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Jay Rasulo

Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

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Q: What kind of advantage do you have? What’s the difference between Disney telling a story? Other hotels have been trying to educate tourists about the host culture.

A: I don’t want to sound too much on my high horse, but I think we really have a culture of storytelling. Even in the telling of our own stories, we use kind of a layering where you come and you’re casual, you’re walking through, you know you’ll only get the most obvious. If you’re really interested and you go deeper and deeper into the layers, things reveal themselves that are all consistent with a single story. Given those skills that we apply from all the artistic disciplines, all of the technical disciplines, I think that we’re first storytellers and second hoteliers. Most of the companies who come are first hoteliers. That’s their business. And for us a hotel is just another opportunity to tell a great story to people you happen to have in residence.

Q: This is Disney’s first stand-alone resort. How does this fit into the overall Disney business?

A: Our theme parks are made up of mostly families who repeat: they’ve been before, they come back, they’ve been as children, they come back as adults. … But we know that even our most avid customers and guests who come back again and again do lots of other things with their family. They go on city tours, they go to resort destinations, they cruise, they do a bunch of different things.

And we really have the skills and the ambition right now to really broaden our footprint and to become more of family vacation life than we are today. Even though we’re well known for one type of vacation, when we opened our cruise line, we became known for another kind of vacation, a cruise vacation. Now we’re trying to offer a product that is a weeklong or short-stay getaway for people that doesn’t involve going on theme park attractions or being on a cruise ship, but involves the same kind of activities, attention to detail and great services that we do in our other businesses.

Q: How has the recession affected other Disney Vacation Club properties?

A: Both from our perspective as the developers of the resorts and, interestingly, (from the prospective of) guests who really are buying 50 years of vacations within the vacation club, I think both we and they take the long view. Business cycles don’t last forever and our guests are thinking about a long-term relationship with Disney for 50 years in our vacation clubs, and we in building a resort like the one here in Hawaii are thinking, “OK this recession is not going to last forever.” Hawaii is still going to be one of the few prized family destinations in the world, and we want to be part of that. We tend to take the long view and really haven’t changed our direction very much.

Q: Right now, Hawaii is suffering from its worst tourism downturn in a long time. What advice would you give the tourism industry?

 A:I think we always have to remember that we have to stay true to who we are and we have to treat people the same way, whether they’re our cast members or whether they’re our guests. We have to stay on our narrative, stay on our story and not deviate because, when times get better, they’ll remember who stuck true to the way they do business and their principles and who didn’t. Yes, it does take some incentives that are different during a downturn to get people to come. There are many companies here in Hawaii offering incentives, but that’s part of the business cycle. I think if we stick to what we do well, continue to do it the way we know how, that our loyal customers are going to stay with us through the good times.

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Hawaii Business,December