It's now been more than a month since Disney (NYSE:DIS) closed the last of its industry-leading theme parks, and the chatter among enthusiasts and analysts alike has shifted to a viable timeframe to reopen the world's most visited gated attractions. Wall Street pros are divided. Some analysts believe Disney World and Disneyland can open as early as June -- in time for the historically potent summer travel season -- but at least one skeptical pro doesn't see guests going through those turnstiles until some point in fiscal 2021.
Time is money for Disney and all of the world's theme park operators, but the earlier Disney resorts open the greater the precautions it will have to take to ensure that it doesn't contribute to a surge in new COVID-19 cases. It's a logistical quagmire. How high can it cap attendance without disrupting social distancing? What will queues look like if guests are spaced out? How much will throughput suffer and labor costs spike as it sanitizes attraction queues through the day and wipes down attraction vehicles between riders?
Guests will also face hurdles just to get into the parks. Masks and mandatory temperature checks could be required the way the Shanghai Disney Resort is doing for visitors entering the shopping and dining district located outside its still-shuttered Shanghai Disneyland theme park. Former but still hovering CEO Bob Iger suggested that Shanghai's approach is a possibility closer to home in a Barron's interview earlier this month. However, what if a radical solution -- one that was recently put into place by a major foreign airline -- could help weed out more potential carriers from entering Disney World or Disneyland? Are you desperate enough for your theme park fix to submit to a blood test screening?
Blood on the saddle
A pin prick sounds like a brutal way to begin a day at Disney World. It's a place where children cry on the way out -- not the way in. However, if securing a coronavirus-free environment relaxes some of the other experience-diminishing measures, would it be worth it?
Dubai-based Emirates began conducting COVID-19 blood tests for departing passengers at Dubai International Airport on Wednesday. Test results are typically available within 10 minutes. Before needle-fearing theme park buffs start fearing the worst, let's go over the many reasons these tests aren't likely to be a staple at Disney World anytime soon.
- The tests aren't cheap. It's a lot easier for a luxury airline that charges thousands for a flight to spring for a blood test -- or ask passengers to pay the tab -- than it would for a theme park operator with day guests paying a lot less.
- The results aren't perfect. These antibody tests may be more effective than a spot temperature check, but they're not foolproof. They may miss a recent infection.
- Scalability is an issue. A high-end airline with dozens and at most a couple hundred passengers can pull this off easier than a theme park that attracts tens of thousands of guests on a typical day.
- Young families may have a different take on visiting Disney World if it involves some potentially traumatic blood testing. It's the last thing that the family entertainment leader wants to convey.
There are a lot of companies working on raising the bar when it comes to poking for antibodies. The tests should get better and ideally cheaper. For now, consumer-facing companies will just have to negotiate how they can tweak their experiences until an effective vaccine or at least herd immunity is achieved. If Disney theme parks open later this fiscal year, the experience will likely be very different than what it was before last month's shutdown. The weak economy and decimated air travel will cap attendance organically, but how will the other safeguards eat into the quality of Disney's premium offering? Disney's iconic theme park will inevitability reopen, but that doesn't mean its problems will be over at that point.