Catching Up on Disney Hotels & Resorts

Travel Agent recently had the opportunity to catch up with Randy Garfield, who holds the lengthy title of executive vice president worldwide sales and travel operations, Disney Destinations and president Walt Disney Travel Company. Here are just a few of the updates from Disney’s tourism world.

“We always have a long-term view of the industry,” Garfield said early on. “In spite of [recent] instability, we’re confident that we have a great brand, and you can’t turn things on overnight. You must plan ahead.” To that extent, the company has added three new hotels to its Disney Deluxe portfolio, and is renovating 4,000 rooms at its resorts.

At Disneyland, the resort’s hotel is getting not just a renovation, but what Garfield calls a “reimagining.” Rooms are being dismantled, and the infrastructure is being redeveloped. The three towers will get new windows with blue reflective glass that will regulate both noise and temperatures. The renovation will also include energy efficiency upgrades, including occupancy sensors, new light bulbs, and low-flo toilets. (Funky, and truly Disney-esque touch: Headboards in the redesigned rooms will have fiber-optic lights to give the illusion of fireworks.)

For Disney fans who don’t want to leave Fido behind, Walt Disney World will be debuting a “pet resort”—a facility for pet hospitality services including walks, boarding and pampering while the humans experience the main resort. “This is not a [separate] hotel,” Garfield emphasized. “It’s a standalone facility operated by Best Friends.”

And, of course, there’s the upcoming Hawaiian resort—Aulani—which is scheduled to open in 2011. Room sales will start this summer. The hotel will spread across 21 acres of oceanfront property, with 360 rooms and 481 Disney Vacation Club villas. Among the amenities families can enjoy, Garfield said, are the obligatory pools and hot tubs, but also a snorkel lagoon, an 18,000-square-foot spa, a golf course, and a marina. (The resort, he noted, is adjacent to an existing marina.)

“There is no better time to be a travel agent,” Garfield said. “With the offers today, consumers are confronted with so many options that they need professional advice to help them. When times get tough, people seek out the brands that they know and trust. They want to spend their money where they know they’ll get value. We’re confident that we’re a company people grew up with, and they know we’ll exceed their expectations.”

Agents who focus only on what’s new will miss opportunities, he continued. If a client doesn’t come to a Disney resort for two or three years, they can see lots of new things when they do return. “We’re a place people go to to escape the realities of everyday life and to bond with family members,” Garfield said. “The economic turndown has focused people on experiences rather than things.”