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A Chinese Disneyland Would Need to Adapt in Order to Succeed: Analysts

by Patrick Baert

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 99/01/07 Compiled by Nima Dorjee]

BEIJING, Jan 7 (AFP) -

The Walt Disney Company would need to make big  adjustments if it wants to succeed as a major attraction in the Chinese market, which is already saturated with theme parks, analysts said Thursday.Disney chairman Michael Eisner said Wednesday that he was  considering the possibility of a major amusement attraction in China, paving the way for a possible third Disneyland outside the United States along with those in Tokyo and Paris.

"As evidenced by the popularity of McDonald's, we could be getting close to the time for a major Disney attraction in the world's most populous nation," Eisner said.

Eisner said that following a visit to China late last year he had been inspired by the success there of the McDonald's fast-food chain."I am completely confident that the Chinese people love Mickey Mouse no less than

Big Mac," he said in a letter to shareholders, adding that he planned to meet McDonald's chairman Jack Greenburg "to ask him how they managed to make the fries taste just as good in Shanghai as on Sunset Boulevard."

Disney characters Donald Duck, known in China as Tang Laoya, and Mickey Mouse, or Mi Laoshu, are as popular among Chinese children as they are elsewhere, despite attempts by the Communist regime to prevent the onslaught of American cultural imperialism.

Well aware of possible political sensitivities, Eisner said Disney would have to "remember we are guests, and not just export our American product but produce locally created entertainment that reflects local cultures as well."Eisner made a secretive trip to China in October, renewing ties with Beijing which were damaged by Disney's 1996 production of "Kundun", a film about Tibet which enraged the leadership.

"The Chinese government held a lot of discussions about a possible Disneyland in 1996, but the two sides couldn't even get as far as choosing a city for the site," said a tourism official in Shanghai. "Since then, discussions have reached a stalemate."

China's thriving metropolis and financial centre, Shanghai, which lies at the heart of the richest and most densely populated regions of the country, would be a good choice for a Disney theme park.

Hong Kong and neighbouring Zhuhai, which both pleaded their case with Disney, were provisionally ruled out at the beginning of November.But analysts said any project in China would still have to convince international investors, who have got their fingers burnt before in similar operations.

"A project like that would need plenty of visitors who were willing to spend lots of money," a Western tourism expert told AFP. "I'm not sure that Chinese households have high enough incomes to merit such an investment."One of China's most successful theme parks -- Nine Dragons Park, opened in 1990 on a site to the north of Beijing with Japanese investment -- is still not turning a profit in spite of investments totalling 200 million dollars.

To succeed, Disney would have to adapt to local conditions and reduce the entry price to a minimum. In addition, it would have to face the saturated theme park sector in China, where parks are closing one after the other after a rash of openings in the economic boom of the early nineties.

Most of these parks, many dedicated to legends from China's past, were never properly capitalised from the start and located on the outskirts of major cities away from public transport facilities, the western expert said."In Shanghai, we still have more than 30 theme parks in operation, but most of them are in deficit," a municipal official told AFP.

In contrast with Eurodisney, a Chinese Disney would not be able to count on visitors from neighbouring countries as the Japanese already have their own park.

"But Disney knows its stuff and has ways of dealing with the inevitable losses from this kind of operation during the first few years," the Western expert said.

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