Published On: Tue, Jul 12th, 2016

Disney theme park in Shanghai nears a million visitors

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Disney opened the massive Shanghai theme park to the public in mid-June  © AFP/File Johannes Eisele

Disney opened the massive Shanghai theme park to the public in mid-June
© AFP/File Johannes Eisele

San Francisco (AFP) – Disney chief executive Robert Iger said nearly a million people have visited the entertainment giant’s theme park opened less than a month ago in mainland China.

“It would be safe to assume almost a million people have experienced the park,” Iger said during an on-stage chat at a Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado.

Visitors to the park are staying longer than expected each day and showing fondness for Chinese barbecued pork with rice, cheeseburgers and turkey legs, according to Iger.

“We are introducing turkey legs to China,” Iger quipped. “Which I thought was a mistake, but we are selling 3,000 a day.”

Each turkey leg, sourced from Poland, costs more than $8 US.

Disney set the entrance fee at 499 yuan ($76) during peak periods and 370 yuan ($56) for other times, in a country where the average

monthly disposable income is just $278.

Disney opened the massive Shanghai theme park to the public in mid-June, hoping to win over communist-ruled China’s growing middle class with the ultimate American cultural export.

The Shanghai resort is the US company’s sixth in the world and the first in mainland China — there is already one in Hong Kong.

Disney tailored park attractions for China and left out some American trademark features, such as Main Street USA.

The Shanghai resort is the US company's sixth in the world and the first in mainland China  © AFP/File Johannes Eisele

The Shanghai resort is the US company’s sixth in the world and the first in mainland China
© AFP/File Johannes Eisele

“I very much wanted to avoid being called a cultural imperialist,” Iger said of work that went into tuning the Disney park for Shanghai.

Disney said its philosophy is to integrate local elements throughout, from the Chinse food on the menu to the attractions — even the Disney castle is topped with a traditional peony flower.

Iger referred to the Shanghai project as a lesson in patience and perseverance, saying nearly 18 years elapsed from when he first stepped on the site for a survey to the day of the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The park is the most technologically advanced ever constructed by Disney, Iger said.

Workers broke ground on the project in 2011 and the Shanghai Disney Resort now sprawls over 3.9 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) on the city’s outskirts, with a fairy-tale castle soaring over the horizon.

But the launch of the $5.5 billion resort, representing one of the biggest foreign investments ever in China, comes as growth in the world’s second largest economy slumps to its lowest level in a quarter century.

Still, Disney deemed the world’s most populous country too big to ignore.

There is competition for tourist cash as China builds more theme parks than any other country in the world.

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