The Power of Disney’s Magical Brand Experience in China

Our research finds Shanghai Disneyland is sparking a rise in domestic destination travel.

After years of anticipation, Shanghai Disneyland officially opened to much fanfare and consumer excitement. But, not all are sharing in the enthusiasm. Chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, Wang Jianlin, has made numerous statements about the opening and suggested that the Disney brand is tired or irrelevant to the Chinese consumer.

Wanda has a stake in Shanghai Disneyland’s probability for success as the first of its fifteen planned Wanda City theme parks opened in the southeastern Chinese city of Nanchang.

The fact of the matter is – Disney remains an incredibly strong, iconic global brand for all consumers – including Chinese consumers. The reason Disney’s brand has stayed so strong over the last 100 years, is that Disney has consistently built its brand around “the power of magical experiences.” This idea transcends nationality and hits at who we are as human beings.

Why does Disney pay so much attention to its brand experience?

Disney’s done a great job of localizing the Disneyland brand strategy and increasing its relevance with Chinese consumers. Bob Iger, Chairman of Disney, has dubbed this strategy “Authentically Disney and Distinctively Chinese.” Implementation of this strategy is present throughout Shanghai Disneyland: Main Street USA is Mickey Street and featured are the twelve Pixar-created Chinese Zodiac animals.

The company fundamentally understands what Prophet’s recent research proves: brand experience is a key driver of theme park visits. Having a strong brand is an important factor in consumers’ choice of theme parks, falling behind rides and attractions, as well as being fun and exciting.

“Brand experience is a key driver of theme park visits.”

While attendance figures from the first week show that Shanghai Disneyland is a large draw, the future looks bright as another 61 percent of Chinese consumers indicated they were highly likely to visit Shanghai Disneyland in the next two years.

Add to that figure the 39 percent who said they were somewhat likely to visit in that same time period and you have an overwhelming 100 percent of respondents interested in spending some time (and money) at the resort in the near future.

What do Chinese consumers prefer?

In a media interview, Wang mentioned that Chinese consumers prefer convenient theme park locations saying, “One tiger is no match for a pack of wolves.” His statement implies that having more theme parks located within close proximity to consumers is a better strategy than operating a single flagship theme park.

Our survey found the contrary; Chinese consumers ranked location as the least important factor when choosing to visit a theme park (only 5 percent ranked it number one). Furthermore, aside from the 60 percent of consumers in Shanghai who are highly likely to visit Shanghai Disneyland, many more consumers in more distant cities are also highly likely to visit the resort (53 percent from Beijing, 57 percent from Guangzhou and a whopping 89 percent from Shenzhen). In addition, 53 percent of Chinese consumers said that they would be willing to travel outside their country on a flight of three hours or more to visit a theme park.

Mr. Wang has also reportedly said that Shanghai Disneyland prices are too high – “With such steep [development] costs, Disney would have to charge high prices, which would turn away customers.”

In our research findings, it’s clear that theme park demand is fairly inelastic. Low prices don’t drive consumers to theme parks. In fact, quite the opposite. What parent or grandparent isn’t willing to spend extra money to provide their child/grandchild with a magical experience? Only 8% of consumers said price is the number one reason they choose a theme park (the second-lowest factor). Chinese consumers seem quite willing to open their wallets when it comes to visiting theme parks. On average, Chinese consumers are spending 760 RMB per person per day at a theme park, 40 percent spend more than 800RMB.

Mr. Wang’s most outlandish claim is that Wanda will outlast Disney because his theme parks have longer staying power: “We will make Disney’s China venture unprofitable in the next 10 to 20 years.” Twenty years is the pretty distant future, but we at least know that in the short term, Wanda will likely suffer as a result of Shanghai Disneyland’s opening. In our survey, 48 percent of consumers said they are less likely to visit a Wanda theme park after Shanghai Disneyland opens.

What does this mean for Wanda & other theme parks targeting China?

First, an increase in top-tier, high-quality attractions inside China could signal the rise of domestic destination travel. Almost three-quarters of consumers in our survey say that a trip to Shanghai Disneyland will be an incremental domestic leisure trip, not a replacement of an existing trip. Currently, 77 percent of consumers take one to two domestic leisure trips per year (the average number of domestic trips in China is 1.7 per year), so an increase of just one trip represents a massive new market opportunity.

Second, Shanghai Disneyland will likely stimulate demand for all theme parks and culture/entertainment centers in China, such as Shanghai Dreamcenter. In our survey, 35 percent of Chinese consumers with middle class or affluent incomes said they had been to one or fewer theme parks in the last year. If these same consumers have a positive and memorable brand experience with Shanghai Disney, it means that they are much more likely to visit another theme park as a result.


All players in the theme park space, both Chinese and international, will have to become more competitive (which will only benefit the Chinese consumer). Given that the top two drivers of theme park visits, according to our survey, are rides & attractions (27%) and fun & excitement (26%), competitors will have to focus their efforts in those areas.

Local Chinese players will also have to spend more time and effort building a strong brand, since they suffer from a brand deficit compared to global players who have plans to enter China, such as Dreamworks and Six Flags. Survey respondents said the overall brand is the number three driver of theme park choices, although 19% rated it number one driver.

Since both resorts are now open. Let the visitors come and the real competition for hearts and minds will begin.