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Disney opens 'distinctly Chinese' park in Shanghai

Published 16/06/2016

Disney has opened its first theme park in mainland China, with speeches by Communist Party leaders, a Chinese children's choir, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney characters.

A Chinese vice premier joined Disney chief executive Bob Iger in cutting a red ribbon as the park opened in Shanghai, signalling the ruling party's endorsement of the 5.5 billion dollar (£3.8 billion) investment in promoting tourism and other service industries at a time of slowing economic growth.

They read out letters of congratulations from the Chinese and US presidents, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.

Shanghai Disneyland gives the Hollywood giant a chance to burnish the brand behind Frozen in the world's most populous film market and to revive its struggling international theme park business.

"This is one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of the Walt Disney Co," said Mr Iger after the choir sang When You Wish Upon A Star. Later, actors dressed as Sleeping Beauty, Donald Duck and other Disney characters danced on stage.

Speaking as a light rain fell, vice premier Wang Yang quipped: "I would like to call this a rain of US dollars or of renminbi," the Chinese currency.

Mr Wang, a member of the party's powerful Politiburo, described the park as an example of "practical co-operation" and "people-to-people exchanges".

The park's opening follows a decade of negotiations, five years of construction and weeks of having over a million visitors try out its rides, shops, restaurants and two hotels.

Global brands like Disney are rushing to create products for Chinese tastes. The company added China-themed elements and put the emphasis on popular characters at the Shanghai park, while downplaying its American identity. At the entrance, instead of Main Street USA, it's Mickey Avenue.

Ahead of the opening, Mr Iger said the park is "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese".

In a garden leading to its iconic Storybook Castle, Disney created a Garden of the Twelve Friends using characters such as Remy from Ratatouille and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh as animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Disney says the park's Wandering Moon Teahouse, modelled on a building in eastern China, is the only Chinese-style structure in any of its parks.

Analysts expect Shanghai Disneyland to become the world's most-visited theme park, attracting at least 15 million and as many as 50 million guests a year. By contrast, Walt Disney World drew 19.3 million people in 2014.

Shanghai represents a market of 300 million people living within three hours of the park by car or train in one of China's most affluent regions. China's bullet train network can draw in areas further afield.

The park should generate about 1.5 billion to 4.5 billion dollars (£1 billion to £3 billion) a year in revenue, according to Drexel Hamilton analyst Tony Wible.

Disney's state-owned Chinese partner, the Shanghai Shendi Group, which owns 57% of the 2.9-square-mile park, will get the lion's share.

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