Walt Disney Company would be looking for new sites around the world to build theme parks. It's become cliche within the industry over the decades that developers have promised local authorities and investors that they would build "the next Disneyland," but Iger's words open the potential of a community getting the real thing.Disney CEO Bob Iger sparked the imaginations of theme park fans around the world yesterday when he confirmed that the
But where? While I enjoy the speculation as much as anyone (My poorly-informed guesses? Chongqing and Beijing in China, and Seoul in South Korea top the list), it's no secret how Disney has found the sites for its theme park resorts in the past. If you want some well-informed clues as to where Disney will expand around the world, listen to the words of the man who told Walt Disney where to build Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Long-time Theme Park Insider readers will know that I am talking about Harrison "Buzz" Price, the Disney Legend who passed away in 2010. Buzz Price never worked as a cast member for Disney. Walt hired him on the side to help choose the location for Disneyland, then employed him again to find the best place to site what became the Walt Disney World Resort.
But Buzz Price did much more for the theme park industry than pick the locations of America's two most popular theme park resorts. Buzz Price was the common denominator of pretty much every major theme park development in America in the late 20th century. He developed the methodology for the feasibility studies that almost every successful theme park company used to guide their development. (And those who thought they knew better than Buzz typically washed out of the business, and swiftly.) In addition to working with Disney, Price worked with Universal, SeaWorld, Six Flags, and Busch Gardens over the years, conducting an estimated 3,000 feasibility studies for his clients.
His guiding principle? "Guessing is dysfunctional. Ignoring prior experience is denial. Using valid numbers to project performance is rational."
You will find that quote, as well as king's treasure of history and first-person anecdotes about the development of the theme park industry, in Price's memoir, Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers. I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who wants to work in, or just learn more about, the themed entertainment business. Not only does it detail Buzz's look into the numbers behind the decisions to build and expand many parks, it's a personal story with dozens of vignettes about working with Walt Disney as well as with SeaWorld's George Millay, Six Flags' Angus Wynne and Universal's Lew Wasserman.
A confession: when I suggested Chongqing, Beijing, and Seoul as potential sites for Disney's expansion, I didn't just pull those names out of my imagination. I looked at population and income data, as well as growth patterns and the sites of current Disney and competing theme parks to decide what I thought would be the three most promising markets for new Disney theme park resorts. No, I don't have access to all the data that a company such as Disney can collect, but I tried to apply Buzz's principles to my thinking.
I also do not believe that Disney is looking to take on the expense of buying and developing land on its own, as it did with its Florida project. It makes much more business sense for the company to take on a development partner that will obtain (or provide) and develop the land for the new resort. That way, Disney invests nothing upfront beyond design costs and gets equity in the new development and potentially licensing fees in addition to share of the resort's income, in return. That's not a deal that Disney will find from any community in the United States, but it's the model that the company followed in Shanghai and one assumes will be available elsewhere in growing China.
(Fun fact: I've heard from multiple insiders that Disney looked at the site on Sentosa Island where Universal ultimately developed Universal Studios Singapore, but Disney dismissed the site as too small. If Singapore ever could present a large enough site for Disney, it absolutely would be in play, too.)
Disney's also looking for long-term political stability in an international destination, which is why I don't see it rushing to place a new resort in the Middle East, despite the money that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are pouring into tourism developments. Perhaps Disney might be swayed as to the stability of the destination by a big enough check, but none of the projects that we've seen launched in the UAE or Saudi Arabia are costing anywhere near the amount of money that Disney would demand from a new resort. That's why I think that the Far East provides a more attractive target for Disney's expansion.
Anyway, go read Buzz's book. It will deepen your appreciation for what happens in the theme park business.Tweet
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