Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 30, 2009
A month after the Chinese government finally gave the okay for Shanghai Disneyland, skeptics are pointing out the park’s success is hardly a sure thing. The latest edition of the Beijing Review (“China’s National English Weekly”), just out today, proudly states how China “will be the first country to host more than one Disneyland.” (First country outside the U.S., that should be, since the U.S. has parks in Anaheim and Orlando.) However, the Beijing Review adds, “amid the profit frenzy and hopes for commercial and industrial growth brought by the little mouse from overseas, doubts and uncertainty also arose. Shanghai’s local newspapers reported that it will cost 24.4 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) for the first phase of construction of Shanghai Disneyland. Disneyland had long been regarded as the most expensive theme park in the world, especially compared to its profitability. To date, out of the three overseas Disneylands in the world, only the Tokyo park has seen profits.”
The weekly even indulges in some French-style Disney bashing. “Targeting children as its major visitors, Shanghai Disneyland will hardly attract the millennium-born generation, which has not developed a close link with the classic Disney cartoon characters. ‘I doubt whether Chinese children will be interested in the septuagenarian and octogenarian Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck,’ said Shi Jianxiong, a professor at the School of Economics and Management of Tongji University.” Sorry, professor, but as senior citizens go, Mickey and Donald look pretty sprightly, and I doubt Chinese kids care any more than American kids do when the characters first got their start. Moreover, the quality of Disney’s rides and other attractions are really what pulls in customers, and it’s a pretty safe bet that Shanghai Disneyland’s will be much better than what local rivals can offer.
The real concern for Shanghai Disneyland is the news that the park, despite earlier hype about it being the world’s largest, is going to start off very modestly: Just 116 hectares in the first phase. That’s smaller than Hong Kong Disneyland, which has struggled since opening in 2005 because it just doesn’t have enough attractions to keep kids and their parents entertained for more than a day. (I’ve never been to Orlando but I’ve made my share of trips to Anaheim, where you need a good two or three days to see everything.) “It’s a small Disney after all for Shanghai,” crowed Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post last week. “So much for the best laid plans of mice and men,” the paper’s page-one story began. “After being billed as the mother of all theme parks, Shanghai’s new Disneyland will be the smallest yet.”
Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disneyland is growing. Disney and the Hong Kong government, the two partners in the Hong Kong Disneyland joint venture, have agreed on a plan to expand the park, adding three new lands to the existing four. (I suspect it wasn’t a coincidence that Beijing delayed giving approval to Shanghai until Disney and Hong Kong reached a deal to make Hong Kong Disneyland big enough to compete.) Hong Kong Disneyland today denied a report over the weekend that there are plans for even more expansion, but for now that’s not necessary. After years of worries here about competition from up north, Hong Kong’s much-maligned Disneyland is surprisingly well positioned.