News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Sandi Cain, Orange County Business Journal Staff
Ed Grier has seen the world with Walt Disney Co., leaving his mark on parks from Florida to Paris to Tokyo.
Now he has a chance to do the same as president of the Disneyland Resort, which includes the company’s two Anaheim theme parks, three hotels and Downtown Disney shopping center.
Grier, 51, was named president in summer after three-year boss Matt Ouimet left to take an executive post with White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.
Grier’s the third person to lead Disneyland since 1999 and the first in recent years to come from the operations side of Walt Disney Parks & Resort.
“It’s absolutely a positive to have an operations guy (at the top),” said Jim Benedick, managing partner of ProFun Management Group Inc. in Tustin and a former manager at Disneyland. “Years ago, operations ruled the roost,” he said. “Disney needs to get back to that orientation.”
Last year, Walt Disney combined marketing, sales and entertainment decisions in Orlando, Fla., and at its Burbank headquarters. The move put more emphasis on operations and guest relations for Disneyland’s president, former executives say.
A soft-spoken, roll-up-the-sleeves kind of guy, Grier started his career at Disney as a senior auditor at Walt Disney World in Florida. The Atlanta native also was part of the opening team at Epcot in Orlando and boosted guest service and resort and financial operations in Tokyo.
He’s no stranger to Orange County, having visited many times. He said he’s been surprised by how urban it has become—and how bad the traffic is. He said he loves the intertwining of Disneyland and Anaheim. The two have more or less grown up together, Grier said.
He recently moved his family from Tokyo to Tustin, going from one of the newest Disneyland parks to the oldest.
Grier has wasted no time, it seems, learning the lay of the land in OC and setting plans.
He said his priorities for Disneyland include building on the park’s interaction between workers and visitors, spurring attendance after the blockbuster 50th anniversary push that peaked in 2005, and making sure the parks are well kept.
Grier recently worked the third shift with “cast members”—Disney speak for workers—checking rides, touching up paint and doing other maintenance.
“It’s important to do that so you understand what the cast member’s point of view is,” he said.
Grier inherits a work in progress with Disney’s California Adventure. The park, which opened in 2001, enjoyed a spillover surge from Disneyland’s 50th anniversary. But it still hasn’t lived up to expectations. The company last week unveiled plans for a ride at California Adventure based on Pixar Animation Studios Inc.’s “Toy Story” movies.
Some have speculated that Disney might turn California Adventure into a sort of “Pixarland” after its acquisition of the studio last year. Grier was mum on long-term plans.
“We want to capitalize on all the synergies we’ve got,” he said. “Pixar is a big part of the Disney family now and that gives us a unique opportunity to use some of the Pixar assets.”
Disney is looking to The Year of a Million Dreams, a companywide marketing push, to spur attendance after the 50th anniversary.
Workers grant “dreams” to random park visitors each day during the yearlong promotion. Gifts range from an all-day FastPass to bypass ride lines to Disney cruises. Disneyland has given about 200,000 gifts. Grier said his favorite is the night’s stay in the Mickey Mouse Penthouse at the Disneyland Hotel.
Several rides are in the works for Disneyland. The most eagerly awaited is the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage based on the Pixar movie “Finding Nemo.” The ride is set to debut in summer at the old submarine lagoon at Disneyland. The earlier submarine ride opened in 1959 and closed in 1998 after losing appeal. “Nemo is a great fit for this attraction,” Grier said. “It’s great storytelling, and we have a lot of innovation (with it).”
Word also came last week about plans to revamp Tom Sawyer’s island with a pirate theme ahead of this summer’s third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. The success of the “Pirates” movies—which evolved from the 40-year-old Disneyland ride—has been a coup. The ride gave birth to hit movies that in turn generated interest in the ride. “Things like that help reinvent the property and look toward the future,” Grier said.
That kind of thinking harkens back to earlier times, according to Milt Albright, who worked for Disneyland for 45 years, including at its opening. “Roy Disney (Walt Disney’s nephew) always said to maximize the utilization of existing” assets, Albright said.
Grier also is involved in planning for a possible third Anaheim park.
First talked about in 2000, Disney wants a “third gate” on a 75-acre parcel near Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue. The land has been used for little more than employee parking since the 2001 tourism downturn. Now that things are humming again—if not booming—the company is thinking about expansion.
“What’s important for us is to focus on what’s (going to be there) for the next 50 years,” he said.
Coming from Tokyo, where Grier was part of the masterplanning team, he has a grip on how the process works.
There’s no firm plan for the Anaheim land yet, he said, despite rumors of a Wide World of Sports-type complex.
“We probably have more ideas than we have room for,” Grier said.
Grier also faces the issue of changes around the company’s parks. Disney has been critical of proposals to put housing in the city’s resort district.
An Anaheim panel last week rejected a plan by SunCal Cos. to allow new homes near Disneyland. An appeal is expected. SunCal wants to build 1,500 homes, including 200 affordable apartments on the site.
The district makes up 2% of Anaheim’s land but generates 24% of its sales tax revenue. Hotel room taxes make up about 28% of Anaheim’s general fund revenue, according to the city.
Disney’s take is that homes would be out of place among the parks, hotels and shops. “It’s very important to maintain the integrity of the district because it’s a big economic generator not just for us but for the community,” Grier said.
|Also See:||Ed Grier Named President of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California / July 2006|
|Orange County California Tourism Set to Hit Another High Mark; Disneyland's 50th Anniversary Boosts Attendance, Hotel Room Rates / Sandi Cain / May 2006|
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