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Disney CEO Iger says China has 'incredible potential'

Paul Traynor

Associated Press

Shanghai, China  /  Wed, June 15, 2016  /  12:41 pm
Disney CEO Iger says China has 'incredible potential'

In this Wednesday, May 25, 2016 photo, fireworks are set off near the Enchanted Storybook Castle at the Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai. The Disney theme park is scheduled to open on June 16 this year. (Chinatopix via AP/-)

China represents "incredible potential" for Walt Disney Co. and this week's opening of Shanghai Disneyland offers the entertainment giant a chance to boost its brand in the world's most populous film market, Disney's chief executive said Wednesday.

Disney's first theme park in mainland China is designed to be "authentically Disney" but also "distinctly Chinese," Bob Iger said ahead of Thursday's grand opening for the $5.5 billion park.

Shanghai Disneyland could help to revive Disney's struggling international theme parks business. It will face competition from China's own young but ambitious entertainment brands and potential hurdles from official controls and censorship.

Disney movies including "The Lion King" and "Frozen" are popular in China, but Iger said the theme park plans to create a stronger connection to Chinese consumers.

(Read also: Shanghai Disneyland opening pushes up airfares)

"China obviously represents incredible potential for the Walt Disney Co.," said Iger.

"We've considered many ways to approach growth in China," he said. "Nothing is as impactful, nothing creates a connection to our stories, to our brands, to our characters, as a theme park experience."

Analysts expect Shanghai Disneyland to become the world's most-visited theme park, attracting up to 50 million guests a year, compared with 19.3 million people for Disney's flagship Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in 2014.

Despite a sharp slowdown in growth, China's economy still is one of the world's best-performing and tourism spending is rising.

Total visitor numbers to theme parks are forecast to more than double to 282 million in 2019 from 2014's 133 million, according to Euromonitor International, a research company.

The company behind Mickey Mouse is part of a rush of global brands in industries from autos to mobile phones that are rolling out products designed for increasingly prosperous Chinese consumers at a time of weak sales growth in other markets.

To appeal to Chinese visitors, Disney added a teahouse and other China-themed elements to its latest park.

In a garden leading to its iconic castle, Disney created a "Garden of the Twelve Friends" using characters such as Remy from "Ratatouille" and Tigger from "Winnie the Pooh" to represent animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

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