Shanghai Disney shows what’s in store with flagship opening

The countdown to lift-off for Shanghai Disneyland begins in earnest on Wednesday with the opening of its flagship Shanghai store, the first of its kind on the mainland and the biggest in the world.

The opening comes a day after the topping out of the theme park’s iconic central attraction, the Enchanted Storybook Castle, another milestone in the Walt Disney Company’s efforts to tap rising affluence on the mainland.

The much-anticipated US$5.4 billion Shanghai Disney Resort is expected to open its doors next spring but city residents and mainland tourists will get a taste of how Disney will blend its products with Chinese elements when the flagship store begins business in Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district today.

More than 2,000 products, from clothing, bags and stationery to smartphone covers, will be available at the store, which has 860 square metres of indoor retail space.

Shanghai Disneyland was expected to be up and running this year but Disney delayed the opening, partly because of redesigns to some attractions.

Disney chairman and chief executive Robert Iger and chief operating officer Tom Staggs were in Shanghai yesterday as a golden finial was installed on top of the tallest of the castle’s eight towers. The castle was the tallest, biggest and most complex Disney castle ever built, Disney said.

A Pudong government official said the resort was expected to become one of the top six Disney theme parks around the world, buoyed by interest among mainland residents.

Shanghai resident Lynn Lin, who is the mother of a 10-year-old girl, said: “We have been keeping an ear out for any news about the Disney theme park … My daughter can’t wait until she can visit it in another few months.”

The enthusiasm over Shanghai Disneyland has ratcheted up pressure on its Hong Kong counterpart, playing into the Shanghai-Hong Kong rivalry and Shanghai’s rise as a world-class city.

But Disney and officials from both cities have tried to play down the new park’s impact on Hong Kong Disneyland, pointing to the huge market potential for both operations.

A Hong Kong Disneyland spokeswoman said there would not be a major shift in the theme park’s marketing strategy because the mainland market was big enough for two Disney attractions.

The spokeswoman said the various Disney theme parks could differentiate themselves with proprietary attractions and different lines of products or memorabilia.

Economist Andy Kwan Cheuk-chiu said mainlanders living near Shanghai would be attracted to the new theme park.

“Hong Kong Disney would definitely lose some customers,” Kwan said.

But he predicted that the impact on the Hong Kong economy would be short-term and minimal, because the new resort was likely to target children and their families, rather than the individual visitors who came to Hong Kong mostly for shopping.

At the Shanghai Disney store, prices will be up to 50 yuan more expensive than those products available in Hong Kong and Tokyo Disney Resort outlets, according to local media.

“We can’t really accept the fact that prices here are higher,” Lin said.

“After all, Shanghai residents don’t earn as much as people in Hong Kong and Japan.”