site.  A good hotel design will allow the 500 rooms to grow up to 1,000 without a huge expansion to the back-of-house, administration, retail and dining areas of the hotel.  Make certain that your feasibility study supports this level of development before proceeding with land purchase, or design.

The theme park basics discussed here are extremely general.  Always consult with experts, regarding your specific needs, before making any significant investment into land and/or design.  Feel free to contact me.  I’ll be happy to assist you in your efforts.

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