Is Shanghai Disneyland still succeeding, six months after its opening?

December 22, 2016, 12:36 PM · How is Shanghai Disneyland doing, as we come to the end of its opening year? Nikkei Asian Review, a business journal based in Japan, took a look and, from a business perspective, the news is mixed.

Four million people visited Shanghai Disneyland in its first four months, and the journal reports that the park remains on track to draw the 10 million visitors it had hoped to attract in its first year. But crowd levels are decreasing, and many attractions that once required hours-long waits now are walk-ons. Granted, part of that decline in wait times can be explained by better attraction uptime and capacity as the park and its operators gain experience, but declining daily attendance also plays a part.

More troubling for the park at the moment, however, is per-guest spending. The journal offers anecdotal reports that Chinese visitors aren't spending much on food or souvenirs in the park due to relatively high prices. From a western perspective, prices at Shanghai Disneyland are cheap — a one-day ticket costs $53.50 on weekdays, compared to a minimum of $95 for one day at Disneyland in California or $97 at certain Walt Disney World parks. But with the median income in Shanghai under $870 a month, according to the journal, even Shanghai Disneyland's prices are a tough sell.

(As a resident of the Los Angeles area, allow me to pause a moment to note the irony of a seemingly endless supply of Chinese investors willing to spend a million bucks on 1,200-foot townhomes from San Diego to Vancouver, while others can't come up with $10 for a meal at Shanghai Disneyland. Perhaps everyone in China with enough money to splurge at Disneyland has left for North America already?)

In the long term, Disney will figure out the right mix of price points to extract the most money possible from the Shanghai market. The park has started offering seasonal passes and Disney frequently changes menus and souvenir line-ups at its other parks to match consumer demand. Shanghai Disneyland will be no exception.

But given lower incomes among local visitors, one way for Disney to boost guest spending in Shanghai would be for the park to attract more foreign tourists. With admission and food prices lower than any other Disney theme park, Shanghai Disneyland could be an attractive destination for Disney and theme park fans throughout the Pacific Rim, especially with the park's unique mix of attractions, including the Theme Park Insider Award-winning Pirates of the Caribbean Battle for the Sunken Treasure and the TRON Lightcycle Power Run roller coaster.

For that to happen, though, international visitors would need to find it easier to visit China. The country already offers visa-free travel for short transit visits through Shanghai. But that requires traveling onward to a third nation after visiting the city, rather than returning directly to your home country. The Chinese government owns the majority share of the Shanghai Disneyland, so it has an interest in the park making more money. Perhaps that might entice China to expand the Shanghai visa exemption, allowing direct returns for international travelers who book a trip to Shanghai Disneyland?

Short of that, perhaps the park could start an international marketing campaign, in which travelers who book through the Shanghai Disneyland website would be guided through the process of obtaining any necessary visas.

One way or another — through price adjustments, marketing, or easier accommodations for international visitors — Disney has options to boost guest spending in the park. And among the many things Disney excels at, high on that list is exercising its options to make money.

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Replies (18)

December 22, 2016 at 1:50 PM · Disneyland Paris is the most visited EU theme park. For some part due to the fact it's open all year, most other EU parks close in the winter, but it is very popular. Still it is loosing money due to several reasons that are probably the same as for other non US parks.
In most EU countries it is not allowed to take your kids out of school to visit a theme park or to homeschool. So the bulk of visits are going during very crowded periods making people not wanting to standing in long line for food or souvenirs.
Europeans have somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks payed vacation. Their vacation dollars are spread between all those weeks and not all spend in 1 week.
Visiting a theme parks is something you do for 1 day, maybe 2. An even smaller percentage goes longer. They probably will visit Paris or other sites but won't stay in the park.
Going to theme parks is primarily a 1 day thing for most families. Most of them take food and drinks into the park and don't want to overpay the higher prices. There is no theme park food culture. Most EU parks I know don't have a souvenir shop at the end of the ride so they are not used to shell out and buy a momentum of the ride.

Regarding DLP, I feel a huge disconnect. I also heard it from family members who visited the US and the Paris park. It just 'fits' in the US and although it's a beautiful park in Paris it doesn't feel like France. As someone from out of France I expect to feel being their because it's wildly different from other countries and part of the fun traveling in the EU.
Due to all of this I'm afraid it'll never be the success the Disney Company hoped it would be. It needs the income on top off the entrance tickets and the hotel stays to make a profit. Although I don't know enough about China I know plane loads of them go to a huge outlet centre in Roermond (a city in the Netherlands) when they do their European tour (in 7 days). They spend an obscene amount of money on brands like Versace and stuff. Together with the different European cultures it's what they probably like most to do in a vacation, not visiting a Disney park.

December 22, 2016 at 3:26 PM · >>> Most EU parks I know don't have a souvenir shop at the end of the ride so they are not used to shell out and buy a momentum of the ride.

The Merlin Parks all seem to, except for their "also ran" rides... and even some of them manage it. I don't think its so much the case with Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but they do at least manage photos on some of their coasters. Their space constraints and Heritage concerns probably limit their ability to do it.

December 22, 2016 at 4:15 PM · I was just at Shanghai Disneyland last month as part a boarder trip to China. I have to say it was less impressive than I imagined it would be.

Pirates was great and TRON was cool, although I kept wanting to look up. Thank god the ride is short otherwise I would have strained my neck. But aside from those two rides nothing else seemed very special, just different. Not to be a smart aleck but it really did seem like a Chinese knockoff of a Disney Park.

The park is really spread out and seemed empty at times. The shops and restaurants were nearly so. Nonetheless I did see a lot of visitors eating outside (even though it was chilly). But it appeared that most had purchased the food outside of the park and brought it in. That can’t be good for sales. I witness a few very heated arguments which kind of surprised me. You rarely if ever see that in a Disney park in the States and have never seen that much public display of anger in another Asian country. I would find out later that this was not uncommon in China. Also while the park appeared to be in good shape, being brand new and all, I’m a little worried about how it will look in a couple of years. I was shocked to find so many relatively new buildings in China already falling apart. I’m sure Disney’s typically high standards will help but look at what has happened when the maintenance at other Disney parks has been neglected for a few years. If they allow that to happen at Shanghai Disneyland it will be much worst.

The thing is the whole Disney thing seems even more foreign to the Chinese. It’s as if they thought having a Disney park is a just prerequisite for becoming a modern society so they had to have one. But there doesn’t seem any cultural reference points which makes it particularly special to them. I got the feeling that other than high Disney quality many people wouldn't care about the story the rides are based on. Maybe this will change over time, maybe it won’t.

December 22, 2016 at 4:14 PM · As a US citizen who frequents DLR CA since childhood, WDW also since childhood (growing up in the midwest made that the closer park), our visit two Christmases ago to DLRP was both positive and surprisingly negative.

The previous commenter (OT) said it in one word: Disconnect. Far too Americanized, I am SHOCKED and dismayed that park operations have not slowly but surely turned the focus from USA (a downtown Disney Chicago Steak House? With a higher price tag than any of our best meals in Paris?!? Never again!) toward something more European, international, and/or fantastical. I fear many have felt similarly, no matter what Country of Origin. The main park and hotel are beautiful, the rest could use a LOT of TLC - immediately and going forward - in order to be a profitable and multi-generational love-fest resort.

Next time in Europe we'll head back to Europa Park, as well as to Phantasialand, Efteling, and Tivoli before we EVER go back to DLRP. Thanks for posting this, if you do. And, thanks to OT for comments that I fear too many of us can agree!

To end on an up-note: That pink castle with dragon beneath were the best 1-2 punch I've seen; Ratatouille and Crush Coaster a joyful hoot! Reconstruct the second gate, upgrade Downtown Disney, and add a couple uniquely awesome attractions, we'll go back!

Merry Christmas and Happiest of Holidays to all readers! Thanks, TPI, for all your posts year round!

December 22, 2016 at 4:16 PM · Even the rich will look for bargains. If the Chinese travel in one way in China, they won't make Disney the exception. When they are outside China, these expectations are discarded and they will spend accordingly. Disney culture must be carefully nurtured as it was in the USA. It took many years. The lack of high standards is a shame in Shanghai Disneyland. Perhaps Disney should consider catering to the upper class and upper middle class, not the median to lower class. The uncrowded parks should be considered an advantage, but not really for that has worse negative implications. This is a long term play. China is in it's own industrial age.
December 22, 2016 at 5:06 PM · Well, history has shown that Disney doesn't do very well at opening the parks, but do well in the long run. DLP, DCA, and AK were pretty lukewarm when they opened. Disney corrected some wrongs and they thrived.

I think Robert is onto something when he talks about wealthy Chinese visiting and investing in places like California. I noticed a similar thing happening at DLP. Most English would rather come to WDW than DLP and many wealthy Europeans are doing the same thing.

China's government is going to be an interesting factor in this. I fear that with the political climate in the US these days is going to turn off the Chinese government.. I guess we can hope for the best!

December 22, 2016 at 6:12 PM · Just visited Shanghai Disneyland in November as well, and I found the food to be not great, and not cheap. Was a shame actually. I was hoping a brand new park would have really knockout food, since they've been slowly improving the food in their US parks at least (for the most part). I wished I brought in a lunch of some tasty street noodles or soup dumplings. Mmmm soup dumplings.
December 22, 2016 at 7:06 PM · Another funny or irritating that happened at SDL was on the Voyage Crystal boat ride thing where two young couples got on, the men sat in the front and the women behind us. Why they didn't sit together I don't know? One of the guys talked (and laughed) loudly almost nonstop. When he wasn't enjoying listening to the sound of his own voice he was texting, taking pictures or face-timing the women behind us. Periodically one of the young ladies would yell to the guys in front in an incredibly loud and shrill voice and since she was leaning over it was practically in our ears. It was so magical.
December 22, 2016 at 8:49 PM · My Asian friends in the U.S. are typically very price conscious, so I imagine it would be even more so in China. It's hard to compete with the local street food or restaurants just outside the gate, hopefully Disney knew this would be an issue, and will be willing to adjust their pricing structure.
December 22, 2016 at 9:46 PM · This is the problem that SDL faces, the upper class/upper middle class that can afford to eat and shop in SDL are also the ones that can afford to visit TDR, DLP, DLR and WDW.

SDL really needs to adjust their pricing structure for meals, I mean for what they charge for an individual meal can feed a family of four (or more) in Greater China.

IMHO, what I think SDL needs to do is offer more all you can eat dining options such as buffet and DIY BBQ and HOT POT (where you boil your food) while charging the same prices for table service meals.

That way, the Chinese will feel that they are getting better value for their dollar.

FYI: I am Asian and yes we are typically quite price conscious. =)

December 23, 2016 at 12:59 AM · I'd consider Shanghai Disneyland to be succeeding, but I do think they'll need to adjust their model a bit to guarantee success long-term. While the park's attractions certainly seem popular (I just read a trip report from someone who visited and experienced 2.5 hour waits for all the E-tickets), I don't think the traditional Disney model is likely to work with a primary Chinese audience. From what I understand, most Chinese treat amusement parks more like city parks, where they'll go to hang out for a few hours, do some rides, and then leave without buying anything. It may be good for Disney to take a close look at the Chinese theme park chains (OCT Group, Chimelong Group, and Fantawild) and borrow some of the operational and pricing models from these parks. Additionally, Shanghai Disneyland needs to be marketed to a wider audience. While it probably won't get much business from North America, I could see it doing decently among tourists in the rest of the world (especially Asia), as it offers unique attractions compared to other international Disney resorts and is the least expensive of them.
December 23, 2016 at 6:52 AM · Inspired by Robert's thought about visas... I wonder if there'd be any mileage in Disney offering some sort of 'Asian Adventure' package for international visitors. Get a discounted rate for on-site stays if you book a Shanghai/HK combo trip.

It'd be a fairly niche audience admittedly, but I'd imagine a pretty high-spending one.

December 23, 2016 at 7:54 AM · I think Adventures by Disney is trying to set it up. I saw a brochure in the DVC lounge at EPCOT and remember something similar to what you are describing.

Yes, I believe it would be super expensive!

December 23, 2016 at 8:19 AM · An offering from Disney that would be "super expensive"!? Naaaaaaaah! :D
December 23, 2016 at 9:35 AM · When has Disney ever managed a successful foreign park? The answer is NEVER. The Tokyo resorts are owned and operated by a Japanese company. Disneyland Hong Kong has failed to pay for itself after 15 years. Disneyland Paris has failed to pay for itself after 25 years. And Shanghai Disney will also fail to pay for itself.

The Chinese government is not a good partner. Look at how they cheated the casino companies in Macau by changing the rules overnight. China will cheat Disney too, as much as they can and as often as they can.

Meanwhile, the USA parks were allowed to fall apart from neglect, and Universal took advantage of Disney's incompetence to seize market share and generate enormous profits that should have gone to Disney shareholders instead.

What was Iger's response to Universal's challenge? He dilly-dallied around, squandered billions on the foreign parks and that idiotic MyMagic+. How profitable would Disney be today, if Iger had spent that money improving the domestic parks 10-15 years ago when he should have?

Iger is a fool, and Chapek is Iger's greedy, little mini-me. If Disney's board had any guts, they would fire Iger and Chapek before they inflict more damage on the Disney brand. Come on George Lucas, grow some stones, it's your money these clowns are throwing away.

December 23, 2016 at 10:55 PM · Disney will still profit from royalties from their overseas parks. Paris is one example where Disney bought a larger stake in cooperation with big pocketed investors and screwed the original investors. It has a much larger ownership and risk, but a turnaround is more possible after retiring debt. China had yet to work out its problems. This is a long term play where the government in partnership with Disney will work together to fix the problems. This will take decades. The US parks are clearly profitable and getting more profitable.

Macau is an entirely different situation. China wants to solve corruption by their own government officials that gamble with public funds. They want to diversify with family entertainment. They want to prevent an overheated gambling market that's unsustainable. The casinos are still profitable. Revenues have decreased, but it appears to have bottomed out. Many casino developers opened new casino resorts at price tags that match Disney's Shanghai project.

December 23, 2016 at 11:52 PM · The thing about Shanghai Disneyland is that they actually allow visitors to bring food and drinks from outside the park, hence the many recreation hotspots that can be seen around the park. I think it's part of the Chinese culture for families to sit down on an open-air area and have meals.

Moreover, the meals in the park are incredibly overpriced. Even if guests don't bring meals into the park, many choose to exit the park and have meals at Disneytown instead, where meals are significantly better and the prices are much cheaper. For example, a combo of so-so burger, french fries, and soft drink in Shanghai Disneyland would cost CNY85, whereas a combo of a bowl of superb ramen and a draft beer in Disneytown is only CNY78.

December 26, 2016 at 11:12 AM · Disneyland Paris opened 25 years ago. Investments that take take three decades to pay off are poor investments. When a CEO makes poor investments, he should be fired.

There is no rule of law in China. The Chinese government can manipulate the value of any investment any time it chooses to do so. Being in business with the Chinese government is like being in business with the mobsters in Goodfellas.

Shanghai Disney will never pay for itself, just as Hong Kong Disney and Paris Disney have failed to pay for themselves after a combined 40 plus years of being open.

Meanwhile in the USA, Disney continues to destroy its long-term brand for short term profits.

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