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The Cultural Barbarism of EuroDisney

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The Cultural Barbarism of EuroDisney

1. After Disney's golden step towards Japan, the first years in Europe weren't that good. A combination of factors contributed to a disastrous start Paris. The biggest factor contributing to the poor performance on the long run was the failing cultural adaptation. Disney build, promoted and communicated EuroDisney as a piece of marvelous America in Europe. Everything about the park was American and cultural differences between America and Europe were completely neglected. This resulted not only in negative experiences by customers itself, but also in a heavy load of criticism from the intellectual segment of France, which traditionally didn't have good relations with 'Americanism'.

Besides the cultural problems, a lot of secondary factors contributed to the poor start. First of all, the price to enter the park and especially staying at the hotels, was too high in the European mindset. A nightly stay at a hotel at EuroDisney was priced 110 to 380 dollar, prices compared to a very good hotel in the center of Paris. Customers weren't willing to spend this amount of money.

Another factor was the type of vacations Europeans normally have. Instead of going on a lot of short trips, Europeans take a major break in July or August. The park was promoted as a place to stay a whole vacation, but since the Europeans spend more time on a vacation than three days, this conflicted with the European behavior. While staying at the park, the amount of days spent at EuroDisney was also disappointing: instead of the estimated three days Europeans just stayed two days, resulting in less revenues from hotels, restaurants and souvenirs. The general amount of money spent a day by an European customer was also lower than expected (in Tokyo a family spent 600 dollar, in Paris just 280 dollar).

The opening of the park in 1992 with big events such as the World's Fair in Sevilla and the Olympic Games in Barcelona during the summertime was also unfortunate. Besides these interesting events, the transatlantic airfare war and currency movements made going abroad for vacation a cheap option for Europeans. This resulted in just a small difference between going to Disneyland Orlando and EuroDisney for the holidays.

2. Although Disney as a mother company was probably blind sighted by the success of the Japanese Disneyland, the mistakes made in the nineties with EuroDisney were at least partly foreseeable and can be accounted on the management team that made the decisions for the European park. The hotel pricing (and the pricing strategy in general) is probably the most controllable and foreseeable factor of all. The fact that a classy hotel in the center of Paris costs as much as a stay at a good, but not exceptionally well Disney hotel, should have been taken into account by the EuroDisney team.

The European vacation behavior isn't directly controllable, but could have been foreseen. So is the wave of criticism from the French intellectuals: even now, almost twenty years after the opening of EuroDisney, the English language is still unpopular in France and the American consumerism style isn't appreciated.

The uncontrollable factors are mostly environmental issues, such as the economic outlook (the transatlantic airfare war and the currency movements) and the major European events. Disney could have postponed the opening of EuroDisney, but given the fact that the park was done and ready for use, this didn't seem as a financial viable option. They could have been foreseen and taken into account with the prospects of the first year of operation, but it is financially understandable why Disney didn't adapt their strategy.

It just seems that every aspect of the cultural adaptation that could have gone wrong, went wrong with EuroDisney. So could everything been foreseen? Now, we say 'yes', but we have to remember that Disney was the first company to open a huge American entertainment park in Europe and the only experience they had was that of the Japanese version. We can blame Disney as the big company for neglecting the differences between Europe, America and Japan, but it is the EuroDisney management team that really deserves the 'punishment'. Their information sources and research into the European culture was just not good enough, to say it fairly.

3. Ethnocentrism, explained as “the notion that one's own culture or company knows best how to do things”, is directly related to the start of EuroDisney. When Disney opened EuroDisney in Paris, the park was a symbol of American culture. The cultural adaptation that was necessary to make the park a success didn't cross the mind of the Disney team. The reason behind this could be the success of the Japanese park, which succeeded without any changes to the local culture, or just the American bravery of Disney and it's management team. The management that directed the EuroDisney park was the same team that took Disney from an one billion to an eight and a half billion company, so the feeling that “they knew best” can be described as one of the main factors why EuroDisney failed. The fact that this feeling was communicated to the media (“We're building something immortal, like the pharaohs built the Sphinx”, as a Disney executive put it) gives more reason to think that the management really thought they were 'on top of the world' and could sell anything in any way to the European customer.

5. The optimism of Tokyo Disneyland is justified, because the park has been one big success. After the opening in 1983 more than 14 million people visited the park within two years, families spent an average of 600 dollar a day and there hasn't been a declination in visitors. Around seventy five percent of the customers said they will visit the park again.
All of this was accomplished by presenting an authentic American park to the Japanese market. The Japanese didn't want an Japanese version of Disneyland: they wanted to have their “ultimate U.S. Entertainment experience”. With the success of the Japanese park in mind and the fact that the Japanese didn't want an adapted park (culturally speaking), it wasn't that strange that the general mindset of the Disney management was optimistic and they thought they could realize another great U.S. entertainment experience with just presenting pure Americanism to the European market.

6. The problems Disney encountered when entering Europe with Disneyland were not only because of the behavior of the French, it was the neglecting of (European) culture in general that made EuroDisney a disaster. The hotel pricing, the European vacation behavior, the eating rituals and a lot of other factors would also have been a problem in Spain.
With Spain, the customer focus would probably been a bit more South-European, because it's a long drive from countries such as Germany, The Netherlands or North-France to Spain, which brings another load of difficulties: would people from African countries be eager to travel to Spain for EuroDisney and what would Disney do to facilitate the cultural Muslim rituals (not eating pork meat, the separation between women and man, etc)?

And with Spain being the main target market, English would still be a problem as a language and Disney would have to adapt to other Spanish rituals. Say for example the siesta, would Disney close the park in the afternoon for two hours or would they have been neglecting this as well? And what about the dinner time of the Spanish (normally around 9 or 10 pm), what would Disney have done with the opening times of the park? Besides these cultural differences, the relation between Spain and the US isn't magnificent, with wars between the countries in the colonial time and still some fractions between the countries. The critics wouldn't be one hundred percent favorable to the Americans as well.

So, concluding all the arguments: also in Spain Disney would have encountered problems, because it wasn't the one country that was the problem, it was adapting to culture in general.

8. The move from Disney to Asia with themeparks in Shanghai and HongKong seems wise with the growing economies in Asia and the population of countries like China. My suggestions for the next Disney park would be India (in the region of Mumbai), Australia (in the region of Melbourne) or another China location (for example the middle part of the country).

China has a fairly soft climate, has proven it's strength already with the booming HongKong park, keeps growing economically, has more than a billion inhabitants and has a population that wants a peace of the wealth that the western part of the world has had for over fifty years. Australia is a good location because of the tourism from all over the world (it can serve as a good spot for Southern Asia as well), the great weather, beautiful nature and the connection to the western culture.

The best location would be India though. India has an English speaking population (at least part of it, mostly the people who can afford a trip to Disneyland speak English), does not have direct access to the Asian themeparks (it's generally too far), has great economical potential (the GNP keeps growing), a huge population (over one billion and counting) and a decent climate. If the park would be situated near the biggest Indian city (Mumbai), the park could serve as an attraction for the seven million people who live in Mumbai and all the tourism the city attracts. Disney is also a known company in India, with cartoons being aired on national television (the cartoons are translated to other Indian languages). Although the Indian culture is significantly different from the American, Japanese or European culture, American firms have proved to be successful in India with the needed adaptation. From this not-so-well-informed perspective it is hard to pick a location though, of course further investigation is needed before making a decision with these kind of financial implications and risks.

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