The Shanghai Disney Resort is not yet even open but Disney fans have been gushing about early artwork released by Disney through its various channels (lately in particular the official Disney fan club D23) – and it seems not only the fans are gushing about the new venture that is set to offer a whole new concept for a Magic Kingdom style park. No, the business side seems to be more convinced by the project than ever.
Having learned from the complaints that Hong Kong Disneyland drew when it opened for being “too small” the Shanghai Disney Resort and in particular its theme park already were already a significantly larger project in its first phase. And now that project just got bigger – by $800 million.
Robert Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, announced during the panel “China In Transition: Still A Land Of Opportunity?” of the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 28, 2014 that TWDC (holding 43% of the project) and its local partner Shanghai Shendi Group (holding 57% of the project) will jointly invest a further $800 million into the Shanghai Disney Resort (each one investing an according part of this sum based on their shares in the project).
Robert Iger stated: “We’ve decided that we would accelerate the expansion of the park while we are building it. We’ve always expected that this park would expand and that it had huge potential but we’ve been so impressed with what we have seen [...] we are announcing today that we are putting an additional $800 million into the project so we make it a $5.5 billion project on the onset. With that will come more attractions, basically more entertainment and some other services as well, food and dining being another aspect of it, other forms of entertainment. A big step and a huge vote of confidence not just in the market but obviously in this project“. Considering the stated overall planned investment in the project of now $5.5 billion the (included) addition of $800 million equals an impressive increase of 17%!
Robert Iger further detaield that currently about 8,000 construction workers are working and living on the future resort property. The full video of the panel is currently available for online streaming on the website of Milken Institute Global Conference (Robert Iger is addressed starting about 9:01 min. into the panel and then presents the Shanghai Disney Resort project, the additional investment is announced about starting about 11:19 min.).
However, fans should take note that Robert Iger did not state how this additional amount will be devided. While he spoke of an “acceleration of the expansion of the park” and “more attractions” he also carefully worded that the additional investment goes “into the project” and that it would also cover “other services” such as “food and dining“. Whether all of these are to be located inside the Disneyland Park would need to be awaited. Afterall the project is the full resort and that consists of the Disneyland park, a retail, dining and entertainment area, hotels, a lake, recreational facilities, transit hubs and parking.
Also, the statement did not state whether the additional investment will be realized in time for the expected opening of the resort in 2015 – or whether it may be for a brought forward phase 2 resp. a new phase 1.5 allowing for the addition of new offerings within a relative short time span after opening, as was realized with new small scale attractions in Fantasyland (the Old Mill ferris wheel, the Storyland Boats and Casey Jr.) and the Indiana Jones coaster in Adventureland for Disneyland Paris for example. The resort may need these additional attractions as Robert Iger also explained that – due to high speed rail connections - ”330 million income qualified people will live within a 3 hour trip to this park. 330 million people that we would consider capable of affording a visit to Shanghai Disneyland. That is obvious valuable for us and is one of the reasons why we accelerate expansion“.
However, the race is now open for Disney fans to find out: which additional attractions and other offerings is Imagineering now preparing to add to the resort???
For all Disney historians further remarks by Robert Iger later in the panel discussion (starting at roughly 22:27 min.) should be of interest too. In it he confirmed that – besides weather issues – the air quality / pollution at Bejing was worse than in Shanghai at the time that TWDC decided to build the resort. He states “First of all it led to a decision to put the park in Shanghai certainly rather than in Bejing” – implying that at least Bejing (maybe even more locations) were originally in contention as location for the resort as well. Another interesting details concerns the run-up to the signing of the contracts: “Our negotiations to build this park was a decade long“. Starting 42:55 min. into the panel discussions the audience further learned that the chain of (according to Robert Igner) about 40 Disney English language schools now operated in China grew out of a single training facility which Robert Iger approved for Shanghai – presumably in connection with / preparation for the Shanghai Disney Resort – however, he also admits that he is not sure whether this business will reach the scale they originally expected for it.
We should expect more from TWDC on the Chinese market in the future because, as Robert Iger in his closing remarks (starting about 56:03 min.) states: “We need China to create growth for our company and I think for many other multinational companies [...] There aren’t that many markets to turn to that are as obvious or as I think as exciting - as hard as it is - in terms of the potential“.