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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Rain or shine, Disney's parade rolls on

Unlike other amusement parks, perpetual investment helps TDR weather downturns, change with the times


Staff writer

Although a cloudy day in April, and a little chilly from the morning drizzle, the temperature seemed a bit higher at Tokyo Disneyland, where many had come to enjoy a new parade, "Jubilation!" created to mark the park's 25th anniversary.

News photo
Going strong: Disney characters work the crowd during a parade marking Tokyo Disneyland's 25th anniversary in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, in April. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Among the kids holding hands with their parents, the students on school trips and the couples on their first date, was Ayano Kato, a college student from Saitama Prefecture, who joyfully clasped her hands together as she watched Mickey and Minnie parade before Cinderella Castle.

"I come here about two or three times a year," said Kato, who was visiting with a friend. "I like that I can be in a different world here."

Tokyo Disney Resort, comprising two theme parks — Disneyland and DisneySea — is one of the few amusement parks in Japan that has managed to steadily increase its attendance.

In fiscal 2007, TDR attracted 25.4 million visitors, up from 22 million in fiscal 2001.

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka was a distant second with 8.7 million visitors in fiscal 2006, according to the park's latest available figures.

A white paper on leisure activities, compiled by the semigovernmental Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development last year, found that the amusement park industry raked in ¥64.8 billion in sales in fiscal 2006, 44 percent of that going to TDR.

"It's like Tokyo Disneyland is the sole winner in the industry," said Yoshihiro Mukohata, senior researcher at Yano Research Institute Ltd. "Other amusement parks are losing out."

As the number of leisure activity options increases for consumers, more are going to shopping complexes with movie theaters, and giant hot-spring complexes instead of amusement parks with roller coasters and merry-go-rounds, Mukohata said.

Odakyu Electric Railway Co. closed down Gotenba Family Land in 1999 and Mukogaoka Yuen in 2002, withdrawing from the amusement park business. Hankyu Corp. shut down Takarazuka Family Land in 2003.

Oriental Land Co., the operator of TDR, invests about ¥10 billion to ¥15 billion annually on developing new attractions and new seasonal parades and events for those who visit several times a year.

"The amount of investment (that Oriental Land makes) is different from other facilities," said Mukohata. "It's difficult for a single company to invest that much."

More than 80 percent of TDR's visitors have come before, which means something fresh is needed each time.

"We always say that the park will never be completed," said Kiyotaka Hayakawa, director of public relations at Oriental Land. "Through additional investment, we try to maintain our existing fans and at the same time add new fans as well."

It cost Oriental Land ¥335 billion to construct DisneySea, a theme park inspired by Mediterranean port villages, in 2001.

The nine-story, 705-room Tokyo Disneyland Hotel will open on July 8. In October, Cirque du Soleil, a Canada-based performance group, will open its theater on the TDR premises.

Hayakawa said that the amusement park's huge success is also a result of its location. The Kanto region is home to 34 million people, nearly a third of Japan's population.

"Within a radius of 50 km, there is a substantial number of high-income people," said Hayakawa. "No other place in the world is like it."

In addition, Chiharu Kawasaki, the first president of Oriental Land, was clever enough to purchase and develop a gigantic 380-hectare plot of land facing Tokyo Bay in the 1960s and '70s.

Although Tokyo Disneyland only took up 51 hectares, Kawasaki foresaw developing the whole area, which later allowed the company to build the Ikspiari shopping complex in 2000 and a second theme park, DisneySea, in 2001.

"This is in fact the entrepreneur's way of thinking," wrote Oriental Land Chairman Toshio Kagami in his book on how DisneySea came to be. "Oriental Land is based on the legacy of the past."

But as Japan ages and the population falls, TDR is no exception when it comes to facing a challenging future.

Hidetoshi Kono, author of "Tokyo Disneyland — A Magical Service that Touches the Hearts of Customers," says TDR should focus more on visitors in higher age groups.

"It should build facilities that seniors can easily enjoy," said Kono, who runs a consulting company for retailers. "The current parks are still (too big and sometimes steep) for the elderly to walk through."

Meanwhile, Mukohata of Yano Research Institute points out that it is difficult for TDR to keep increasing the number of annual visitors because the Maihama waterfront area in Chiba Prefecture will reach peak capacity sooner or later.

Building a different facility in another location is an alternative TDR should consider, Mukohata said.

"DisneySea may still have land for more attractions but Disneyland is already full," he said. "It needs to come up with other profitable businesses if it wants to keep on growing."

Oriental Land is fully aware of that.

After a press preview event in April, Kagami of Oriental Land told reporters that the company is considering developing an amusement park elsewhere in Japan or in southeast Asia.

"We are currently looking into places like southeast Asia," Kagami said, adding that he will consider something that won't attract visitors away from Hong Kong Disneyland.



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The Japan Times

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