So much has changed over the last three years. We seldom take the time to pause and consider it, but our world is different now.
This statement applies to Walt Disney World as well. In August of 2018, Disney officials agreed to terms with its largest Orlando unions.
At the time, Disney believed it had settled labor negotiations for several years.
Conversely, workers happily accepted a deal that promised to pay them $15 per hour by 2021.
You know what happened next. The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 forced park closures and massive layoffs.
Disney is trying to put these dark times behind it, but a recent report leads to a question. Does Walt Disney World still have a staffing problem?
How Well is Walt Disney World Currently Staffed?
I won’t discuss salaries in this article, as I know that’s a touchy subject for many readers.
All I’ll say is that Disney workers agreed to terms that would have paid $15 an hour in the fall of 2018. So, that’s a number they found acceptable.
For Disney, those guaranteed pay increases proved problematic when the pandemic forced Walt Disney World to close in March of 2020.
In 2019, the Orlando campus employed 77,000 workers. The most recent estimates suggest between 58,000 and 70,000 now, depending on whom you ask.
The Orlando Sentinel recently published a precise total of 58,478 cast members through April.
I think it’s unlikely that Disney added 11,522 more employees over the past months. That would represent a 20% increase in a matter of weeks.
So, I suspect that Disney is exaggerating its numbers a bit. It’s the main source for the 70,000 estimate.
If we use 58,478 as a baseline, Walt Disney World has lost more than 18,500 employees due to the pandemic.
Doing the math, that’s nearly a quarter of workers from 2019 no longer staffing the parks.
Even if we use the more optimistic 70k estimate, it’s still a ten percent drop.
In other words, for every ten cast members you saw then, you’ll only find nine now.
While we won’t know 2022 attendance figures for another 16 months, sites that track attendance have suggested that Walt Disney World is doing quite well.
One source indicates that February and March of 2022 represent Walt Disney World’s best months in more than two years.
We’re talking about pre-pandemic levels, and that’s true before we enter the summer. It should be the busiest travel season in recent memory.
Does Disney Have Enough Staff?
Therein read the question none of us can answer accurately as outsiders.
Only park officials and Disney executives understand how effectively they’re staffing the parks.
During a recent earnings report call, one Disney executive indicated that the company has done a much better job in staffing the parks.
That’s a generic term representing corporate jargon. What the person really means is that Disney doesn’t have to spend as much on staffing right now.
That statement resonates for investors because it indicates the parks are operating more efficiently.
Disney has utilized Park Passes as a staffing solution. When Park Passes sell out, Disney knows it will need more workers than if the reservation percentages are low.
Think of the situation akin to a restaurant holding tables. On a regular day, the place may take 15 reservations. For Valentine’s Day, that number could be 60.
You can imagine how many more servers and kitchen staff find themselves on the schedule on the latter day.
The same logic applies at Disney. When guests only reserve 70 percent of the standard Park Pass allotment, Disney adds fewer cast members to the daily schedule.
From a business perspective, that’s optimal for maximizing revenue. Disney runs into the awkward situation that restaurants do.
I’ve worked in many situations where five of us were standing around doing nothing, while there wasn’t a customer in sight.
Disney just agreed to pay cast members the most ever. Every batch of five standing around rather than workers represents a waste of $75 an hour. It adds up.
So, from Disney’s perspective, it has the perfect amount of staffing for its current needs.
As a customer, you may feel differently.
How Would Staffing Shortages Impact Your Vacation?
How long do you want to wait to enter the park? What’s an acceptable amount of time for service at a store or restaurant?
Here’s how Disney has changed over the past few years. Thanks to Mobile Ordering, you never have to wait at a Quick Service restaurant.
You can and should use mobile ordering. It’ll lead to a more accurate meal order, and you’ll control the time of your food preparation.
Similarly, some stores offer Merchandise Mobile Checkout. It allows you to add your items to a shopping cart and then pay without ever standing in line.
So, Disney has provided two methods for you to avoid wasting your time waiting for service, one of which is better than ever.
Mobile ordering is readily available at most Quick Service restaurants. The same isn’t true of Merchandise Mobile Checkout, which is only now expanding.
For this reason, Disney still needs to staff its stores more whereas workers are more in demand in the kitchen at the restaurants.
Park officials don’t need front-of-house workers as much as just a few years ago.
In other words, when Disney is understaffed, you’ll notice it the least at the restaurants but a middling amount in stores.
The crunch occurs at the park entrances. People sometimes post pictures of the lines for guests waiting to go to various theme parks. They can grow long.
To Disney’s credit, it has mastered the art of getting guests inside quickly. I can only think of a handful of instances when I waited more than 10 minutes at an open park.
Most of those images stem from early arrivals waiting for the gates to open.
The One Place You’ll Really Notice Staffing Issues
If Disney is understaffed this summer, it’ll impact you in a hidden way. The most subtle change at Disney lately has happened behind the scenes.
Customer service has turned demonstrably worse through no fault of the cast members.
Instead, Disney fans are waiting longer than ever to speak to customer service in person, via My Disney Experience, and on the telephone.
At the parks, Disney must keep the trains running on time. Meanwhile, management hopes that guests will remain forgiving about added wait times for customer support.
If you ever notice someone complaining loudly about this matter, they likely have good reason. I’ve heard some horror stories over the past two years.
In fact, I even have one to share of my own. I sent Disney to email about the status of my annual pass purchase. Nobody replied for three weeks.
When someone finally did, it was a boilerplate response that showed no awareness of the specifics of my problem.
I asked for a more detailed response. More than six months later, I’m still waiting for that reply.
Customer service is where a lot of stuff has slipped through the cracks. I have every confidence Disney will change this over time, but it’s definitely an issue at the moment.
Overall, Disney executives wouldn’t describe the current situation as a staffing problem. However, more than a few disgruntled guests probably would.
Then again, that’s often the case with companies the size of Disney. But I’d hate for the Mouse to lose its hard-earned reputation for world-class customer service.
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Feature Photo: Disney