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Disney hopes for media magic

By DONNA BALANCIA, Florida Today —

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — May 4, 2005 — Hundreds of media representatives will be at Walt Disney World starting today, as Disney executives try to sell them on the local celebration of the 50th anniversary of Disneyland in California.

In turn, Disney hopes to see positive stories about its Orlando-area theme parks in newspapers, magazines and travel-industry publications around the world — and a subsequent boost in visitors to Central Florida, due to people reading those stories.

“Yes, this is a big event,” said Carolyn Fennell, director of public affairs for the Orlando International Airport Authority, who was at the airport preparing for a television interview. “The Disney people are here, greeting the media, and it is indeed important for Central Florida.”

Most of the media members are expected to stay at Walt Disney World Resort from today through Friday, so few hotels not directly connected with Disney will be affected by the out-of-town reporters.

However, the marketing opportunity for the Central Florida region as a vacation destination is huge, experts say.

Disney has about 57,000 employees at its Orlando-area theme parks and hotels.

Because of Disney, Orlando is a top vacation destination, but it never hurts to get more publicity, said Danielle Courtenay, vice president of public relations for the Orlando-Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Certainly, we’re thrilled to have all the media in town, to continue to show how the product changes and grows,” she said. “There may be some short-term gain, but, for the long term, with the peak travel season approaching, it’s a good time to have additional exposure.”

Rick Silvain, a Walt Disney World spokesman, said he didn’t know how many staffers are on hand to help the hundreds of members of the media, but it could almost rival the number of reporters there.

“A few hundred people will be here to help, but I haven’t got a precise number for you,” he said. “The 50th anniversary of Disneyland is certainly a milestone for our company. It’s a big event. We’re proud to be unwrapping the product in Florida. We’re fortunate to be able to present the experts behind the attractions and bring in the producers of the attractions.”

“In business, you have to continually revamp,” said Fernando Sosa, a retired executive who lives on Merritt Island. “Disney has the space, so the more rides and more reinvestment they make in the park, they’ll attract more people. I haven’t been to Disney World in about five years, but I know, when I go, I know it will be completely different.”

Print, broadcast and online media people are expected to comprise the majority of the hundreds of attendees for the media presentation.

They will try out various rides and attractions ranging from “Cinderellabration” at Magic Kingdom, to “Lights! Motors! Action!” — a live-action stunt-car show — at MGM Studios. There will be various Disney executives on hand to underscore the importance of the 50th-anniversary events Disney is calling “The Happiest Celebration on Earth.”

“You’ve got to get the reporters in to do an update on what’s changing at the parks,” said entertainment-industry analyst Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine Associates of Scarsdale, N.Y. “It’s important to get the word out on the new rides, and, for example, how clean the park is or how the line control is better now. You know they’ve been dreaming these things up for the press.”

Silvain said Disney is all about storytelling, and that doesn’t just stop with the park guests.

“We want to not only share the attraction from an experiential standpoint, but also to help media understand the story behind the attraction,” Silvain said. “We want to give the background on the attractions,” rather than “open the doors and say: ‘Here it is!’ ”

Silvain said there are contingents of international, as well as domestic, regional, in-state and local, media.

Because Disneyland is doing the event during the same dates as Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, much of the national media will be split between Anaheim and Central Florida.

“It’s a big production, but we’re used to big productions,” Silvain said. “Whether the media went to the celebration at Disneyland or the celebration at Walt Disney World is a decision they’ve made based on where they think their readership is.”

McAlpine said it’s not unusual for theme parks to stage celebrations, and Disney tends to have its fair share of events.

“They’re trying to make this bigger than the average event,” he said. “They have an event every year, like it’s somebody’s birthday. I think Chip and Dale had a birthday — or two — one year. But, with this, they’re really trying to create something new and make things special for the guests.”

“Any time there’s a spotlight on Disney, it’s on us as well,” said Bonnie King, a spokeswoman for the Space Coast Office of Tourism. “We’re only 45 minutes from that area, so the destination may be Disney, but the media knows that, if there are other angles to look at, we’re part of that.”

Contact Balancia at 242-3647 or dbalancia@flatoday.net

http://www.dapsmagic.com/disneynews/disneynewsarticle.php?id=333

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