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Walt Disney Co. has hosted over 600,000 visitors at its first theme park in mainland China since trial operations started early May, and its “enormous potential” has already prompted Disney to expand the resort, said Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger.
“After we broke ground we paused to really recognize the growth of China’s tourism and Shanghai visitation and the general growth in the Chinese market and we decided to build something even bigger,” Iger said in a briefing at Shanghai Disneyland on Wednesday, a day before the resort opens.
Burbank, California-based Disney has 7 square kilometers (7 ha) of land available at the site and has already started construction to expand attractions within it, Iger said. The existing resort covers about 3.9 square kilometers, larger than originally planned as the company added attractions including a performance based on “Frozen” after the movie became a hit in China, he said.
The $5.5 billion resort is the largest foreign investment ever from the world’s biggest theme-park operator and a career milestone for Iger, as past international park efforts have been marked by cultural missteps and years of losses. Shanghai’s government last month estimated about one million Chinese flocked to public areas surrounding the resort, including a strip of shops and a lake, since its subway station opened April 26.
Travel is a bright spot in China’s slowing economy, with tourism spending in the world’s second biggest economy likely to triple by 2020 after industry investment jumped 42 percent last year, according to the government. It’s attracted a slew of local and foreign companies into China’s entertainment market, including Dalian Wanda Group Co. and U.S.-based theme park operator Six Flags Entertainment Corp.
Domestic tourism in China is being helped by the popularity of social media, as locals trade travel tips on messaging apps such as WeChat, and customer ratings websites such as Dianping.com. At Shanghai Disneyland, visitors already knew which were the most popular rides from social media, and flocked to those immediately, Iger said.
The new park has become a “blend of best of Disney and so much of the heart and soul of the Chinese people,” said the 65-year-old CEO. “We didn’t build Disneyland in China, we built China’s Disneyland.”
©2016 Bloomberg L.P.
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