Yesterday I was very fortunate to attend the first EuroDisney SCA Shareholder's Round Table Meeting to be held in London (the first outside France I believe).
It was the first time I've attended one of these events, since I have only been a Shareholder for a year, and you have to be a member of the Shareholder Club to have access to these meetings. Factor into that, that these things are a small gathering, and by no means a big scale meeting, like an AGM for example. It was a select group of no more than 20 people, so I was extremely grateful to attend.
The meeting was held in the Corinthia Hotel in Central London.
The meeting was attended by Philippe Gas, CEO of EuroDisney SAS, the operating company of Disneyland Paris, which in turn is wholly owned by The Walt Disney Company. TWDC owns 39.8% of Disneyland Paris overall in it's EuroDisney SAS capacity. The rest of the shares are privately held by Kingdom Holdings (10%) and Shareholders (50.2%).
Incase you think I've made a mistake, yes the meeting was for EuroDisney SCA members, and the operating company ends with SAS. The difference is that SAS is TWDC (basically under a French name), and SCA is all the other Shareholders grouped together that aren't either Kingdom Holdings, or TWDC,
Anyway, that is not news, but I just wanted to let those of you who don't know about these things how it all works.
The meeting was also attended by EuroDisney SAS's Chief Financial Officer, Mark Stead, and Shareholder Club's Investor Relations Officer, Olivier Lambert.
The meeting was intended to be 90 minutes maximum, but ended up being over 2 hours!
Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am a bit out of touch with taking notes (a long time since school!), and my memory isn't the best, so details might be missing here and there, but I tried my best, and all of the following are the main key points which were discussed.
I'd like to add at this point that Mr Gas, Mr Stead and Mr Lambert were all very nice, and I sincerely believe that Mr Gas has a true passion for the company, listens to the fans and Shareholders, and really takes in everything people say. This isn't the first time I've ever got this impression of him, but seeing it close at hand, almost one-to-one, was refreshing and comforting to know that we have a truly dedicated guy at the helm!
It's easier if I will break things down in to smaller sections, as it's easier to understand. So, here we go!
Entertainment and Characters
Right off the bat, and the item that was covered the most extensively throughout the meeting was entertainment and characters.
It was stressed by all of us how important these aspects of visiting a Disney Park are, and how well DLP have done it in the past, but, sadly now the lack of such things at the park.
Mr Gas acknowledged and completely agreed with our concerns, and cited the following reasons for this years' sudden loss of shows and entertainment.
He said that the economy is still difficult for them, and he and his team have a long list (something he kept referring to throughout the meeting) of things that need to be done, and that they are working on at DLP. He said they are definitely working on new things, but these things take time and money.
He assured us that the situation will change, and that it's just how things have all basically culminated into the current situation.
He told us that for Halloween and Christmas especially DLP don't want to just be great at them again, they want to own them in Europe! He sincerely believes that they can achieve this, and he and his team are really working hard to get it together for this year.
When asked about Mickey's Winter Wonderland, he said that yes it was cut, and never say never, but, it is more likely that we will see something new and different this year for the Christmas re-boot.
He was asked about Fantillusion, and he, quite surprisingly, admitted that the return of Fantillusion had been discussed, but nothing has been confirmed as yet. Again, he said to never rule anything out!
When asked about a theme for next year, after the 20th ends, he said he isn't a fan of "having a celebration for nothing" (referring to New Gen, Magical Moments etc), and it is more likely that we we will see stronger seasons than a year long celebration.
Overall he sounded very committed and understanding of our needs and concerns regarding entertainment. We all felt very confident that he would stay true to his words and that we would see some great new things happening at DLP!
Regarding characters, he said the mess with the non-lines was a concern, and he and his team were aware of the concerns surrounding that.
He asked us how we liked the new Meet Mickey Mouse. We all agreed it's great, and he said that the company has had excellent feedback about it.
When asked about whether Dreams would stay beyond 30th September 2013, he said absolutely it would. He said that over time they intend to evolve it, and develop it. He said the feedback from Dreams was phenomenal, and that the awards still keep rolling in for it!
He said that they are looking at all options, but said he would think it very unlikely that it would be reduced to a few showings per week, and ruled out becoming seasonal like poor Fantillusion.
He said that Dreams allows them to keep hitting guest satisfaction, with mass numbers of people being able to view it at once. He loves that fact that it is unique.
The Walt Disney Studios, Ratatouille, and Resort Development
The WDS are obviously a concern for everyone, but he assured us that they are committed to completely redeveloping the WDS.
When I asked about Ratatouille he wouldn't comment on whether it would be trackless, but guaranteed it would be something completely unique and "spectacular".
When asked about the state of the tram tour, and the future of Armageddon, he said that they aren't in the habit of getting rid of things for the sake of it. They will stay until a time when they really do become redundant, but until that day, they remain in place. They offer a high capacity, and if they were to cut them, people would only complain that he was cutting and not adding stuff!
Mr Stead commented that attractions have 40 (yes FOURTY!) year life expectancy, and it would be a multi-million Euro write-off that is not acceptable, just for the sake of it.
Mr Gas is a true believer in storytelling, and developing things the correct way. He wants to get it right with the WDS now, and writing things off isn't the way to go.
When asked about the permission they were granted for a third resort area, he said that although it is likely in the end it would be third gate, anything is possible, but, for now they have a good 15 years before they need to even worry about that (more precisely he indicated that the 2030 deadline was definitely more likely than any time soon), and that for the time being developing WDS and refurbishing the entire resort was their main priority.
He said that they still have a huge amount of land to develop, and that their deal with the French government was unique in its opportunities to develop state land.
He said that they intend to double their development in the coming years, whether that be with the aforementioned third gate, or other offerings.
He talked about the things they do for the local communities, such as helping build a new hospital in the new region, and how they continue to bring jobs and housing to the area.
We were told that Village Natures is most certainly still being developed, and that it is a 50/50 joint venture between the EuroDisney company and the owner of Village Natures. He actually said that for every Euro the Village Natures will make, they get 50c, but he urged us to be cautious about jumping to conclusions. It will not be a Disney time share (it will be a time share though), it will not feature Disney in any way, shape or form. The project is to offer a different vacation experience, from Europe's largest water park, to a real community.
He said marketing will take a new angle, to begin with mainly Northern Europe, and will be a self containing entity, whereby Disney then hope to cash in on these guests staying there, because of the proximity to Disney.
He said that basically it will be a whole new experience, brought together by Disney's amazing experience in theming and design, business and tourism, and Village Natures own experience in building these kinds of timeshare resorts. The entrance though, will be shared with the Davy Crockett Ranch. An almost subliminal form of advertising!
Refurbishments, Maintenance etc
Mr Gas pointed out that they have worked extremely hard the last two years to get the parks and hotels looking like they did in 1992, and better.
He basically admitted (although not directly, but was implied) that things had slid a little in the past, but he also gave caution to naysayers by saying that the best decisions were made at the time, given all circumstances, but now it was time to move forward in a better direction.
He seemed extremely proud of the work they had done so far, and is very keen to keep guest satisfaction of the resort high, and maintain Disney's high standards of theming and storytelling. Storytelling is one of the things he holds very close to him, and believes is a key factor in making the difference between guests having a good time, and an amazing time. Refurbishments and upgrades are all part of that.
I openly admit I didn't note this down properly, so forgive me if it's not entirely accurate, but he did also mention something about the budget having to be reworked, and now it's better than it was before, and after years of neglect, they can finally catch up with all the refurbishments that need doing.
Guest Behaviour, Smoking and "Turning a Blind Eye"
All members at the Table made it very clear in a strong way to all three present, that we were very concerned about the continued lack of respect by the guests at the park, and the enforcement of the rules by Cast Members.
Mr Gas seemed really fired up by this (in a good way!). He completely understood, and said (and he said it with such passion, I honestly believe him), that he and his team do know, they do understand, and they do try. They said that the biggest problem they face is confrontation which could end in violence. He said that avoiding confrontation was very important, but that they are making "baby steps" in ensuring that the parks are a safe, smoke free environment for all guests. He said that Cast Members do receive all the necessary training, but understood that we still had concerns.
He assured us that they are taking steps to improve things, but it would be slow going (he seemed to reiterate the term "baby steps" a few times).
He said that the landscaping team "cry" when they see the destroyed grass and flowers sometimes, and that they were all very aware of the situation.
Disneyland Park, Marvel and Star Wars
Mr Gas basically said that for now their concern was getting back up to scratch again, and developing WDS. He said that there are long term plans for the park, but that was all for now. He wants to make both parks a multiday experience, seeing as DL Parc can already hold its own.
When asked directly about the rumoured Star Wars area at the back of Discoveryland, Mr Gas dismissed it and said it was pure rumour. He said that Star Tours 2 would probably come eventually, but wasn't a priority for them (he again referred to his" list" of things which needed to come first, which seems to have a lot on it...).
When asked about Star Wars Weekends, he said that actually that was something they had considered, but again, nothing is on the table as yet.
Regarding Marvel, Mr Gas said that in Europe they were in a unique position because they don't have the licensing issues that the US and Japanese Disney Parks have. He didn't go on to explain how this would benefit DLP, but speculated that their addition to the Disney portfolio would bring some good in the end (it was said in a round-about way).
When asked about the loss of the tea party at the Cookout, Mr Gas said that they had looked at the options, and in all honesty, returning it to be a full restaurant again was the best option all round. It meant the location could remain open all day, and was a guest favourite. He admitted himself that it was one of the best locations in the park to dine quick service, to which we all agreed.
Interestingly, and take this how you want, as he did not go further with it, but he said they needed to draw people back in to that area again. By having it a full counter service location again, they would create foot flow back up in to that area of the park, and once they had the foot flow, then they will decide what to do up there.
I asked if there were any plans to bring any more benefits to AP holders (not that we don't get a lot already!), and he said coincidentally they were just in "heavy discussions" about how they can reward AP holders more. Although he didn't go into real specifics, he said two interesting things. One was to reward AP holders by number of visits, and the other by number years you've had an AP.
No other details were given at this point.
I raised the issue of people never getting AP publications (everyone simultaneously agreed this was an issue) and being left out because of the inconsistency in communication. He seemed very concerned by this, made a note, and assured me he'd look in to it.
Shareholder's Club, Salon Mickey, the new rules and it's future
The members at the Table seemed concerned about the new rules that came into force recently about how many shares are now required to become a member (it went up five-fold!).
Mr Lambert guaranteed us that all options had been considered, but the main point was the system was being abused, to which we did all agree.
He said more and more people, especially in the last 3 years had become members purely because the shares had been low, and they wanted the discounts. They really wanted to drop those kinds of memberships, and keep the commitment to the business.
Mr Stead said they had looked at all aspects, how much in losses they were accumulating etc, and said that it amounted to millions of Euros.
Mr Lambert said that compared to virtually all other similar schemes with other companies, EDL Shareholders still got a very good deal. The standard for other companies is actually around a thousand shares (can you imagines?!), so raising it from 20 to 100 was still very low.
He said they had considered not raising the number, but instead axing all the member benefits, but in the end they went with the best option.
People were concerned now that the shares requirement would go up and up even more. We were assured there was no prospect of this any time soon, and that it was very unlikely. It had been years since the last raise (before this one), and so we should not worry.
Mr Gas and Mr Lambert did say that the timeframe for the new requirement would be looked at again, but not guaranteed (people thought it was odd and unfair that, if they wanted to ditch the abusers, making it 100 shares for everyone who's had shares less than 10 years would have to pay the extra. If anyone has shares more than say 4 or 5 years, surely they'd be considered a "fan" or genuine Shareholder. Mr Gas seemed to understand this).
Salon Mickey's hours had been looked at, and they may change to better suit the needs of Shareholder Club members. Mr Lambert acknowledged that most people have already had their hotel breakfast when they arrive at the park, so having Salon Mickey open just for breakfast might have to change. They would still have a three hour schedule, but maybe later in the day.
I suggested that Salon Mickey offer free wifi, Mr Lambert seemed to like this idea and made a note!
Mr Lambert assured us that he does read, and even passes some on to Mr Gas, the comments cards that are filled out by Shareholder Club members when they visit Salon Micky (these cards are on a counter in the Salon, and ask about our experiences and suggestions not just for the Club, but for the resort as a whole. I always fill one out!).
Disney Village, Shopping, Merchandise and Food
Some of us raised concerns about the loss of some of the real specialsed stores, everything becoming generic (I specifically showed my distaste for the Disney Parks stuff from the US). We all stressed we would love to see more DLP exclusive merchandise.
Mr Gas said that the 20th Anniversary merchandise had been popular (he seemed to be quite proud of this), and that more unique things were in the works. As with the attractions and other resort experiences, he is committed to making guests' DLP experience unique, but also was cautious, and seemed to suggest that the Disney Parks merchandise brought them other good things.
As for the loss of real specialisation, he said that this is something they had thought about, and in the Village, the World of Disney has actually given a real boost to the other stores that had started to fade away, because now the clothing store can be really specialised again, as can the Gallery (I guess the former Disney Store wasn't adequate to fill their needs, so the other stores started selling more and more generically, but with the new WOD being so huge, they can go back to specialisation again).
No other plans for the Village were revealed.
The point was raised about how early counter service places closed at the parks, and he seemed to take note of this.
Mr Gas seemed specifically interested in how we liked the Earl of Sandwich!
Someone raised the point about special dietary requirements, and how hard it can be sometimes. Again, Mr Gas and co seemed to take note.
Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show
Mr Gas assured us that BBWWS was still profitable, despite rumours and concerns about it. He said that given that it has been there since day one, he and his team were aware that now they might need to mix things up a bit, and had looked at new options for the arena.
He said that nothing is guaranteed right now though, and for the time being the show remains completely unique (which he likes, and is a key selling point), and remains profitable.
Mr Gas said the free wifi network continued to be rolled out across the resort. We all agreed that the Disneyland Hotel wifi was a godsend! He surprised us by saying the New York had gained wifi in the last couple of days, with the other hotels to come soon.
I asked about mobile interaction and/or apps, and he said it's something they had actually, and will continue to, look into.
Disabled Access and Guest Assistance Cards
Someone asked about the strange situation of the lack or non-gender specific guest assisted bathrooms in the WDS, compared to DL Parc. All three seemed a bit surprised by this, and said they would definitely look into it (a member put forward that when a dad, for example, has a disable daughter, which bathroom would he take her in?). For some reason this issue seems only to exist in WDS.
It was also agreed by everyone that there was inconsistencies with how the Guest Assistance Cards were being treated by Cast Members at attraction entrances. This again seemed to concern the three present, and was made note of.
Money, Money, Money! and TWDC
Of course money matters were raised, and while some of it didn't make sense to me (simply because I'm not money/business minded like that), Mr Gas assured us that they company was doing well.
When asked if the 1% increase in resort revenue was actually significant, he replied saying that DLP were the only company in their market/category/business field that had actually made an increase, while their competitors had all seen decreases in revenue last year. So, a 1% increase may be small, but it proves that while other companies are losing out, DLP is gaining. Very reassuring!
He said that they work closely with their parent company, and they share the same invested interests. He said that TWDC and EuroDisney have common goals and interests regarding the future of DLP.
Overall we all came away very impressed by Mr Gas and his team. Their glowing pride and passion for the job they do was very evident. Mr Gas is truly committed to really making the guest experience at DLP unique and special. He strongly believes in good storytelling, and taking things slow and steady, not rushing into decisions to please the masses. He wants to make the correct decisions for the resort, at the right times.
Throughout the meeting Mr Gas referred to an unseen list that seemed to be infinite in length, of things that they were aware of, and were working on. He kept saying it was all "baby steps" to recover from the damage been done in the past.
All three understood and agreed with all our concerns, but really welcomed our feedback and input.
All three, especially Mr Gas, really seemed to care about what was being said, and I feel like he will personally attend to some of these issues as promised.
Mr Gas seemed to like the idea of these small meetings because they are better for really talking and asking good questions and discussing matters. They usually hold them in France though, and he admitted that this meeting had been a suggestion by another Shareholder at the last meeting, to have one in London... and voila! there we were. Proof again that he listens. Someone wanted a London meeting, two months later they had one!
At the end of the meeting, despite running over 40 minutes late, all three stayed to talk individually to us, take pictures and even sign autographs!
Yes, I got my picture with Mr Gas, and his autograph in my "Year in Review" book they gave too us at the meeting!
I was very impressed with the whole setup, their dedication, and thank them all for their time and passion.
I really look forward to future meetings, and sincerely believe that they are the best guys for the job. I really look forward to DLP's future, and what they have in store!