magazine Kirmes & Park Revue English Edition - epaper

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Portrait - 25 Years Disneyland Paris
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DISNEYLAND PARIS: 25 YEARS OF STRUGGLE AND DETERMINATION by Dennis Speigel

It is hard to believe that Disneyland Paris, or Euro Disney as it was known when it opened, is celebrating 25 years of operation. ITPS was at the forefront of Disneyland Paris when it was fledglingand just getting started. How many of you know or remember that the park got off to a disastrous start on basically all aspects of the business when it opened in 1992? The French market was a peculiar choice for the park. The location in Marne-la-Vallee, a new town 32 kilometers east of Paris, was more peculiar due to its status as a new town. The French people did not favor the park being built in their country; they thought the idea was too plastic and too Americanizedfor France and Paris. Disney was provided great subsidisation packages from the French government to build the park there. However, these subsidisations were frowned upon by the locals, particularly the local land owners, farmers, and small businesses. Euro Disney was used as a platform for all types of protests from the various French industries. Disney’s doorstep was used as the physical forum to protest and strike. Farmers would come and dump surplus of crops to protest importingand exporting. Others would come and burn tires at the front gate to protest their displeasures with local and national government programs. These types of protests went on for several of the first years of Euro Disney’s operation. In addition to the unhappiness of the locals with the siting of the new Disney theme park, the park itself was experiencing severe image and operating issues due to the negativity surrounding the park. When it opened, the park fell into in a serious downward tailspin at almost every juncture. The early attendance projections utilized to plan and build the park were seriously underperforming. ITPS, who was quite grounded in Europe in the mid-80s and early 90s, was well established and known in the European French community as a credible resource to call upon when planning, or requiring problem solving assistance for leisure projects (we also performed services for the Accor Company on Parc Asterix in its early days of operation). Banc Paribas (BNP) was the lead bank on the funding for Euro Disney. They were flummoxed by how to address the multitude of upfront problems that had beset the Disney park.

They engaged ITPS to write a forensic white paper on the problematic issues. We initially uncovered a set of errors in the feasibility work that had been wrongly considered. Number 1). The planners horriblymisread the spending capacity of the European market. The planners severelyoverestimated what visitors were willing to spend. They were looking at models of the Disney USA parks and the Tokyo Disney park, both of which significantly outspent Euro Disney. They over-factored the European spend. Number 2). They opened in Marne-la-Vallee, 32km east of Paris, an area known for colder, wetter weather than the city of Paris. The park was located on the wrong side of the Parisian weather line. Other park developers had looked at this area a decade before and determined that Marne-la-Vallee was unsuitable for park development at that time. Number 3.) The French people, Parisians in particular, did not like the park and were vocal about how they felt concerningthe USA Disney park invading their culture. This feeling of lack of acceptance lasted for many years. Number 4.) They overbuilt their initial hotel offerings. Disney should have builton demand rather than opening with six hotels. These hotels were expensive by European standards and Europeans who did come to the park stayed off Disney property. Occupancy was reported to berunning at 38%. They closed three of the hotels, remaining shuttered for quite some time. Number 5.) Disney did not factor in their planning that Europeans could travel to the United States, specifically Orlando, have better weather, a larger offering of theme parks, and other leisure amenities for a cheaper total cost than it was for visitors from around Europe to travel to Paris.

In 1993, based on the low attendance, the Disney company laid off 950 cast members to cut operating expenses. This decision was met with great opposition by the French union leaders. Early into the second year of operation, it was estimated that 3,000 cast members quit or lost their jobs due to lack of business and due to what the world news reported as poor working conditions. Number 6.) Culture shock. As stated above, the French population known as the “People of Culture” who take great pride in the history and culture of their nation, believed that Disney would not be a success due to it being too American. As an example of Americanization, Michael Eisner, then head of Disney at the grand opening, when asked by the news media about serving alcohol in the park stated, “Disney will never sell alcohol. We are a family park!” Within 6 months,Disney was selling wine. Slowly, Disney became to understand that wine was important to the French meal as water was to Americans. Many Frenchsaw Disney parks as a threat to their way of life. It was blasted by the press for being over budget, culturally bankrupt, land grabbers, and Yankee flag-waving engineering at its worst. Comments were made such as “the Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are to our culture as what fast food is to gastronomy.” As the crowds failed to appear, major cutbacks had to occur. The company was under tremendous financial strain. Michael Eisner threatened to close the park if the sixty creditors did not restructure the debt. Bank Paribas hired ITPS to advise on the restructure of both the debt and the relationship with Disney management. It became very apparent to ITPS that if one of the sixty creditors folded, everyone would lose out completely, and Disney would receive a “chink in its armor,” never before experienced. Suffice to say after long periods of laborious meetings rife with argument, the debt was restructured, and all of the creditors stayed on board. Eisner’s plan pushed the restructuring proposition forward, but it had an impact on Disney overall by lowering the parent company’sbond rating. It also hurt the confidence of investors in the company at that time, resulting in 24 million shares of stock being held short on Wall Street (the second most shorted shares of any company being traded in the USA at that time). The French economic policies at the time did nothing to help Euro Disney. In fact, the economy shrunk by 1% and that too negatively impacted Euro Disney. Time and patience was the formula to get Euro Disney to the place Disneyland Paris is today.

Disney made significant concessions, such as subscribing to bonds with 10-year warrants to purchase Disney shares at 40 Francs per share! Disney also agreed to supply Euro Disney with a 1.1 billion Franc stand-by line of credit to insure the liquidity of the resort. The Walt Disney Company was giving up money it expected to receive. This showed Disney’s long-term commitment to the resort. It took quite a few years – over 15 – for Euro Disney / Disneyland Paris to become financially positive. Today, I am happy to say that Disneyland Paris has turned the corner. It is the highest attended leisure attraction in Europe. I think it is definitely out of the woods, but still has not reached the level of performance originally expected. I was once asked by a New York Times reporter what I believed was Euro Disney’s biggest obstacle. My response, “it was located in France.” To this day, I still believe that Spain would have been a better location. It was an interesting project for ITPS to consult on during the early days of its startup. I was glad to have participated in the turnaround.
With this editorial, the editor or editor-in-chief of the magazine Kirmes & Park Revue English Edition - epaper initiates the current issue 3/2018. Here you can find out which articles are especially readable or where the suggestions came from. …
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Delivery time single issue immediately
issue 3/2018 of 19.02.2018
Published monthly , 12 issues per year
Language German
Access after registration read online in the library & download as PDF
Category Hobby Magazines, Tourism Magazines and Sports Trade Magazines

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