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Walt Disney World closes, halting the company's tourism empire
Published Thursday, March 12, 2020 4:42PM EDT Last Updated Friday, March 13, 2020 3:17AM EDT
Disney's tourism business has come to a halt because of the coronavirus.
Disney is closing Walt Disney World, its flagship theme park resort in Orlando, Florida, because of the global pandemic. The company also announced the closure of Disneyland Paris and the suspension of all new departures with the Disney Cruise Line. Earlier on Thursday the company said it was closing it's iconic Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California. The virus, which has spread worldwide, has now shuttered the gates of all eleven Disney theme parks across North America, Europe and Asia.
"In an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of our theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort, beginning at the close of business on Sunday, March 15, through the end of the month," a Disney spokesperson said in a statement.
Shortly after Disney announced the closure of its Florida parks, Universal Orlando Resort announced it too would temporarily close its theme parks starting at the close of business on March 15.
The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is the world's most-visited theme park, with more than 20 million visitors in 2018, according to a report by AECOM. The company has invested billions in its theme park division, opening two new Star Wars lands in Florida and California last year. A brand new ride, "Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway" debuted at Disney's Hollywood Studios just last week.
The parks are a major driver of the company's sprawling entertainment business: Disney generated more than $26 billion in sales at its Parks, Experiences and Products division in fiscal 2019, representing 37% of the company's overall revenue. The closure comes at a moment of major transition for Disney. Just 16 days ago, Bob Iger stepped down as the company's CEO, naming Bob Chapek as his replacement, whose previous role was chairman of Disney Parks. Disney shares have fallen more than 20% since the handover as the coronavirus forced the closing of theme parks, delaying the release of "Mulan" and sapping ESPN of live sports.
In the announcement, Disney added that its hotels at Disney World and Disneyland Paris will remain open until further notice and that it will pay its cast members during the closure period. The company also said that it will suspend all new departures with the Disney Cruise Line starting Saturday through the end of the month.
The company urged its domestic employees at Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, ESPN and at its direct-to-consumer, parks and products divisions to work from home.
The sudden closure of Disney's Florida and California parks is just the latest sign of a tourism industry in freefall. But it is also symbolic of how every element of American life is changing amid the pandemic.
"These parks are iconic brands etched in the culture of America and every childhood," Trip Miller, a Disney shareholder and managing partner at Gullane Capital Partners, told CNN Business. "To close assets of this scale around the world would speak to the seldom seen seriousness of this health threat."