Disney CEO Bob Chapek Says Dramatic Shift In CDC Mask Guidance Is “Very Big News”; Interest In Visiting Disney World Back At 2019 Levels

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek said today’s decision by the Centers from Disease Control to dramatically adjust its guidance on masks for fully vaccinated adults is “very big news for us.”

Speaking during the media giant’s quarterly earnings call with analysts, Chapek hailed the updated scientific view that vaccinated people can abandon masks in most indoor and outdoor settings. Only in a few places — airports, doctor’s offices and the like — are masks still recommended. Many state and local authorities had already rolled back mask mandates, including Disney World’s home state of Florida.

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The coronavirus pandemic has hit Disney hard, though the company is showing signs of emerging from the worst of it. Attendance at the company’s parks will likely take several years to return, given the interdependence of global Covid-19 infection rates and trends in tourism and travel.

A less restrictive stance on masks as vaccination rates increase will be a meaningful boost, Chapek said. Unable to suppress a chuckle, he added, “Particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on. That could be quite daunting.”

The relaxation on mask wearing will “make for an even more pleasant experience,” he said. “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.” He expects an “immediate increase” in parks attendance via recently implemented reservation systems.

Chapek did not address the current mask policy in place at the company’s parks and whether that would be reconsidered anytime soon.

Disneyland reopened in limited fashion in April, initially for California residents only, joining a nearly complete roster of reopened Disney parks and resorts. The lone exception is Disneyland Paris, which remains closed indefinitely. Chapek had no updated outlook on when it might be able to return to action.

Revenue in the Parks Experiences and Products division plunge 44% in the quarter ending April 3, with an estimated hit to operating income of $1.2 billion. Disney also noted in its financial report that it expects to spend $1 billion in fiscal 2021 on satisfying government safety requirements and Covid enhancements for visitors and employees.

Chapek said research on consumers “intent to visit” a Disney park has been encouraging. Levels of the metric for Disney World are “growing and are flat with 2019,” he said, and Disneyland levels are also 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,” he added. “It’s not something that keeps any of us up at night.”

An increasingly tight labor market will not likely be an obstacle for Disney’s park efforts, Chapek predicted. About 80% of employees have returned to their parks roles. “We’ve had no problems whatsoever” with getting workers to return, he said, unlike many restaurants and other leisure destinations. Most recently, he noted, the company recalled 10,000 workers to Disneyland and retrained them to run the park with Covid-19 safety protocols and other new measures in place.

The company has been “at or near” the reduced-capacity attendance levels mandated by state authorities in California and Florida. Executive chairman Bob Iger, who passed the CEO baton to Chapek in February 2020, quit an economic recovery task force established by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Chapek last November ripped Newsom’s reluctance to give Disneyland the green light to reopen “despite our proven track record,” saying the state was “decimating” small businesses.

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