Disney, or Di-Si-Ni as it is called in Chinese, might be up for another Disneyland Paris experience. At least, that is what Mr. Jianlin Wang seems to think. Last Sunday, Mr. Wang, who also happens to be China’s wealthiest businessman, gave an hour-long interview on CCTV, China’s state television. Criticizing Disney’s outdated intellectual property, the lack of a cultural fit, changing consumer preferences, and high prices, Mr. Wang lashed out pretty strongly. Of course, his opinions may be tainted by the fact that he is trying to break into the theme park business with 15-20 new locations over the next few years himself. Nonetheless, he made some interesting points in his interview. First, he poked fun at Disney’s poor choice of location. Shanghai is a huge metropolis with millions of visitors and a coastal population that has been exposed to Western tastes and lifestyles over a long period of time. However, so Mr. Wang, Shanghai is too cold in the winter and too humid in the summer to be an attractive destination for theme park visitors. For those who have followed the story of Disneyland Paris, the dangers of choosing a less than ideal location may sound all too familiar. When Disneyland Paris (then “Europdisney”) first opened, they seemed to have focused too much on the upside of market opportunities – predictions of a stable, growing economy, the upcoming opening of the channel between England and France, as well as Paris being the most popular tourist destination in Europe. What had been overlooked, if not deliberately ignored was the often nasty climate in the Paris area, as well as looming changes in the European economy and in global tourism. Mr. Wang also argues that Disney’s offering is not China-specific enough and presents a poor cultural fit with Chinese consumers’ demands. One might argue that Chinese consumers, just like consumers anywhere else worldwide, continue to be in love with everything from Mickey Mouse to Jungle Book to Frozen. True, but the Disney experience is about more than just characters and intellectual property. It is also about an entire experience and a service delivered – such as food that fits Chinese preferences, merchandise that is affordable, and friendly employees who make the happiest place in the world seem – well – happy. Again, the Paris experience should have taught Disney that all of these things do matter – from European’s distaste of overpriced fast food to labor relations and employee management that follows fundamentally different principles. Shanghai Di-Si-Ni will open to the public only mid June and the verdict therefore is still out. But it is an interesting – and expensive – experiment that we should continue to watch.
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