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Joined: April 2003
||Posted: May 24, 2003 3:28 am/pm
Disney's Rasulo 'absolutely' driven
Published May 23, 2003
It's been a tough eight months for Jay Rasulo.
Since becoming chief of the Disney theme parks in late September, Rasulo has had nothing close to the honeymoon most hope for in a new job.
Sure, he gets to go on Space Mountain -- his favorite ride -- whenever he wants to. And, yes, he's ridden Epcot's new, and still unopened, Mission: Space, which he terms "absolutely fabulous."
But in the larger picture, Rasulo has watched as forces outside his control delivered blow upon blow to the Disney resorts. First there was the lousy economy, then the war in Iraq and, most recently, SARS.
In fact, were Rasulo to star in one of those Disney what's-next commercials, it would go something like this:
"Hey, Jay! You've taken over a business where profit dropped by nearly half in the last quarter! What are you going to do?"
While a little voice inside might answer, "Run like mad," the public Rasulo, not surprisingly, never would.
In town Thursday to unveil a new theme-park safety program, Rasulo spoke on a wide range of subjects -- hesitating only once, when asked about his favorite ride at Universal Orlando. (After prodding, he conceded that Spider-Man was "interesting.")
Rasulo barely acknowledges what some analysts have called an arms race between the rival parks. Each has announced tens of millions of dollars in new-ride expansions, with Disney's latest, Mission: Space, opening this fall.
But more than competition, Rasulo thinks that uncertainty is the biggest enemy. He means consumers' uncertainty about jobs, about terrorism -- there is an orange alert, after all -- and about the safety of travel. Uncertainty keeps consumers' confidence low and is almost impossible to market against.
"We don't have a crystal ball any clearer than anyone else," said Rasulo, who took on his current job last year after a successful run at Disneyland Paris. "We are doing everything in our power to be ready when things come back."
He's had no choice but to learn quickly that the Disney parks are no longer the company's reliable cash machines. In the last quarterly report, Disney's box office and DVD sales helped carry the day, while attendance at the company's giant Orlando resort was down 7 percent.
The company anticipates a slow return to tourism's glory days, though there have been recent signs of improvement.
Interest in a Disney vacation appears to be increasing -- reaching a record level, by one measure. The company's surveys of prospective travelers have found pent-up demand, probably from folks who postponed travel prior to and during the war.
"For five or six years, we've used that measure," Rasulo said. The latest result is "higher than it has been before."
That doesn't mean everyone who wants to see Mickey actually will make the trip. Disney launched a national campaign two weeks ago to help encourage fence sitters, offering deep discounts in park admissions and hotels.
So far, the company is "pretty happy" with the response, Rasulo said, though one can't help wondering if he would have said more had the short-term results been dramatic.
As for his list of to-comes, Rasulo hinted strongly that the Broadway-style stage show of Aladdin, which has been a hit in California, might find its way to the Central Florida parks.
And while he was stingy with praise for his competitor, he didn't hesitate to say how he feels about his own position, despite the difficult times.
"My job," he said, "is absolutely terrific."
Susan Strother Clarke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5414.
Nancy / Tigger58
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