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Shanghai Disney draws 4m guests, sees break-even next year

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Walt Disney Co said its new US$5.5 billion Shanghai theme park attracted four million visitors in its first four months and will be close to breaking even in 2017, its first full year of operation, the company said Thursday.

[LOS ANGELES] Walt Disney Co said its new US$5.5 billion Shanghai theme park attracted four million visitors in its first four months and will be close to breaking even in 2017, its first full year of operation, the company said Thursday.

About 50 per cent of the park's guests are from outside the Shanghai area, a "big surprise" as the Chinese city had been expected to account for more than three-quarters of visitors initially, Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

"The fact that it's so balanced leads us to believe that word of mouth on this and the intent to visit from well beyond Shanghai is very, very high."

The Shanghai theme park, Disney's first in mainland China and largest foreign investment, opened in June as the company races to capture the country's growing middle class and dominate its US$180 billion media and entertainment industry. The company has also started producing movies in Asia's largest economy.

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In an earlier conference call with analysts after Disney reported fiscal fourth quarter results, Mr Iger said some of them may infer from the first four months' attendance that the Shanghai park could get 10 million visitors in its first year, a number the company "would be thrilled with". However, Disney won't provide any guidance for the resort at this point, he said.

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International tourism analyst Jennifer So had expected the park will get 15 million visitors in its first twelve months of operations, while Macquarie Capital analyst Tim Nollen estimated the park will get 15.7 million annual visitors by fiscal 2019.

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"The entire theme park industry is not doing as well as we expected," said Jennifer So, a tourism analyst at China Securities International, by telephone.

"It's a very different market for Disney in China - it's a different culture, and their characters are not as well-known or popular here, and the ticket prices are high."

Asia's most popular theme park in 2015 was Tokyo Disneyland with 16.6 million visitors, followed by Universal Studios Japan with 13.9 million, according to Aecom's 2015 Global Attractions Attendance Report.

Within China, the most popular was the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Hengqin, part of southern Zhuhai city, which attracted 7.5 million visitors in 2015, according to the report.

"Over time, Shanghai Disney will continue to expand - sometimes there's a slump in year two after the excitement fades," said Chris Yoshii, Aecom's vice-president for economics in the Asia-Pacific region.

"However, over time they generally grow attendance."

Guests are staying longer than Disney expected, according to Mr Iger, who visited Shanghai last week and said he was surprised by the number of young kids at the park on a weekday.

Disney this week announced it broke ground on an expansion at the park, a Toy Story-themed land with three attractions and a character meet-and-greet area. Mr Iger said Disney characters, even new ones such as those from the 2016 film "Zootopia" are being well received in China.

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