How Shanghai Disneyland try to avoid putting off Chinese visitors
Drawing on lessons of parks in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Walt Disney Co. has gone to great lengths to avoid cultural faux pas at its latest theme park in China.
On June 16, Disney opened its biggest and most expensive international resort – a more than 400 hectare, US$5.5 billion development in Shanghai – and company executives know the challenges of trying to take the Disney magic abroad. An opening-day misstep or cultural faux pas at the Shanghai Disney resort could dent Disney’s hugely popular brand.
Disney’s target is the country’s upper middle class, which is forecast to double to 100 million by 2020, according to the Boston Consulting Group. The Chinese tourism industry represents US$610 billion in spending in China and abroad, and the Chinese government predicts that it also will double by 2020.
The joint venture behind Shanghai Disney – Disney holds a 43 per cent stake and state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group owns the rest – insists it was well prepared for the grand opening of the Shanghai resort, which is nearly twice the size of the Southern California Resort.
Designers added more seating at restaurants after finding that Chinese guests linger longer over meals, and incorporated more live entertainment after realising that many Chinese patrons like those shows as well as – or better than – adrenaline-inducing rides.
Among the other innovations and adaptations slated for the Shanghai park are rigid barriers to encourage more orderly queuing, wider thoroughfares than in other Disney parks and extensive picnic areas to appeal to extended families with grandparents in tow. There’s also a mobile phone app that delivers updates on wait times and can warn prospective guests to stay away if the park is at capacity.
Disney faces steep competition in China, where as many as 60 theme parks are under construction or being planned, including projects by Universal Parks & Resorts, Six Flags Entertainment and Dalian Wanda Group, one of China’s biggest conglomerates.
In 2014, Disney and Shanghai Shendi announced that they were increasing their investment in the park by US$800 million to US$5.5 billion. Last year, the companies pushed the opening date back a year to 2016.
Some observers speculated that the extra investment and revised timeline were the result of cost overruns and other problems, but the companies say they simply wanted to expand the number of attractions that would be ready on opening day.
Perhaps Disney’s smoothest theme park opening outside of the US was its very first in Tokyo in 1983. That project was built by Disney but operated by a Japan-based leisure and hospitality company, Oriental Land Co, with a licensing agreement with Disney.
The 46.5-hectare park was built with near-identical attractions to those in Disneyland, and last year hosted 16.6 million visitors, according to Aecom and the Themed Entertainment Association.
It is said that Disney’s biggest problem at the Shanghai park will be managing crowds. About 330 million people are estimated to live within a three-hour drive or train ride from Shanghai Disney.
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