Walt Disney opens $5.5 billion theme park in mainland China

Resort is the largest foreign investment ever for the California-based company

Fireworks explode over the Shanghai Disney Resort during the opening ceremony in Shanghai, China, today. Photo: Reuters

Fireworks explode over the Shanghai Disney Resort during the opening ceremony in Shanghai, China, today. Photo: Reuters


Walt Disney’s $5.5 billion Shanghai theme park, its first in mainland China, opened with fireworks, a dancing Mickey Mouse, dignitaries, and messages of support from two of the most powerful presidents in the world.

“I hope that Shanghai Disney can provide visitors with safe and premium experiences and become a world class theme park. I hope it promotes exchanges across cultures of the world,” according to a letter from Chinese president Xi Jinping, read by vice premier Wang Yang at the park’s opening ceremony Thursday morning.

Tens of thousands are expected to stream into Shanghai Disneyland on its debut, after nearly two decades in the making.

The resort is the largest foreign investment ever for the Burbank, California-based company, as it intensifies the race to dominate China’s $610 billion tourism industry.

“The resort captures the promise of our bilateral relationship,” US president Barack Obama said in a letter, which Disney chief executive officer Robert Iger read at the ceremony.

The entertainment giant has already begun construction to expand attractions within the park’s 7 square kilometres (700 hectares) of land, Mr Iger said at a briefing Wednesday.

The existing resort covers about 3.9 square kilometres.”Nothing is as impactful, nothing creates a connection to our stories, to our brands, to our characters, than a theme park experience.” said Mr Iger.

“The experience people have when they spend time in our theme parks is immersive. They not only hear and see our stories but they actually enter them, they live in them.”

While most of the 300 theme parks in China are currently unprofitable ventures, Disney is leading an incoming wave of top-notch megaparks developed by both local and foreign operators competing for a tourism industry that is set to double by 2020.

About 60 more parks will open by then to serve Chinese consumers, including Dalian Wanda Group’s chain of 15 “Wanda Cities.”

DreamWorks Animation SKG’s $2.4 billion DreamCenter is scheduled for 2017, while Haichang Ocean Park Holdings plans a marine park an hour from Disneyland and Six Flags Entertainment’s Shanghai park will be its first outside North America.

The Shanghai resort shows the confidence of the international business community in China’s economic potential,” said Wang, one of the four vice premiers in the country’s State Council, in a speech as a drizzle fell during the ceremony.

Rain marks “a good and auspicious start” according to Chinese culture, Wang said.

Amid the activities surrounding the Shanghai park debut, Iger offered his sympathies to the family of a child who died in an incident at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

The company said Thursday beaches in the Florida resort area remain closed until further notice after the death of the 2-year-old boy who was dragged by an alligator into a man-made lake.