Chendu, China (June 7, 2013) — Following are remarks about Shanghai Disneyland made by Disney CEO Bob Iger on Thursday, June 6, during the Fortune Global Forum in Chendu, China. The full transcript of his panel discussion is available at CNN Money:
“. . . if you are a global brand like Disney, and we’re different from a brand perspective because we’re not a consumable, really, even though people consume our products, they buy our product. We’re much ore of an experience brand, whether you’re watching a movie, watching a television show, certainly going to a theme park. And I think because we are an experience brand, we touch culture in a very different way than a typical luxury brand might.
“And when that happens I think you have to be very careful. You have to have a very deft hand, because on one hand the Disney brand and what it stands for is of interest to the culture and to the people in the culture. Disney, that’s certainly the case we’re an optimistic brand or an inclusive brand. We’re a brand that is viewed as good for me and good for my family. There are values to the Disney brand and what it stands for that have interested people all over the world. But, it’s very, very important that while we bring Disney to a market we make sure that in that market it feels like, for instance, China’s Disney. It can’t just be the Disney that exists in carbon copy form somewhere else in the world.
“. . . Disney has had four parks around the world, two in the United States and California, and in Orlando, one in Paris and one in Tokyo. Tokyo opened 30 years ago. And some time in the ’90s started looking further a field in Asia for other markets. Hong Kong was an obvious one. But, even back in the ’90s China was starting to show signs of emerging. And it’s amazing when you think about what’s happened since then, of course, because it doesn’t look anything like it did then.
“And the company made a decision that Hong Kong should come first, that Shanghai, and we looked at other places in China, but it was clear that Shanghai was the number one choice, that Shanghai should come second. So we negotiated a deal to put Disneyland in Hong Kong, started the negotiation in Shanghai, and that lasted 11 years, 11 years. I was involved since 1999, and dealt with multiple entities, all with a desire on the Chinese side to bring Disney here. But, there were some very, very large complications on so many levels, financial and creative and logistical, and you name it.
“But, finally we were able to close a deal, break ground in 2011 and the castle is going up as we speak. There will be soon some 14,000 workers living and working on the property, constructing Disneyland Shanghai in Pudong, actually, to open some time late in 2015. Now that can’t be the Disneyland that Walt built in 1955 for all kinds of reasons. But, it can’t be the Disneyland that Walt built in California, because this is China. It has to look, feel, resemble China’s Disneyland. And that has taken a lot of thought, a lot of work. Now, there will be things about it that will look very familiar. It has a castle. And there will be things about it that will not exist, or that don’t exist in any of the parks that we have.
“. . . You listen to a lot of voices and a diversity of opinion about it. And one of the first things that we discovered is that the initial people that we were dealing with were of one generation, had certain ideas, but there were whole other generations, and there were other geographies in China that had different ideas. So we essentially collected a multitude of opinion, and ultimately when you’re creating something you can use all the research in the world that tells you what you’re supposed to make. In the end it comes down to the gut feel of the creator to make what they really felt would they want to make, but what they feel is right, what the audience wants.
“In the end this will really be our decision, but based on a lot of time spent in the market and a lot of collaboration, a lot of listening, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ve done it right and chances are there will be things about it that won’t be perfect, and we’ll learn and adapt quickly. By the way, one of the interesting learnings, I don’t mean to belabor this, but one of the things that we discovered in Hong Kong, which is very different than anywhere else in the world, is that the people who visit Hong Kong Disneyland like to spend twice as much time eating than they do in Florida, or California, or even Paris and Tokyo. We couldn’t figure that out.
“So when people take twice as long to eat you’re turning tables over in a restaurant basically at a much lower speed. And we didn’t have enough. We just didn’t build enough eating capacity. Now, we quickly adjusted, but that’s something all the research in the world I don’t believe would have taught us.”