What will change at the Tokyo Disney Resort when it reopens?
By Robert NilesThe Tokyo Disney Resort, whenever it reopens, will recover, as will the rest of Japan. As James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker this week, advanced economies such as Japan's often end up stronger in the long term after a major natural disaster. The disaster eventually provides an opportunity for renewal, and with hard work and available money, progress returns and even accelerates.
Published: March 21, 2011 at 8:39 PM
The view from the entry at Tokyo DisneySea
So it will be in Japan. But in the meantime, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea face uncertainty. The parks have relied almost exclusively on visitors from Japan - about 96 percent of visitors to the parks have come from within the country, according to the New York Times. Effectively, Tokyo Disney functions more like a regional amusement park than a major international destination.
With so many Japanese looking to rebuild their lives, homes, businesses and communities, it's easy to envision that many of those potential visitors will instead choose to spend their money elsewhere over the coming months and even years, instead of at the Tokyo Disney Resort.
So how will Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea recover?
Perhaps this will be incentive that drives the Oriental Land Company - the owner and operator of the Tokyo Disney Resort - to step up its international marketing. Millions of new visitors to the resort - from Korea, from Singapore, from Australia and New Zealand, and even from the United States - would help offset a decline in domestic attendance, and bring the equivalent of billions of new dollars into the Japanese economy at a time when they'll be much needed.
Tokyo Disney's theme parks will face competition, should they choose to market aggressively outside Japan. Disney itself now has a park in Hong Kong, with another in Shanghai on the way. Universal's theme park in Japan has aggressively courted international visitors in recent years, and has prospered during the recent crisis thanks to its location in relatively safe and unharmed Osaka. A new Universal theme park in Singapore and one in development in Korea provide additional competition, as well.
But none of those competing sites offer an international transportation hub the size of Tokyo's. That gives Tokyo Disney Resort an inherent advantage in attracting international visitors.
Fears about radiation will subside. At least initially, low airfares and low rates at hotels eager to refill rooms with visitors will help draw tourists back to Japan. (For what it's worth, this week I can fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo for about the same as it would cost me to fly from here to Cincinnati.) Tokyo Disney also enjoys a international reputation among Disney fans for offering some of the brand's finest theme parks, as well as its most outstanding service (a reputation bolstered by the Tokyo cast's outstanding reaction to the earthquake and its immediate aftermath.)
Yet Tokyo Disney's no longer keeping pace with the improvements that Disney is making on the other side of the Pacific, at the Disneyland resort in California. Ten years ago, many Disney fans in the United States lamented the off-the-shelf carnival-style rides at the newly opened Disney's California Adventure, while reading longingly about the cutting-edge, immersively-themed attractions at the new Tokyo DisneySea. These days, it's California Adventure that's debuting all the hot new rides and shows - Midway Mania, World of Color and Cars Land - while DisneySea had little under development even before the disaster.
So a strong marketing campaign won't be enough. Oriental Land Company needs to entice Disney's Imagineers to deliver their most impressive best to Tokyo to support the resort's recovery effort. But Oriental Land's written big checks before. I have no doubt that it can do so again.
A great new attraction and a strong international market campaign can help establish the Tokyo Disney Resort as a leader in promoting Japan's recovery around the Pacific Rim, rather than simply as an amusement and diversion for the Japanese people, as it's too often been in the past.
I've only visited Japan briefly, but I can't wait to visit again. Here's hoping that Oriental Land find its way to offering millions of Disney and theme park fans around the world many more reasons to visit Tokyo and Japan in the years to come.
What do you think?
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