Disney has been using brand cachet to its advantage during a four-year recruiting drive to staff up at Shanghai Disneyland. It’s the company’s sixth park worldwide, and Chief Executive Robert Iger called it the company’s greatest business opportunity since founder Walt Disney bought land in central Florida in the 1960s.
It’s also a massive management challenge: Iger said last year the park would employ about 10,000 workers in an economy where rapid-fire turnover and uneven customer service can be challenges for multinational corporations.
Sara Wong, Kelly Services’ Hong Kong director of recruitment process outsourcing, said that there is a huge gap between Disney's standard of customer service and normal Chinese standards as the upcoming Shanghai park is not hiring 10 people but 10,000.
Disney recruited heavily from the Chinese hospitality, retail and catering industries and then trained its new hires to run a park with myriad attractions, musical acts and all manner of retail outlets.
There currently are about 8,000 workers at the Shanghai park, people with direct knowledge of the matter said. Hiring for park and hotel operations, food and beverage outlets and merchandise sales started in October, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
Disney will be aiming to set a new high bar for service in China, where local parks’ standards of cleanliness, maintenance and customer service are generally lower than international operators’, said Yoshii, who’s based in Hong Kong. Disney opened a Hong Kong park in 2005, yet it’s less than a third the size of the Shanghai project and in a city where the workforce is more internationalized.
“It’s common to see a lack of upkeep, like peeling, faded paint and busted light bulbs,” Yoshii said of Chinese theme parks. “There’s also a lack of engagement by staff with visitors, as opposed to the norm in Disneyland, where staff proactively greet and help people and are even expected to break into song and do impromptu performances.”
Companies typically screen seven applicants for every job, recruiting agencies said -- meaning Disney sorted through about 70,000 applications for Shanghai.
Disney organized job fairs to hire thousands of waiters, cooks, cleaners and costumed street performers. And the company cast a wide net, regardless of past experience, in hiring, Wong said.
Disney also is using training, benefits and perks (including free passes) as lures rather than base compensation, which from a multinational company is likely to be lower than Chinese state-owned companies, said Kimberly Hubble, executive general manager for recruitment process outsourcing in Asia at Sydney-based Hudson.
Those who have accepted job offers cite an 8,000 yuan ($1,237) monthly salary for an entry-level job.
Disney should be prepared for turnover rates of between 30 percent to 40 percent, recruitment agencies said. Neither the benefits nor the brand would retain ambitious workers seeking better pay packages, said Y.C Tong, vice-president of talent acquisition at China RPO group in Hong Kong.
“Good quality people, once they work for an organization like Disney and gain experience, have a tendency to leave,” he said. “Moving from one job to another is how they increase their compensation at a very fast pace.”
Also, Shanghai Disney will face greater competition from local rivals. Industry consultancy Aecom estimated that 59 new theme parks will open by 2020, serving an estimated 220 million park-goers. That’s roughly the size of the entire U.S. market right now.
The Shanghai region looks set to become the Orlando of China, with five mega-projects to open there, Aecom said. DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc has a $2.4 billion DreamCenter scheduled for 2017; Haichang Ocean Park Holdings will open China’s largest marine park that year; and Six Flags Entertainment Corp. will open its first park outside North America in 2019.
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