Can Orlando theme parks keep up with summer demand during staffing struggles?

Memorial Day weekend was a big success for theme parks across the nation. Experts believe this is only the start of a profitable travel season nationwide – and here in Orlando. 

However, with a nationwide labor shortage amid the "great resignation," can the industry meet the demand?

The labor shortage is the number one problem facing the theme park industry, said Paul Cox, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) local 631.

"All departments right now are working mandatory overtime. Some are in six to seven-day categories," he said. IATSE Local 631 represents about 2,000 employees at Disney World, and another 2,000 across Central Florida, who work behind the scenes to make the magical shows at the parks possible.

He said the union is looking to fill roughly 100 vacancies at Disney World to meet the summer demand.

"Even if they were at pre-pandemic levels, one could argue that there needs to be more staff than there was pre-pandemic," said Cox. 

He said the service industry in the area – a major staple of Orlando's theme park, convention, and hotel economy – is struggling as a whole. Wages six months ago are no longer cutting it, with rent, gas, food, and inflation continuing to increase.

Although Dennis Speigel, chairman and founder of International Theme Park Services, said those same factors are also driving more people back to work.

"All the big parks are hiring or holding job fairs trying to fill positions literally on a weekly basis," he said. Orlando's theme parks have 15%-20% fewer staff than 2019, but are up 20% compared to last year, he said.

View open positions at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, and Legoland Florida.

"Orlando being a destinations' location isn’t experiencing the seriousness of it like in the regional theme parks, but there is still a shortage at Disney, Universal, Sea World, I-Drive, and the other operations," Speigel said.

Visit Orlando projects more visitors to Orlando in June and July compared to before the pandemic. If that pace continues, Orlando would see record revenues.

"In a pre-pandemic normal year, the economic impact is about $75 billion, so it’s really important that we recover this industry because the benefit is enormous for our community," said Denise Spiegel, senior director of public relations at Visit Orlando.