Beyond Tokyo: Disney’s Expansion in Asia
DISNEY IN ASIA
Early in 1999, Michael Eisner, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, voiced his opinions concerning potential markets for his firm’s entertainment products and services. A major thrust for the new millenium would be development in Asia.
• We could be getting close to the time for a major Disney attraction in the world’s most populous nation.”
The Walt Disney Company, Annual Report, 1998.
• “I am completely confident that Chinese people love Mickey no less than they love a Big Mac.”
Statement by Michael Eisner, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, during a trip to China in January 1999, Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, 16 June 1999.
INTERNATIONAL THEME PARKS AND RESORTS: DISNEY EXPERIENCE
Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris)
DISNEY AND CHINA IN THE 1990s
Relations between the Disney Company and the government of China had not been particularly tranquil in recent years.
Disney held firm on its position on the movie. “Disney’s potential business in China is infinite. But Disney has to decide whether it wants to facilitate business or stand for free speech.”
Not all of Disney’s relationships with China were negative however. The liberalization of China’s markets had generated benefits for the firm. ‘The Lion King’ had brought in almost $4 million in 1996 and the soundtrack had sold 1.4 million copies.
POTENTIAL OF THE ASIAN MARKET
Building and investing in a multi-billion dollar theme park would represent another major, long-term commitment for The Walt Disney Company. Therefore, much research and planning were involved in this decision. In addition to the attractiveness of each of the remaining cities, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the market characteristics of the demand for theme park experiences by the Chinese people would have to be carefully evaluated.
Although the success of the Tokyo Disney theme park would strengthen the case for another facility in Asia, other data and experience brought up additional questions. Between 1993 and 1998, more than 2000 theme parks had been opened in China, developed and financed by both domestic and foreign investors. Disney management was convinced that a huge, child-loving populace would support a lively theme park business. Instead, many projects were swamped by excessive competition, poor market projections, high costs, and relentless interference from local officials.
The Chinese had a cultural disposition toward pampering children, which had been accentuated by the nation’s one-child per couple policy. Although many theme parks in China had not been successful, it was still generally believed that an exciting experience of high quality would attract visitors to a park. A mundane experience would be unlikely to spark interest in a second visit. Based on the repeat visitors at every other Disney theme park, management was quite confident that they would be successful in attracting Chinese visitors not only the first time, but also the second, third, and fourth times.
CASE Questions for Review
1. What cultural challenges are posed by Disney’s expansion into Asia? How are these different from those in Europe?
There are some cultural challenges posed by Disney’s expansion into Asia.
For example, Disney in Hong Kong soon realized that its attempts at cultural sensitivity had not gone far enough. For instance, the decision to serve shark fin soup, a local favorite greatly angered environmentalists. The park ultimately had to remove the dish from its menus.
Furthermore, there is negative media coverage of the relatively new theme park for Hong Kong Disneyland in terms of cultural challenge.
On the other hand, in order to make the park “culturally sensitive”, Hong Kong Disneyland would be trilingual with English, Cantonese and Mandarin. The park would also include a fantasy garden for taking picture with the Disney’s...
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