Cultivating Magic and Nostalgia: Walt Disney World and Trends in Global Theme Park Tourism

Cultivating Magic and Nostalgia: Walt Disney World and Trends in Global Theme Park Tourism

Erika Cornelius Smith (Nichols College, USA) and Maryann Conrad (Nichols College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2603-3.ch007
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Abstract

In 2018, the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida was the world's most-visited theme park, with nearly 20.8 million visitors. The influence of Disney is only growing, as Disneyland attendance was up 2% in 2018, drawing an average of more than 51,000 people a day. This study will argue that Disney's success, in part, draws on the ability to create authentic nostalgia tourism experiences for its guests. After situating the Walt Disney Company and its experiences in the literature on cultural tourism and memorable tourism experiences (MTEs), this study will explain the significance of nostalgia tourism and offer specific examples from the Walt Disney World theme park model. This includes examples from the six Disney resorts and 12 Disney parks globally.
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Introduction

We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. – Walt Disney.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the travel and tourism industry is one of the world's largest economic sectors, supporting one in 10 jobs (319 million) worldwide and generating 10.4% (US$8.8 trillion) of world GDP in 2018. In 2018, travel and tourism experienced 3.9% growth, compared to the global economy (3.2%) and one in five new jobs were created by the industry over the last five years.

Within the broader industry, cultural tourism has been deemed one of the fastest growing segments within the tourism industry and has become a focus of interest for national governments as well as international organizations such as the World Tourism Organization and UNESCO (du Cros, 2001; World Tourism Organization, 2005).

Scholars who examine the tourism and hospitality industry argue that there is a segment of cultural tourists that has not been properly accounted for as many of today’s cultural tourists are not seeking other cultures, but rather insights into their own ancestral culture. This practice is now often referred to as “nostalgic tourism” (Russell 2008).

While the majority of studies on nostalgia tourism have focused on ethnic or identity-based connections, this research expands the body of literature by suggesting that other travel experiences and forms of tourism are able to generate similar personal, emotional connections for guests. This chapter will discuss the approach of theme parks in creating nostalgic tourism experiences with specific attention to the model created by Walt Disney World Resorts and Theme Parks.

In 2018, Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida was the world’s most-visited theme park, with nearly 20.8 million visitors, according to an annual report released by Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM, which tracks and ranks attendance at theme parks around the world. In the same year, over 157 million people visited a Disney theme park somewhere in the world and Disney owned the four busiest theme parks in the world. And the influence of Disney is only growing, as Disneyland attendance was up 2% in 2018, drawing 18.6 million visitors. That’s an average of more than 51,000 people a day.

This study will argue that Disney’s success, in part, draws on the ability to create authentic nostalgia tourism experiences for its guests. After situating the Walt Disney Company and its experiences in the literature on cultural tourism and memorable tourism experiences (MTEs), this study will explain the significance of nostalgia tourism and offer specific examples from the Walt Disney World theme park model. This includes examples from the six Disney resorts and 12 Disney parks globally.

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