Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Bumpy opening for Euro-Disney
The folks at Disney thought they had an iron-clad formula for success and did not even consider altering their fool-proof plans when they opened a Disney theme park just 20 miles to the east of Paris in 1992. This caused a rather bumpy ride at first.
Unwisely, they thought Europeans would spend days on end in expensive obscure USA-themed hotels, failing to register that Euro-Disney would likely find a niche as a day trip from Paris. Besides, who needed fake castles when the real deal was just a few miles away in any direction?
When it first opened, wine was not served in the restaurant on Main Street. This shocking state of affairs was corrected within a few months.
The first Christmas that Euro-Disney was open, management imported, at great expense, live reindeer from Scandinavia, failing to realize that reindeer do not figure prominently in European Christmas traditions (they are not raised to the lilting strains of “Rudolph”). The warm Paris winters caused the reindeer to lose their horns, so they had to be displayed sporting fake plastic horns.
Disney management wanted cast members to cut off their moustaches and wear deodorant, which the French considered a violation of labor rights! One month after its opening, 25% of its European labor force resigned, citing unacceptable working conditions.
For its opening day, Disney management had prepared for a half million visitors, but by midday the parking lot was less than half full (estimators calculated a crowd of about 25,000 people). It didn't help when news leaked that a full 10% of the resort was owned by a Saudi prince.
During the first three years of operation daily attendance remained at about 25,000 - a far cry from the anticipated 60,000.
Needless to say, management regrouped, made some painful changes and even altered the name to Disneyland Resort Paris in 1995. Hotel prices were drastically reduced in order to offset the unanticipated closing of the resort's Newport Bay Club hotel for lack of business (again, Newport Bay meant nothing to Europeans).
Today Euro-Disney operates with a better understanding of the people and nation they serve. Even so, as of 2007 the park is still $2 billion in debt.