Will Disneyland Reopen in 2020?

Disney's (NYSE: DIS) original theme park in California is about to become the only one of its resorts that has yet to reopen. The only other Disney park that was still closed -- Hong Kong Disneyland -- is now set to welcome guests back again on Friday. That resort had originally reopened from its pandemic shutdown in mid-June, only to be closed again by government mandate four weeks later due to a spike of COVID-19 cases in the city.

The media giant obviously isn't happy about the situation at Disneyland. It had been hoping to reopen its California theme park complex in July, a few days after Disney World resumed operations in Florida. But California's governor failed to approve that plan, and the House of Mouse hasn't been quiet about its displeasure.

Donald Duck sweeping Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. in California.

Image source: Disney.

Mouse trap

Disney hosted a media event on Tuesday afternoon to highlight how Disney World has been faring since unlocking its turnstiles on July 11. Company execs didn't offer any newsy morsels during the event, but Disney Parks chief Josh D'Amaro closed it out by imploring California officials to let Disneyland and its rivals get back to business before more harm is done to the state's economy.

"We're ready," he concluded. "It's time."

California has taken a cautious approach despite a summer's worth of data that would suggest that theme parks now being run with the appropriate safeguards in place have not become the epicenters of fresh COVID-19 outbreaks. In Florida, daily new case figures have actually plummeted sharply from their peak above 15,000 since Disney World's mid-July restart. 

Florida still has a long way to go before it gets control over the deadly virus. New cases of COVID-19 continue to be diagnosed in the state at rates above 3,000 a day. But Disney World has proven that you can run a theme park resort safely with face-covering requirements, ramped up sanitation stations, a tight cap on guest counts, and social-distancing rules in queues as well as attractions. 

Disneyland was unlikely to be a hotbed of summer tourism this year regardless, but there are tens of thousands of jobs and a healthy chunk of state revenue at stake. One might reason that California officials looking to keep crowds in check had determined to wait until the peak summer travel season was over before allowing the initial restart, but that flurry of fun-seekers typically ends with Labor Day weekend. Now, we're well into the industry's slow season, and it's certainly not impossible to imagine that Disneyland won't be given the green light to reopen until 2021.

The irony here is that -- as they have in Florida -- COVID-19 cases in California have fallen significantly since they peaked in mid-July. Between Disney struggling to turn a profit at its open attractions and the global recession taking its toll, the Disneyland shutdown isn't something that the company can afford to just ride out. Shareholders may be fine given that Disney's diverse media properties have been humming along profitably through the pandemic, but the longer it takes the media giant to get the go-ahead to reopen the original Disneyland, the longer the segment will be a drag on the company's top and bottom lines. 

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