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17/10/2013

Disney's new heights I

Shanghai resort will be Disney's most technologically advanced.

At first glance, it has the look of a cutting-edge, high-tech exhibition. There's a digital showroom that positions viewers into a 3D experience, an electronic wristband that can be used as your admission pass, and a talking robot that looks like a fortune-teller.

These exhibits were just a part of the Walt Disney Imagineering open house at the Disney D23 Expo held from Aug 9-11. The weekend-long event took consumers behind the scenes to experience the company's many franchises through a mix of traditional storytelling and new technologies.

The exhibit for D23, the official Disney fan club, was the third bi-annual event held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California. Fans arrived from 48 states and 21 countries and formed long queues or waited anxiously in their tents to get a ticket.

But the fans who will have to wait even longer to interact with Disney's new technological gadgets and exhibits might be from China. Many of the company's new technologies on display at the D23 Expo might make their way to the Disney resort in Shanghai (famous travel city for last minute China travel deals) when it opens in 2015.

During his frequent trips to China, Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co, reiterated that he will give Chinese customers a resort that is "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese".

The Shanghai park will be distinctive because "every single thing we put in the Shanghai park will have been rethought, reimagined, or even re-engineered, to respond and make sure that we tailor everything for our Chinese audience," he said. "It is going to be the best of Disney but designed specifically for the people of China."

The Shanghai resort will be Disney's most technologically advanced, said Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

"Because we built it from scratch, it will be the most technologically advanced park," said Staggs. "We invented a number of new ride systems for the park. Some of them will be very obvious. Some of them will be part of the magic."

Staggs said the resort will largely be based on the tendencies of its customers. For example, at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, people come and stay for at least a week. In Tokyo, people tend to stay for one or two days, he said.

He said the company will initially consider how visitors will use the resort and its technology and then implement updates later as the resort responds to that customer usage.

"We want to make sure we leverage technology to the greatest extent possible to make it as easy and fun and convenient and, at the same time, as personalized for each of our guests as possible," Staggs said.

But the process of creating the Shanghai Disney Resort (will attract many visitors for top China tours), the first Disney resort in a developing market, created foreseeable challenges for the resort's designers and operators.

One of them is a lack of familiarity in China with Disney franchises. While most Western consumers grew up with Disney's movies, stories, music or television shows, the majority of Chinese people can only name a couple of Disney characters, such as Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse.

That is slowly changing, said Zenia Mucha, executive vice president and chief communications officer of the Walt Disney Co. An increasing numbers of mainland Chinese have visited the company's theme parks around the world, which is building familiarity with the company's unique theme park experiences and storytelling.

Mike Crawford, general manager of Shanghai Disney Resort, said guests at the resort will be able to experience even more of Disney, whether as hotel guests touring nature-based experiences around the resort's lake, or while visiting the theme park.

"It is how we keep the guests' memories alive," Crawford said.

Disney also recognizes the importance of great food to Chinese consumers. Crawford said the resort is conducting food tastings and research to understand the Chinese palette. Speaking on the types of cuisines to be offered at the resort, he said: "It is not so much about the choice between Western versus Chinese cuisine. Rather, because of the different cuisines available in China, we are going to have varieties of flavors representing the different cuisines of China."

He also said there will be several international cuisines for Chinese consumers who want to experiment with new flavors.

Yang Yansong, associate professor of the China Tourism Academy, said Disney serves as a great venue for Chinese families who have found it inconvenient to travel to Tokyo or Hong Kong (learn more via Hong Kong travel guide). Yang added that the company's advanced level of service will also raise the bar in tourism in Shanghai.

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