Disneyland Shanghai has reopened to a limited number of visitors kept apart by strict social distancing rules, as the group searches for a global recovery blueprint.
The resumption of business on Monday after three months of coronavirus-induced closure marks the first Disney park to attempt a comeback after closure due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The success of the reopening will be closely monitored as a potential model for Disney’s other venues that span from California to Hong Kong, Paris to Tokyo, as well as for other large theme parks around the world.
Disney suspended its dividend last week while revealing the virus emergency had wiped as much as $1.4bn from its quarterly operating profit.
It said operating profit at its parks, cruises and resorts unit shrank to $639m, down 58 per cent from the same period last year. The group has also furloughed 100,000 employees.
While the Shanghai reopening offers hope for the world’s largest entertainment company, it remains a tentative step towards full operation.
The park has limited visitors to below a third of its capacity, in line with government requirements. Advanced bookings, face masks, temperature checks and valid digital “health codes” are mandatory for entry.
Social distancing is being enforced throughout the park, with yellow tape and floor stickers being used to remind visitors to keep apart on rides and in queues.
Restaurants in the park are also limiting the number of visitors allowed to enter at one time. Sections of the park remain closed, including all indoor theatres.
The livestreamed opening ceremony showed Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other Disney favourites dancing and waving as visitors arrived on Monday morning. But the park has barred close-up photos with characters during the initial phase of reopening.
Reception to the reopening appears to have been enthusiastic in China, despite the restrictions. On Friday, the first day of sales, Trip.com — China’s largest travel agency — sold more than 15,000 tickets, with 5,000 bookings in the first hour, it said.
The sales show there is “huge demand” from Chinese consumers, who still have the greatest spending ability globally, Trip.com analyst Hong Feng said in a note.
Wang Qiguo, a professor of tourism at Peking University, said that theme parks around the world were looking to Disneyland Shanghai for a model of phased opening, but it would be difficult to copy for countries where QR codes, required for entry to the park, were less common.
“What it offers is a symbolic reference point, to show that by limiting people some leading venues can open much sooner,” he said.
As Covid-19 continues to crush consumer sentiment globally, brands have turned to China as a source of hope — and income. Despite a recovery in energy use and traffic, indicators suggest consumption has been more subdued.
The revival of China’s economy — which contracted in the first quarter for the first time since the 1970s — has been hampered by a handful of cluster outbreaks, each being met with new lockdowns that damp business activity.
Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began, over the weekend reported its first locally transmitted case in more than a month, raising fears of a resurgence.
Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing