Caitlin Busscher, a nearly 10-year Walt Disney Co. employee, had been looking forward to returning to work after maternity leave. Busscher, who started out taking customer surveys on Main Street of the Magic Kingdom Park, worked her way up to designing custom tours for families coming to Orlando. Last week was supposed to be her first back. It didn’t turn out that way. Busscher was notified on Oct. 1 that her job was being eliminated—along with about 28,000 others at Disney’s pandemic-slammed U.S. resorts and consumer products division.
“I think people understand it’s a business decision, it’s not personal,” says Busscher, 34, who’s looking for another job, possibly one that isn’t travel-related. “I don’t know what’s around the corner.”
Theme parks, purveyors of family fun and good times, are looking like anything but the happiest places on Earth these days. In addition to Disney’s firing of about a quarter of the employees in its U.S. resorts business, other operators, including Comcast Corp.’s Universal Studios and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., have idled or let go thousands of workers. That’s because attendance by domestic guests has been limited, both by social distancing requirements and the unwillingness of Americans to get on airplanes for vacations. International visitors are almost nonexistent because of travel bans. In California, home to Disneyland, state officials have been reluctant to even let parks reopen.
“People are just not ready to come back yet, and we’re experiencing that in every segment of the industry—theme parks, water parks, family entertainment centers,” says Dennis Speigel, a theme park consultant in Cincinnati. “It has been catastrophic.”
The pain at the parks mirrors what other businesses dependent on travel and big crowds are experiencing, from casinos in Las Vegas to your local movie theater. With the virus still a significant risk, a feeling likely reinforced by President Trump’s diagnosis, it’s possible many tourist-dependent cities will see a second wave of economic damage this year, brought by the new rounds of job losses. “The Disney layoffs signal the leisure industry won’t be the same, not anytime soon,” says Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. “It’s going to take two to three years to fully catch up. This is not coming back fast.”
After shutting its parks in March, Disney kept paying its employees. A month later, it shifted to furloughs, meaning employees continued to receive benefits but didn’t get paid. When summer came and its Florida parks reopened to disappointing traffic, Disney began telling workers many wouldn’t be coming back. But the size of the cuts has shocked them nonetheless.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The Political Perils of the Carless City
In Milan, authorities used the pandemic to push through changes aimed at reining in driving, while Helsinki has taken a more deliberate approach. In weaning people from cars, speed can be risky
END OF THE LINE
A photographer sets out to capture a city’s last pay phones before they disappear
Greetings From Telosa (Population 0, for Now)
Tech entrepreneur Marc Lore is planning to build a utopian megalopolis somewhere in the U.S. “Let the land be owned by the people!” he says. “But in a capitalistic sort of way”
Department Stores' New Lease on Life
Faded 20th-century shopping hubs are being reborn as colleges, libraries, and more
What Happened to That Police Reform Success Story?
In a city once heralded as a model for community policing, questions arise about the possibility of long-term change
There Is No Free Parking
The pandemic has reshaped cities’ ideas about the best uses for public space. A longtime parking-reform advocate and a growing number of city halls say it’s about time
Tuning In to a Happier City
Noise is an irritant of urban life. But there are ways to make it easier on the ears—and the psyche
Caracas – A City Unravels
The cultural spaces and infrastructure of Venezuela’s capital were once the envy of Latin America. Decades of decline have taken their toll
When The State Is Absent
A year after Beirut’s devastating port blast, the government is AWOL— so the people have stepped in to rebuild
When Ghost Cities Come Alive
Built on a grand scale with thousands of apartments, new roads and subway lines, and Instagrammable architecture, China’s overnight cities have something else now: People
SCARJO SCRAPS OVER DISNEY DOLLARS!
STEAMING Scarlett Johansson has accused Disney of siphoning off $50 million of her bonus dough by dumping Black Widow onto its streaming service instead of letting it rack up ticket sales!
DISNEY MAY GET $570M IN TAX BREAKS FOR NEW CAMPUS
The Walt Disney Co. stands to benefit from more than a half billion dollars in tax breaks for building a new regional campus in Florida that promises to employ at least 2,000 professional employees who will be relocating from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development.
WORKOUT OF THE MONTH Avenger Strength
An upper-body burnout to forge superhero size.
A New Hope for Star Wars
What The Mandalorian teaches us about the true power of George Lucas’s galaxy—and how to restore it
Up Where the People Are
A coming-of-age tale that takes the phrase “fish out of water” literally.
PASSING ON YOUR PASSWORD? STREAMING SERVICES ARE PAST IT
Many of us were taught to share as kids. Now streaming services ranging from Netflix to Amazon to Disney+ want us to stop.
Locher Room Talk
Alan Locher’s YouTube show, THE LOCHER ROOM, which reunites fan faves from all across the daytime dial, marked its first anniversary on April 2. Here, Locher reveals how the show came to be — and thrived.
MILEY WIGS OUT OVER ‘HANNAH MONTANA' IDENTITY CRISIS
MILEY CYRUS said playing “Hannah Montana” prompted an identity crisis!
5 completely honest confessions from Ruth Righi
You know Ruth Righi best as Sydney Reynolds on Disney’s Sydney to the Max (back on Disney Channel for a third season starting March 19). And while the 15-year-old actually has a lot in common with her onscreen alter ego (to start, they're both biracial and amazing bass players), we decided it was time to dig even deeper. Below are five brutally honest, real-life confessions straight from Ruth herself.
DEMI LOVATO: DRUGS SAVED MY LIFE!
DESPITE a near-fatal overdose in 2018, songbird Demi Lovato still insists drugs also saved her life! The former Disney darling said drug abuse prevented her from turning to suicide.