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New attractions pay off for parks, Disney's Iger says

Orlando Sentinel

Original Article »

September 19, 2007

Walt Disney Co., the world's biggest theme-park operator, may post record attendance at its U.S. resorts this fiscal year as new attractions have lured more visitors, Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger said Tuesday.

Attendance in fiscal 2007, which ends in two weeks, may exceed the record number of tickets sold in 2006, when all Disney's parks celebrated the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, the company's first theme park, Iger told a Goldman, Sachs & Co. conference in New York.

Disney will continue to add attractions at its domestic and international resorts, Iger said. A Finding Nemo ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the Expedition Everest roller coaster at Walt Disney World in Orlando have helped boost sales at the theme-park unit. In the nine months ended June 30, theme-park revenue was up 6.2 percent to $7.84 billion.

Expedition Everest opened in April 2006 in Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park. Mixing a roller coaster with a story about a Yeti creature and a mountain, the ride has drawn praise for pleasing teenagers and young adults without scaring away their parents or younger siblings.

"We think the trends are good in terms of bookings," Iger said of Disney's resorts. "Some people will keep the family vacation and not replace the faulty refrigerator, and that's an interesting phenomenon."

Disney, owner of about 26,000 hotel rooms nationwide, also announced Tuesday that it will expand its Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in Anaheim to increase the accommodations there by more than 30 percent.

The expansion, expected to be completed in late 2009, will add more than 200 hotel rooms and 50 vacation villas with kitchens, Disney said.

Disney is building more accommodations and shopping areas at both Disneyland and Disney World to help boost sales and profit margins at its theme-park and resort unit. The division accounted for 29 percent of Walt Disney Co.'s $34.3 billion in revenue last fiscal year.

On Wall Street, Disney shares rose $1.20, or 3.6 percent, Tuesday to close at $34.58 on the New York Stock Exchange. The Burbank, Calif.-based company's shares are up 2.3 percent so far this year.

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