Tokyo Disneyland enjoys a recession boom


POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

URAYASU, Japan » Sony and Toyota are struggling. Job cuts dominate the headlines. But one brand name is thriving in Japan amid the economic slowdown - Mickey Mouse.

According to the company that runs Tokyo Disneyland, Japan's busiest theme park will be more packed than ever over Christmas and New Year's. Despite the bad economy, it's already been a record year for an escape that's cheaper than the average night out in pricey Tokyo.

“;Here, recession seems a world away,”; visitor Namie Katsunuma said as she munched on a bowl of caramel popcorn. “;This is the only place where I can totally forget the economic worries and hardship of my life.”;

The single mother's salary at an auto dismantling factory was cut in November but, with her $500 yearly pass in hand, she makes the 60-mile trek from her home to Tokyo Disneyland every couple of months.

The park's operator, Oriental Land Co., estimates a record 26.5 million people will visit Tokyo Disneyland and its nearby sister park, Disneysea, during the fiscal year ending in March. The company is forecasting sales of a record $4.2 billion, up almost 10 percent.

“;In a way, the slumping economy works well for Tokyo Disneyland,”; said Hiroshi Watanabe, an economist at the Tokyo-based Daiwa Research Institute. “;Because of the recession, people have stopped buying cars and houses or going to Hawaii, and Tokyo Disneyland offers an affordable and pleasant alternative.”;

Around the world, Disney's theme parks have been a bright spot for the brand this year as people seem to look for an escape from bad times.

Consumer confidence is the lowest the company had seen in more than three decades, The Walt Disney Co.'s chief executive told analysts last month. Even so, revenue from parks and resorts worldwide was up 8 percent for the year, to $11.5 billion, according to the company's fourth-quarter earnings report.

Disney's park in Paris is doing a brisk business as well.

“;The Christmas season at Disneyland Paris is very popular,”; said Stephanie Cocquet, a spokeswoman for Disneyland Paris.

But she added, “;We don't consider that we are immune from the (economic) crisis.”;

Because her company is publicly traded in Paris, park projections will not be made public before its next earnings release on Jan. 29, she said.

Tokyo Disneyland was the first Disneyland outside the United States when it opened on the outskirts of Tokyo in 1983. It is the world's third most successful theme park after the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California, according to an annual ranking by the U.S.-based Themed Entertainment Association and Economics Research Associates.