SHANGHAI (AP) — Visitors in face masks streamed into Shanghai Disneyland as the theme park reopened Monday in a high-profile step toward reviving tourism that was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
The House of Mouse’s experience in Shanghai, the first of its parks to reopen, foreshadows hurdles global entertainment industries might face. Disney is limiting visitor numbers, requiring masks and checking for the virus’s telltale fever.
China, where the pandemic began in December, was the first country to reopen factories and other businesses after declaring the disease under control in March even as infections rise and controls are tightened in some other countries.
“We hope that today’s reopening serves as a beacon of light across the globe, providing hope and inspiration to everyone,” the president of Shanghai Disney Resort, Joe Schott, told reporters.
Tourism has been hit especially hard by controls imposed worldwide that shut down airline and cruise ship travel, theme parks and cinemas. Disney blamed a 91% plunge in its latest quarter profit on $1.4 billion in virus-related costs.
Shanghai Disneyland and Disney’s park in Hong Kong closed on Jan. 25 as China isolated cities with 60 million people to try to contain the outbreak. Tokyo Disneyland closed the following month and parks in the United States and Europe in March.
Disney is opening Shanghai cautiously as it evaluates reopening other parks around the world. Parks are a crucial revenue driver for Disney. Parks, experiences and product division accounts for around 30% to 35% of total revenue.
What the company learns in Shanghai could become a guide, executives said in a conference call to discuss earnings last week.
Typical capacity in the Shanghai park is 80,000 visitors a day, but the government has cut that to about 30%, or 24,000 a day, said CEO Bob Chapek.
“We’re going to actually open up far below that just to have our training wheels on with our new procedures and processes to make sure we don’t have any lines backing up, either as guests enter into the park or as they wade through the park,” Chapek said. “So we’re going to approach that very, very slowly, but after a few weeks we’ll actually be up to what the government’s guideline is.”
Disney hasn’t said when their four theme parks and nearly two dozen resorts at Disney World will reopen. However, next week it will begin to allow some third-party shops and restaurants in Disney Worlds entertainment district, Disney Springs, to reopen. Workers and guests will be required to wear face masks. Per state rules, indoor capacity will be limited to 25% and dining tables outside must be more than six feet apart.
In China, the government allowed shops and offices to reopen but is keeping cinemas, bars, karaoke parlors and other businesses closed.
Authorities are trying to revive China’s tourism market by offering free admission to scenic spots and discount vouchers to consumers. But there is no indication when travel curbs that have cut off the flow of free-spending Chinese tourists to Thailand and other neighboring Asian countries might be lifted.
China’s own industry might benefit while those travel curbs limit Chinese tourists to spending in their own country, Taohai Lin of Fitch Solutions said in an email. However, Lin said their spending power could be hurt if weakness in global demand for Chinese exports leads to job losses.
Disney guests, some wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and children in Little Mermaid, Mulan, Minnie Mouse and Snow White costumes were checked Monday for fever at the park gate and then walked down nearly empty lanes as employees waved to them. The company’s signature tune, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” played over loudspeakers.
“It really felt like a princess’s homecoming, especially when the staff lined up after the ticket check and said, ‘Welcome home!’,” said visitor Dilys Ding of Shanghai.
“It feels like so many fewer people than normal. You don’t need to line up,” said Ding, 26. “You can play all the entertainment items at least once. That’s very good.”
Decals on sidewalks and at lines for attractions show visitors where to stand to leave space between themselves. The company said rides will be limited to one group of visitors per car to keep strangers apart.
“We don’t want people too close — front, back or side,” said Andrew Bolstein, the park’s senior vice president for operations.
The company said its plans were based on the experience of Disneytown, an adjacent shopping and entertainment facility that reopened earlier in the 1,000-acre (400-hectare) Shanghai Disney Resort.
Advance reservations are required and visitors are assigned times to enter. The company said earlier guest numbers will be limited to one-third of the usual daily level of 80,000 at the start and will gradually increase.
“Excited about the opening of the gate!” people in the first group of guests shouted as they entered the park at 9:30 a.m.
Shanghai Disneyland, which opened in 2016, is a joint venture between Walt Disney Co. and a company owned by the Shanghai city government.
Disney has a 43% stake in the Shanghai Disney Resort, which includes the theme park, two hotels and Disneytown. The resort said earlier it attracted about 12 million guests last year and a total of 66 million since it opened.
Disney, headquartered in Burbank, California, said some outlets in Disney Springs, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex attached to the Disney World theme park in Florida, will reopen this month. The company has yet to to set a date for reopening Disney World or its other parks worldwide.
Visitors to Shanghai Disney are required to show government-issued identification and use a smartphone app issued by the Shanghai city government that tracks their health and contacts with anyone who might have been exposed to he virus.
That allows the company to “understand and regulate the flow of traffic,” said Bolstein.
Activities including children’s play areas and indoor theater shows are closed in line with government restrictions, Bolstein said.
“We hope to bring them back some time soon,” he said.
AP researcher Si Chen, AP Business Writer Mae Anderson in New York and Michael Schneider in Orlando, Florida, contributed to this report.