If the dark side is coming, Disney (NYSE:DIS) wants to be ready. Disney World installed walk-through metal detectors at the entrances of its four theme parks in Florida on Thursday.
It wasn't alone. Neighboring rivals SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) and Universal Studios parent Comcast (UNKNOWN:CMCSK.DL) (NASDAQ:CMCSA) followed suit with wand-style metal detectors for their Central Florida parks.
It's a coincidence that the metal detectors arrived on the same day as Star Wars: The Force Awakens began playing at a multiplex near you. It's probably not a coincidence that all three leading destinations -- Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando, and Universal Orlando -- began using metal detectors to turn back weapon-toting guests on the same day.
We're heading into the peak holiday operating season for the industry. Kids are out of school for the next two weeks, and families will converge at the world's leading theme park hub to check out the decorations and enjoy the refreshing weather. With so many terrorist threats taking place with varying levels of credibility, the timing of the crackdown makes sense.
Disney World knows that this could add a layer of inconvenience to guests at a busy time of the year, but it also overcame patron rumblings a few years ago when they began to check bags before hitting the entrance turnstiles. It has far more to lose if a tragic situation should slip through its defenses than the sum of complaints it will receive in the coming days from inconvenienced guests.
This is a big business. Disney World attracted an estimated 51.5 million guests across its four Florida theme parks last year, according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. It generated nearly $16.2 billion in revenue during fiscal year 2015 from its theme parks and resorts division, accounting for 31% of its total revenue.
With Disney's theme parks serving as a springboard for movie promotion, merchandising, and even fodder for its production studio one can argue that theme parks mean even more to Disney than the 31% of total revenue and 20% of total segment operating profit that it generates.
Disney World isn't stopping there. It also announced on Thursday that it would stop selling toy guns at its parks. Folks are still firing away laser-guided rifles at the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland Shootin' Arcade. The Men in Black ride at Comcast's Universal Studios Florida and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom still find guests firing faux laser guns to score points. However, Disney is still sending a message by forgoing merchandise sales to say that real or even fake guns aren't welcome at its theme parks these days.
Firearms were never welcome beyond the parking lot at Disney World, but now metal detectors will help enforce the rule. Disney has also banned anyone older than 14 from wearing costumes at its parks.
The coordinated effort to add metal detectors on Thursday will lead some to wonder if an undisclosed threat has been made to the region for the holidays. Conspiracy theorists may wonder if the parks have kept warnings quiet to keep guests from calling off their travel plans, but ultimately there's no harm in fortifying security at a time when domestic terrorism fears are bubbling up organically. Disney World, Comcast's Universal Orlando, and even SeaWorld will be busy in the next two weeks. The additional security measures are just there to make sure that the parks remain safe -- and popular -- once the holiday visitors move on.