SHANGHAI -- Rivalry between Japan and China will soon become the stuff of fantasy, as Shanghai's new Disney Resort opens at the end of 2015.
Construction of the newest Disney theme park began in April 2011 in Pudong New Area, in the east of Shanghai. Three years on, the tranquil countryside has been transformed. A four-lane road awaits the anticipated crowds expected to arrive by car. The giant resort site covers roughly 3.9 million sq. meters, and construction is in full swing. Cranes form a temporary skyline, marking the progress of the newest Disney location.
The resort operator is a joint venture between the local government-affiliated Shanghai Shendi Group and Walt Disney. The initial plan was to invest a total of 29 billion yuan ($4.64 billion) in the project. But recently it decided to inject an additional 5 billion yuan to build attractions that have proven popular at other Disney parks, and to increase the number of restaurants.
The additional investment will make it possible for Shanghai Disneyland to welcome more guests, according to Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger. The Disney CEO also noted that the increase was a response to the "rapid expansion of the middle class and the significant increase in travel and tourism" in China. The additional investment is expected to boost Shanghai Disneyland's capacity to host nearly 10 million visitors a year, 30% more than the original plan.
The facility is not due to open for at least another 18 months, but local interest is already running high. When the resort operator announced on April 17 that it will start hiring new graduates to fill several thousand positions, Internet message boards were deluged with posts from people interested in working at the theme park.
Asia's number three
Shanghai Disneyland will be Disney's third theme park in Asia, following Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Tokyo Disney Resort celebrated its 30-year anniversary last year, and has decided to invest a total of around 500 billion yen ($4.85 billion) through fiscal 2023. It plans to expand Tokyo DisneySea and update the area surrounding Tokyo Disneyland. The amount earmarked for the next 10 years is 40% higher than its expenditure over the past decade.
Oriental Land, the operator of Tokyo Disney Resort, decided to increase investment because domestic demand has plateaued in recent years due to Japan's aging population although interest remains high.
Tokyo Disney Resort recorded over 30 million visitors for the first time in fiscal 2013, a number largely due to the events commemorating its 30th anniversary. Its usual annual visitor count has stabilized at around 27-28 million. By boosting investment and improving the attraction, Oriental Land aims to raise the annual visitor level to the 30 million mark. But to achieve this, it is essential to attract a large number of international tourists.
Tokyo Disney Resort is already a highly popular attraction for visitors to Japan. In fiscal 2013, 1.22 million, slightly more than 10% of tourists to Japan, visited the facility. People from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan make up a large part of these visitors now, but Oriental Land is looking to focus promotion activities on Southeast Asia because this is where the company sees its future growth.
Shanghai Disney Resort is no doubt a big concern for Oriental Land. The theme park is certain to draw some Chinese visitors away from Tokyo Disney Resort, since the Shanghai rival is in a location just three-hours by car or train from over 300 million Chinese people. In addition, Shanghai Disney Resort is also eyeing visitors from other Asian countries over the medium to long term.
Competition between Tokyo and Shanghai Disneylands will likely come down to how they differentiate their theme parks and what compelling attractions they can offer visitors.