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Disney works its magic in Shanghai

Despite the fact that Mickey and Minnie are set to arrive in Shanghai only in 2015. (PHOTO: HONG KONG DISNEYLAND RESORT)

Publication Date : 01-10-2012


The first Disneyland in mainland China will open in Shanghai only in 2015, but that has not stopped the world-famous theme park from spreading its cheer here.

The Magic Kingdom's stardust is giving China's financial city a much-needed boost amid the downturn. Some of Mickey Mouse's charm has rubbed off on Shanghai's hospitality and entertainment sectors, created jobs and helped certain stocks on the beleaguered stock exchange.

Related stocks such as construction have received a bounce in recent weeks after news of fresh investments in the park, offering some respite from the fall in the rest of the market, as the Shanghai composite index dipped below 2,000 points on Wednesday for the first time since early 2009.

"Disney offers a major boost to Shanghai's push to improve its economic structure and develop higher value-added sectors, from tourism to F&B, retail and other services," said Xue Hongsheng, research head of consulting group Qianinfo.

Shanghai's August data suggests that it needs Disney badly. The city saw a 5 per cent drop in exports and a 0.7 per cent decline in its six key manufacturing pillars such as IT and refined steel.

Foreign investments, led by Disney, were the sole bright spot. Overseas investors poured US$1.6 billion into the metropolis, up 21 per cent from a year ago.

And the local authorities' own spending spree will help ensure that the city meets the 8 per cent growth target this year. The Shanghai government announced that it will invest 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion) this year in infrastructure for the resort, in which it holds a 57 per cent stake.

It also plans to build a 4.4 billion yuan subway line linking the park to the city centre.

Disney, which holds the remaining 43 per cent share, has estimated that the resort itself will cost roughly US$4.4 billion.

The park is expected to feature water rides that may be modelled after the Pirates of the Caribbean, some Chinese pavilions, a lake, a shopping district and two Disney-theme hotels.

To infuse Chinese characteristics into the Disney project, about 100 Chinese "creative engineers" have been hired for the design team, the China Business News reported last month.

Demand has also been rising for animation and entertainment designers, hospitality specialists and other service providers as more theme parks pile into Shanghai, said local headhunter Ma Jianqing.

"Shanghai is becoming a regional tourism hub, so the need for talent is booming," said Ma.

Dreamworks, the creator of hits like Kung Fu Panda and Shrek, announced last month that it will build a US$3.2 billion Broadway-style entertainment district, set to open in 2016.

And Rovio, creator of the hit game Angry Birds, will set up its first "activity park" with fun rides in Shanghai's Tongji University.

Rovio will build another Angry Birds theme park in neighbouring Zhejiang province, where a Hello Kitty playland is set to open by 2014.

Already open since May last year is the 800,000 sq m Joyland, a theme park inspired by popular online games such as World Of Warcraft, which is a two-hour drive from Shanghai.

Its 3.5-star online rating makes it among the more popular wonderlands in China.

Still, the star power of Disney is likely to help its theme park hold its ground against the competition.

It will offer surprises even for tourists who have visited many of its other theme parks worldwide, according to Disney theme park expert Alain Littaye.

"It will have a lot of unique attractions such as one of the biggest castles ever built, as well as new, specially designed attractions that exist nowhere else in other Disney theme parks," said Littaye, the co-author of a book on Disneyland Paris.

"I think it is going to be a success from the time it opens. The only concern is that there will be too many people," he added.


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