China's Craving for Entertainment Drives Shanghai Disney Growth

(Bloomberg) -- As he opened an expansion to what is proving to be one of Walt Disney Co.’s most successful theme parks, CEO Bob Iger said the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort will keep expanding to satisfy Chinese consumers’ “strong and growing demand for high-quality themed entertainment.”

The new area, a Toy Story Land in the style of the blockbuster movie franchise, is one of the fastest-paced expansions for a Disney theme park, driven by the pent-up need of China’s growing middle class for family entertainment options. The Shanghai park logged more than 11 million visitors in its first year of operations, putting it in the top seven of theme parks worldwide.

Iger did not say whether the Burbank, California-based media and entertainment company plans to open a new park in China, although he told Bloomberg in a TV interview last year that there’s potential for Disney to build a second park in the long run.

Asked by a reporter at a media briefing if Disney may be impacted by the fallout from simmering trade tensions between the U.S. and China, Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weis said Disney is creating jobs in China and sees the park as “a local project.”

“We are a local company,” he said. “We design and develop stories, we work with the best talent here in China. Everything here is built and made in China. Our focus is on knowing this audience and having them feel that this park belongs to them.”

Disney has emphasized its efforts to incorporate Chinese elements into the design of the Shanghai resort, said Weis, who heads the unit responsible for theme park design. Weis has noted that in planning for the Shanghai park, Disney nixed the idea of placing a dragon in the castle dungeon due to China’s reverence for the creature.

Toy Story Land boasts a giant Chinese spinning top at its entrance, a popular toy among Chinese children. The idea came about because Disney had polled its Chinese staffers on their favorite childhood toys, wanting to incorporate these next to the toy soldiers, train tracks and stuffed dogs from the film.

The park is a joint venture between Disney and Shanghai Shendi Group, a local state-run consortium that owns 57 percent.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Rachel Chang in Shanghai at wchang98@bloomberg.net.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

With assistance from Rachel Chang