US entertainment giant Walt Disney looks to have hit the ground running in the world’s largest consumer market, with Shanghai Disneyland on track to achieve break-even in the first year of operation, CEO Robert Iger said on Friday.
That is the first such achievement among Disney’s recently built facilities, Iger said.
The conglomerate’s latest and most expensive investment, which has received more than 11 million visitors, marked its first anniversary on Friday.
The Shanghai resort also reported its first profitability in the fiscal quarter that ended on April 1.
With the new Toy Story Land set to be operational next year, Iger said his company is ready to further invest in this landmark resort to make it even bigger, a topic discussed during a meeting with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong on Thursday.
“This is an amazing place that is beyond our most ambitious expectations,” Iger said. “We are proud that we’ve built something that is culturally relevant … and so embraced by the Chinese people.”
The visitor turnout would place Shanghai Disneyland among the top 10 amusement parks in the world by attendance, on the benchmark of 2016 statistics by the Themed Entertainment Association and consultancy Aecom.
The company has leveraged the park to create synergies and inspire other business developments in China.
For instance, it used the Shanghai resort to pump up the opening of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, on the premise that China is “an extremely vital market for the future of our studios and movie business”.
“We believe that a successful theme park in China would increase people’s awareness of, and appreciation for, the Disney brand and the stories behind it,” Iger said.
Feng Xuegang, vice-dean of the School of Economics and Management at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said a crucial reason for the park’s early success is that the brand has gone to great lengths to ensure that the park featured unique Chinese elements not found in its other parks.
“From building a garden featuring the Disney versions of the Chinese zodiac animals to recruiting local talent in the resort, it is clear the company has placed much focus on localization to win the China battlefield,” he said.
Shanghai Disneyland also came at a time when social media in the country are booming, according to Xia Lingen, a professor of the Department of Tourism at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Visitors to Shanghai Disneyland often arrive with “must-see” lists derived from numerous social media sites as well as the brand’s own mobile app.
China’s theme park industry is poised to experience major growth, thanks to rising income levels.
Real estate services provider Colliers International expects that theme park attendance in China will surpass that in the United States, making it the world’s largest, by 2020.