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Successes and Challenges of Disneyland in Europe

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Walt Disney is known to be one of the world leaders in family entertainment and one of the most valuable brands in the world. In 1992, Disney decided to expand their efforts to open a Disneyland theme park in France, later known as EuroDisney. However, as we will soon learn, having a big name and a successful past, may not be sufficient enough for success outside of its original site. As we know, international marketing focuses on the applied efforts of using the correct marketing principles to satisfy the needs and wants of different people residing across international borders. Factors such as culture, marketing, and operational errors were crucial in the potential worldwide success of EuroDisney. Due to its past successes in Florida, California, and Tokyo, management was heavily persistent and determined in building and adding another entertainment and theme park to their massive empire across international borders, no matter the cost. Disney’s European journey started with dreams of a wishful fairytale that would soon come crumbling down.

This journey begins in 1987 when the agreement for the creation and operation for opening the first Disneyland in Europe was signed. The Paris location was chosen over 200 potential sites internationally; including Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. The original concept of EuroDisney was introduced by Walt Disney as a way to pay tribute to France’s gardens and castles that had given Walt the inspiration for his architectural designs at the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Even with France’s dismal weather during winter, management was easily swayed in choosing the country by the incentives the French government offered, such as the impressive data on regional demographics, and France’s overall high tourist attraction, a factor that was thought to be crucial to the park’s future success if it was going to attract ample visitors. Disney showed no mercy in its strategy, buying all the surrounding land so there was none for outsiders to gain. This did not go well with native farmers, as Disney did not gain the local support it needed to rise to its ample expectations. None the less, Disney was nothing short of confident that they had just signed its next greatest financial victory, with its high prices and wishful thinking that the project would sell the park. But Disney overlooked and vastly miscalculated the amount Europeans would be willing to spend for a day at EuroDisney. Disney’s high prices for a stay in one of their 7 on-site resorts were staggeringly high for a family visiting EuroDisney, prices being equivalent to some of the most expensive hotels in all of Paris. For example, one night at the Newport Bay Club, the largest of EuroDisney’s resorts, can cost anywhere from $110 to $380 a night, in comparison to a top hotel in Paris that can range between $340 and $348 a night. This gave some families no other option as to stay overnight in a less expensive hotel in the capital city. A family of four would easily spend $600 in order to guarantee a magical time at the resort. At this time, it was ironically less expensive to book an airfare and hotel to Disney World in Orlando, FL, making EuroDisney an unappealing and expensive vacation.

This initial decision regarding opening a theme park in France showed nothing but promising initial results to management, but the corporation couldn’t have been more wrong with the tactics it used. April 12, 1992, was an exciting day for the Disney Corporation, it was the anticipated opening day for EuroDisney. Guests were warned beforehand of heavy traffic due to Disney’s new awaited opening day, but with much dismay, Disney fell short on its attendance projections that were previously made from the successful openings in California, Florida, and Tokyo. Disney had expected its attendance on opening day to be around 400,000 guests, but by mid-day, there were only 25,000 guests, a staggeringly low number compared to past Disneyland openings. These projections also fell short during its first year of opening, expecting to attract 11 million visitors, but only managed to bring in 9.2 million visitors. During the couple of months prior to opening, Disney had recruited, hired, housed, and trained nearly 12,000 cast members to its new theme park, hiring only bilingual and trilingual employees. The corporation had a set of standards that that company was adamant on using that had worked in the U.S and Asia, giving Disney arrogance in thinking Europe was not any different. Disney has an established corporate identity in America, which it perpetuates by training its employees on educating them about the company, while also learning what they can expect from their employment from the Disney Corporation. They also taught cast members Disney’s philosophy on integrating hospitality with show business, as well as explaining the importance and stress the company institutes on teamwork and leadership. Disney did an insufficient job communicating with cast members, imposing the ‘Disney culture’ over the local culture. This assured the American Disney philosophy of what they were teaching the cast members was the “right” way, instead of encouragement from management to adapt cast members to the French culture. Cast members also had to adjust getting used to working longer hours than they would’ve at any other French labor practices. In the United States, Disney’s busiest days of the week was Friday, allowing the corporation to assume the same days would replicate the equivalent business in Europe, missing the ball when Monday was the busiest day and not having a sufficient amount of staff to pick up the pace, forcing exhausted employees to work even longer hours than promised. With Disney’s busiest season of the year being summer, the corporation ensured that cast members were to work during this time, contravening traditional French employment practices to which employee holidays and overtime compensation were typically given during these summer months. Disney had a flawed expectation that its traditional American employment practices would translate into the French labor force effectively, but this thought was shortsighted and resulted in a major backlash to the corporation.

The press and French legal authorities criticized Disney by the prohibition cast members had from arguing with guests, smoking, eating and drinking publicly, as well as the strict dress code that was enforced. Disney was being accused by media of trying to “rewrite the French employment code” by administering strict grooming requirements to achieve the well-scrubbed all-American look that Disney had embedded in its prior theme parks. These requirements were such that defined the size of your fingernails, the color of your hair, an overall ban on facial hair, no colored stockings, and a policy of “appropriate undergarments”. French laborers working at EuroDisney referred to the enforced dress code as “repressive” while being an “awkward policy directly transposed from the United States, which was poorly integrated into French culture”. Challenged with this cultural gap in French employment norms, nearly 1,000 cast members left EuroDisney within the first three months. Those who stayed failed to comply to even Disney’s lowest standards of guest relations, disappointing guests by their “not so magical” attitudes.

The prospect of EuroDisney in France was the subject of numerous disputes and disagreements around, proving to be true during its first year of opening with major operational and marketing issues. Disney noticed its shortcomings within the first couple of weeks after opening after French visitors were nowhere to be seen in the theme park. The corporation believed in a concept of trying to sell an American product to Europe while attempting to adapt bits and pieces of the park to suit the French cultural tastes. They saw EuroDisney as an “American Imperialism” and felt that it would encourage an unhealthy American type of ethnocentrism in France. Disney advertised EuroDisney poorly, aggravating local French sentiment by using glitz and size, an all-American concept forced upon European soil, rather than promoting the variety of rides and attractions located in the park, essentially ruining the magic Disney prides itself on giving to customers. One former Disney executive voiced the opinion “We were arrogant – it was like ‘We were building the Taj Mahal and people will come- on our terms.’” Disney also failed in the advertising efforts it made, by making the mistake of using methods that the corporation had used to woo consumers in the United States. EuroDisney was faulted in using their advertising campaigns to target children, rather than adults. These ads were displayed by showing Mickey and Pluto introducing the rides and parades that awaits for them in the park. Advertisements as such, deemed to be successful in the U.S. because most adults had visited Disney Resorts as children, having prior knowledge and memories of the theme park, its characters, and its offered amenities. But the knowledge involving vacation customs of Europeans was absent, as most European adults associated Disney with magazines, films, and toys, not a vacation trip. Unlike the U.S, theme parks had not previously been established in France, forcing Disney to think outside of the box in order to gain the following it needed in order to make EuroDisney the success it so very much strived to become.

The arrogance Disney displayed, proved to be insensitive to the French culture by Disney’s ethnocentric approach on food and beverage throughout the park. Executives had been previously told that Europeans do not eat breakfast, clarifying that most people run on a croissant and a coffee in the morning. As a result, Disney decided they would downsize their breakfast services in their restaurants accordingly, serving only mainly coffee and croissants. Come to find out, everybody showed up wanting a full, seated breakfast. “We were trying to serve 2,500 breakfasts in a 350-seat restaurant.” One of Disney’s biggest offense to the French was their decision to prohibit alcohol in the park. While the alcohol ban has been a longstanding Disney policy, this decision caused an uproar in banning a beverage French locals seamlessly integrate into family life. This ensured to the French, who view wine as an important part of everyday life, that Disney was just yet another American company with insensitivity to the French culture. Perceiving itself as a strong negotiator Disney was convinced, nonetheless, that its success was assured in France. To succeed as a business in France, the company must fully understand the market it is trying to obtain while fully understanding French taste.

Disney could have prevented more than half of the troubles they caused themselves by undergoing sufficient research of the French culture. Disney proved they learned from their previous mistakes in France, whilst preparing for the opening of Disney’s newest Disneyland park located in Hong Kong, China. The corporation was adamant in not making the same cultural and managerial mistakes it had initially made in opening the park in France. Disney knew Mickey’s magic wasn’t enough to reign in the success like it once thought in Paris, so management made sure to go above and beyond what they knew customers were expecting in Hong Kong, coming at the project to appeal to local tastes. To achieve this, the company thought it best to take one of China’s ancient practices to help when implementing the new plan and construction. This practice is commonly known as feng shui, which allows the arrangement of objects to ensure a good flow of energy, which Disney desperately needed. With this in mind, the front gate to the park was rotated, cash registers were repositioned, and boulders were placed to promote stability while ensuring good fortune does not flow out the back. With 2 out of the 5 elements of feng shui being water and fire, many waterfalls were also strategically placed throughout the park to aspire wealth and good fortune, and ‘no-fire zones’ were placed in lucky locations to balance the remaining elements. One of the most telling examples of how Disney reclaimed itself by respecting its new home territory using feng shui, was when the company decided to set the opening date for September 12, 2006. In the United States, no company dared to schedule an opening near the terrorist attack of 9/11, still heavily mourned this day; but for the Chinese, September 12 showed as an auspicious date for opening a business in the Chinese almanac. This showed China how for the first time since Paris, Disney was willing to put its American disparities aside regarding the Chinese cultural differences and tastes.

After nearly a decade of EuroDisney being condemned for its ignorance in the lack of knowledge of traditional European ways, it was time for Disney to ensure they’ve gotten things right the second time around. EuroDisney decided its next big move was something that would capture the history of the French culture, unlike any other way. The new Walt Disney Studios added to EuroDisney, blends Disney entertainment and attractions with the history and culture of European film. The new movie tribute theme park was modeled after an old Hollywood studio complex, having rides that showed big stunts of motorcycles and cars racing through the village modeled after the French resort town of St. Tropez. This was a big leap for EuroDisney, as it had originally been accused of its French-land theme park of not being French enough. Disney also learned that they needed to incorporate not just France, but respectfully other international countries as well through their characters, ensuring the characters in the new theme park speak six different languages. Disney pushed emphasis on its characters such as Cinderella and Peter Pan, both being originated from European tales, while also now calling princesses by their French names, Sleeping Beauty now being “La belle au bois dormant” (Newell, 2013). EuroDisney later introduced its first original character tailored for its European audience, “L’Homme Citrouille” also known as the pumpkin man. Disney also wanted to respect the French language and culture by changing some of its famous names to match its new French home. For example, renaming the Swiss Family Treehouse located in the Magic Kingdom to “La Cabane des Robinson”. These changes were essential in order to gain the trust of French, Disney had originally disregarded. Small changes incorporating French culture Disney had originally failed to do, is what helped EuroDisney to later become successful.

The company showed weakness, later suffering from mistakes that caused EuroDisney not be deemed as successful as they had originally perceived. In order for Disney to succeed as a global operation, the company must learn to avoid cultural stereotypes, rather than basing decisions on what the corporation can learn about the culture it’s trying to respect, rather than making assumptions. Disney was guilty of this from the very beginning, assuming knowledge in certain aspects of culture, risks, and native lifestyle. This would include doing adequate research beforehand to ensure the safety and prosperity of keeping the French culture intact to prevent the sticky situation Disney repeatedly put itself in. Disney must also create a strong balance between adapting to local cultural norms, even if that includes sacrificing corporate identity. This can go back to Disney’s long-time ban of alcohol across all previous parks, sacrificing the cultural norms in France of drinking wine with almost every meal, rather than sacrificing its world-renowned corporate identity. While this policy was one that Disney had enforced for years, not re-evaluating its decision in uprooting it to its location in France was also an ethnocentric decision. Disney had a perceived mindset that alcohol beverages were not ‘family-friendly’, in a location where the culture effortlessly integrates alcohol into family life. When faced with the harsh reality that Disney might have been wrong in assuming cultural norms, the corporation should have reevaluated its policies whether or not this policy deems fundamental to its corporate image, or even its image in the United States, basing French formalities on what the American culture considers appropriate. Disney may argue that changing longstanding policies the company has placed, may undermine what makes “Disney”, Disney. These changes essentially needed to be made to bridge the gap between Disney’s acceptance of cultural norms with corporate identity.

The desire from a company to have the ability to expand overseas is a mission most companies strive to achieve. But to achieve doesn’t mean to succeed and although EuroDisney had succeeded in expanding their empire internationally, they did not deem successful until some crucial mistakes were made and fixed. It only took Disney a few years to get it right but once the company fixed its mistakes, EuroDisney was unstoppable. EuroDisney, now formerly known as Disneyland Paris, is one of Europe’s biggest tourist attractions. Last year alone the park accepted a record of 15.5 million visitors, higher than the Eiffel Tower and Paris’ Louvre museum combined. The magic Disney prides itself on giving its guests, now looms the area of Disneyland Paris like never before, the park now on set to expand its empire by adding Marvel, Frozen, and Star Wars attractions to attract even more guests to its famous resort. The Disney corporation grew in ways it couldn’t have before making these mistakes, learning arrogance and ethnocentrism are not the way to expand a business worldwide, instead learning to familiarize its management and staff the importance of respecting cultural tastes and norms. This success was not an easy path for Disney, challenging the brand in a way it had never been challenged before making Disneyland Paris stronger than it’s ever been.

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Successes And Challenges Of Disneyland In Europe. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from
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