Disney's goal is to keep rooms at around 88% occupancy. Instead, in the last two years, room occupancy has averaged about 82% (Source: Orlando Sentinel). Keeping "heads in the beds" is about more than just filling rooms. Guests who stay on property tend to spend their money there, not just on lodging but on food and on other items that they'll need during their stay. Guest patronage keeps those shops and restaurants running. Of course, it's not just Disney that's feeling the pinch during this time. Head down International Drive or Highway 192 and you'll see plenty shuttered hotels and restaurants that have fallen victim to the economy. But as the biggest, most reputable name in town, Disney isn't accustomed to having to fight for guests.
Disney offers a superior product, no question, and the lure of that quality and service will always bring guests on site, even during a difficult economy. Nonetheless, Disney can't rest on their laurels and they know it. To compete with off site resorts, Disney has added new amenities that meet guests' needs. Some might say, a little late. Remember when you couldn't get free internet access at a Disney resort but you could get it at the Super 8 right off property? That didn't sit well with guests. Well now you can finally get it at every resort in Walt Disney World. This is in response to guest surveys that indicated a high level of dissatisfaction over the this issue. Room size has always been a thorny issue. Those with larger families have often had to stay off site. The addition of family suites at the Art of Animation will solve some of that problem. And even something as simple as adding refrigerators to value rooms makes those rooms more attractive to guests who might otherwise balk at not having a fridge in their room and take their business elsewhere.
All of this is good news for you and me. I'll be honest: It would take a lot for me to stay off site. I love the convenience and the quality that staying in a Disney resort offers me. But these new perks and the possibility of some great discounts in the fall just make it all the more appealing.
If you'd like to read more about room changes, please see this article in the Orlando Sentinel.