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A Strong Statement - August 2016

Shanghai Disney Resort

Bob Iger first visited the eventual site for Shanghai Disney Resort back in 1999, when he was in the exploratory stages of the project. The property sits on a seven-square-kilometer piece of land in Pudong, about a 40-minute drive southeast of downtown Shanghai. It features Disney’s 12th theme park, Shanghai Disneyland, as well as two hotels and a shopping and dining district called Disneytown.

This is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and Shanghai Shendi Group, comprising two ownership companies and a management company. Shanghai Shendi owns 57 percent of the ownership companies’ shares, while Disney owns the remaining 43 percent; Disney has a 70 percent stake in the management company, responsible for creating, developing, and operating the resort.

“We are invited guests in China. It’s a privilege for us to be here, so we need to show great respect for the people and the culture,” Iger says. “That was the foundation for everything that we did, and it became the mantra of everyone involved. We didn’t just build Disneyland in China—we built China’s Disneyland.”

Iger coined the phrase “authentically Disney, distinctly Chinese” while breaking ground on the property in 2011. Disney then spent the next five years fulfilling that promise.

“When we first started thinking about bringing a Disneyland experience to China, we knew it had to be special and different from anything we’d ever done before. We wanted to make a strong statement,” Iger says. “We want the people who visit here to feel welcome and comfortable—to have the sense that this is their park, imagined and designed and created just for them.”

Beyond making guests feel at home, though, Disney officials view Shanghai Disneyland as an introduction to the company’s broader brand. Much of the park’s design and attractions are geared toward helping Chinese visitors fall in love with Mickey, Minnie, and all the other Disney characters and stories that cultures elsewhere in the world have cherished for nearly a century. You see this mission in everything from the entrance plaza to the parade floats to the selection of attractions.

“China represents incredible potential for The Walt Disney Company in the near term and over the long term,” Iger says. “We considered many ways to approach growth in China … but nothing creates a connection to our stories, brands, and characters more than a theme-park experience.”

“It sets a firm taproot into China that will help our Chinese guests develop an affinity, awareness, and love for the physical expression of what Disney is,” adds Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “Disney builds parks, but parks help build Disney.”

And what a park it is. Shanghai Disneyland is not merely a “greatest-hits” collection. Yes, there are some attractions directly translated from other locations, but many of the experiences here are entirely new; several shatter the molds of Disney classics such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Space Mountain,” and “Soarin’.”

“This is, by far, the most creatively ambitious and technically advanced destination we have ever built,” Iger says.

“What’s great about doing a whole new park is you can leverage all this new technology to do these things in completely fresh ways,” adds Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weis, who oversaw the resort’s creative development.

The park’s physical plant and attraction lineup went through several iterations as they came to fruition, as Iger challenged his teams to make everything bigger, bolder, more spectacular. That led to, for example, the creation of two new lands never before seen in a Disney park: Adventure Isle and Treasure Cove. The current resort occupies only about half of its available land, so, believe it or not, construction is already underway on expansion plans. Disney hasn’t announced any specifics on what form those will take, but officials believe demand is there for more—much more. Just look to the million people who visited the resort this spring during its six-week soft opening as Exhibit A.

That trial period was just one in a series of learning opportunities for Disney throughout this enterprise, particularly as the company hired local contractors and artisans to execute its ideas and better infuse the entire property with local flavor and cultural touchstones.

“Any time you build a theme park in a foreign land, it’s an opportunity,” Chapek says. “There are certain ways business is done differently here, and we had to blend the best of Disney with the best of what our partners in China had to offer.”

More than anything, though, Disney representatives talk about how meaningful it is to see the reactions from their new guests as they experience the resort for the first time.

“I came here thinking about what an interesting commercial opportunity China would be for Disney. After being here many, many times in the past year, I’ve realized what a cultural gift this can be to the families of China,” Chapek says. “This park has the ability to be a transformative childhood experience for millions of Chinese kids.”

“I think Walt would be hugely proud of this—and probably a little astonished about how far we’ve come from the simplicity of Disneyland to this today,” says Marty Sklar, who retired in 2009 as Walt Disney Imagineering’s chief creative executive after helping open Disney’s previous 11 theme parks. “It’s the best you can possibly do—an incredible piece of work. This is Disney Parks and Resorts at its finest.”

“Most of [our guests] have never visited a Disney theme park before,” Iger says. “It’s very obvious to us that what they’re experiencing is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. I think they had a notion—as I did as a child—of what Disneyland might be like, but the Disneyland in Shanghai is even more grand than expected.”


2,400,000 shrubs and ground-cover plants across the resort

1,000,000 visitors to the area during a six-week soft opening

100,000 workers hired during its construction period

72,000 metric tons of structural steel used in construction

24,000 square meters of rockwork in Adventure Isle

10,000 cast members hired for opening day

7,000 different pieces of merchandise available on opening day

1,220 rooms between the two on-site hotels

966 meters of track in “TRON Lightcycle Power Run”

160 kilometers of utility piping throughout the property

150 different dishes served within Shanghai Disneyland

7 square kilometers of total available development space

3.9 square kilometers of space currently used by the resort