Don C. Robinson (right) spent over 30 years with The Walt Disney Company, most recently as EVP and Group Managing Director responsible for the opening and development of Hong Kong Disneyland. Prior to this, as EVP of Operations for Walt Disney World he was responsible for 4 theme parks, 30, 000 hotel rooms and around 35, 000 employees. Since 2006 he has been president of Baha Mar Resorts Ltd., managing the development of a $3.5B Destination Resort located in Nassau.
Blooloop’s Chad Emerson spoke with him.
Related Themed Entertainment and the Guest-Centric Experience: AO&A's Bonnie Kersten / Top 40 Magical Events at the Walt Disney World Resort During the First Four Decades / Long-time Disney PR guru Dave Herbst reflects on brilliant rainbows, dark clouds and showers / China’s Disney? Zhang Jizhong and his Monkey Kingdom Theme Park / The Future of Theme Park IP? Disney App Makes Splash in China /
Share with us how you first got started working in the amusement industry.
I began working at Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida when I was 19 years old as a summer job to help pay my way through college. My first position was as a dishwasher working at the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom 6 months after Walt Disney World opened. After that first summer in the Magic Kingdom I realized that this temporary job could end up being a career for me and after I graduated from the University of Central Florida I entered the Disney Management Program.
What were some of the biggest changes you saw in your 30+ years at Disney?
I think there were two areas, the first was the tremendous growth that occurred at Walt Disney World during the 80’s and 90’s. I was lucky enough to open 12 hotels, several additional theme parks, water parks, retail and dining locations etc. These were very exciting times to be with Disney. The second, which came later, was working as Disney expanded internationally and being involved in the opening of Disneyland Paris, the hotels at Tokyo Disneyland and of course my last assignment, the development and opening of the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.
What have been some of the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on and why?
I have worked on many rewarding projects with the Disney Company, several come to mind I think due to their strategic value for Disney. The opening of Disney’s Grand Floridian started the hotel growth spurt at Walt Disney World that added thousands of new hotel rooms and convinced the company that there was tremendous value to having our guests enjoy an extend Disney experience outside the theme parks. Secondly the opening of Disney’s first theme park in China was extremely rewarding and taking the magic of Disney, the characters and stories to another country was very rewarding.
What about some of the most challenging ones?
I think the opening of Disneyland Paris was extremely challenging, the size and magnitude of opening a project on this size and scale was unique. Complicating the challenge was the diversity of cultures and communication styles. Local work norms, labour laws etc all had to be learned and adjusted to. Just simply transplanting Disney and its management approaches to Paris did not work well initially but today it is one of the most visited destinations in Europe. It just took some time to adjust the Disney experience to the expectations of a European audience.
What unique issues does a company face when operating theme parks both domestically and internationally?
Domestically it is the delivery of the guest experience that everyone expects. The day to day delivery of the product, entertainment and guest experience should never be taken for granted. Staying relevant in a very mature market is also a challenge, there are many things competing for entertainment dollars and time and making sure you are relevant and top of mind for families is critical. From an international perspective it is finding your place in the cultural framework of the destination you are working in, being respectful of the local people and their beliefs are very important. Understanding the unique markets and how you will appeal to many different cultural differences are critical to the success of an international destination.
It’s a beautiful autumn afternoon. Share with us your perfect theme park experience on that day.
I love the theme parks in the evenings, the lighting, the entertainment, the music all come alive in the evening. Watching fireworks while having a fabulous dinner in EPCOT while watching other guests experience the magic of what happens around them while not even realizing the tremendous orchestrations of what it takes to deliver an exciting theme park evening is very special to me.