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The Secret behind Tokyo Disneyland's Dazzling Success and Ability to Attract Guests Regardless of High Entry Fees

Tomoo Noguchi
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

Dazzling results in tough times

According to the White Paper of Leisure 2012 (Japan Productivity Center, October 2012), in 2011, the leisure market was 64.941 trillion yen, a decrease of 4.5% on the previous year. Of this, "Tourism and Recreation" only had a market size of about 9.22 trillion yen, a decrease of 3.2% year-on-year. Clearly, the effects of the serious and long-lasting recession, as well as the impact of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, can be seen to be casting a dark shadow over the leisure industry, just as it is over other sectors.

However, one leisure facility seems to be going against the tide of these difficult times by consistently achieving good results. This facility is Tokyo Disneyland (hereinafter, "TDL") and Tokyo Disney Sea (hereinafter, "TDS"), operated by Oriental Land. The number of guests to these two theme parks for the period from April to September, 2012, was 13.25 million, the highest on record and an increase of 23.4% year-on-year. Oriental Land also produced dazzling results, with sales of 188.3 billion yen (an increase of 27.2% on the previous year), and posted its best ever net profits of 25.5 billion yen (an increase of 194.3%) for the period.

In these difficult times, this entertainment facility which originated from America is self-righteously treading the path of its own unique success story. What is the source of its appeal, which is enabling it to seize the hearts and minds of Japanese consumers? I would like here to consider the secret of its success from the perspective of branding.

The fusion of stories with reality

Brand recognition and brand association are components used to construct the image aspect of brand value. The former is the level to which consumers know about a brand, while the latter is the impressions fostered by a brand. In the case of the Disneyland brand, there is hardly anyone who has not heard of its founder, the animator Walt Disney, so that the level of brand recognition is extremely high, and therefore the brand value in this regard is at a high level to begin with.

Moreover, TDL and TDS are referred to as "theme parks" and just as this naming suggests, each attraction is provided with its own theme and story. For example, the popular TDL attraction, Pooh's Hunny Hunt involves Pooh bear going on a journey to search for honey with his friends, and TDS's Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull sees Dr. Jones exploring a temple in a search for the wellspring of youth. In this way, each attraction has its own accompanying motif that forms its background.

In this manner, unique impressions (brand association) contained within an existing story are fused with the real-life aspects of the attraction, to realize an otherwise difficult-to-obtain experience, divorced from everyday life. This is backed up by the fact that there are very few so-called "thrill rides" in either park. Of course, TDL has Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain, and TDS has Center of the Earth, and Raging Spirits, etc. where guests can experience the thrills of roller coasters. But even these are connected to some sort of story and, unlike DODONPA at Fuji-Q Highland or Nagashima Spa Land's Steel Dragon 2000, they are not made as attractions that aim only for thrills or which try to compete over the sense of speed or fear generated.

Paying consideration to authenticity

Another component used to construct brand value, in addition to brand recognition and brand association, is perceived quality. This is the evaluation of a product or service as being good or bad which can be made by ordinary people without any specialist knowledge. The perceived quality of the hardware of the attractions at both parks can be said to extremely high. As soon as one passes through the TDL park gates and steps inside the park, what awaits is truly the "Kingdom of dreams and magic" of the catch-phrase. Cinderella's Castle, a replica of an old French castle, is in fact 51m high and has a magnificent, graceful presence. In order that the entire facility will be immersed in the worldview of this branding of "dreams and magic," efforts have been made to ensure that nothing of the view outside the park is visible from inside. By paying this sort of consideration to authenticity, guests can enjoy a high quality experience.

Moreover, at TDS, an attractive Southern European town at the beginning of the last century has been replicated and yachts and steam ships float across a sea area called the Mediterranean Harbor. Fortress Explorations, a fortress from the Age of Explorations, towers over the far side of the sea and in the background to this is the imposing figure of the volcanic Mount Prometheus, which erupts intermittently. All these large props look extremely authentic, making guests feel a sense of their high quality, and luring them into another dimension. The initial layout that was made to construct the hardware of TDS was in fact the enormous sum of 338 billion yen, which is said to be almost double that spent on TDL per unit area. Therefore, the attention to detail is enormous. For example, there are lots of objects used to decorate the passageways for waiting in line for the Center of the Earth attraction, such as elaborate mining tools and experiment rooms, etc., but all of these small props have had rust or dirt added to them, to create a sense of the era and of reality.

A watertight park maintenance regime

An important component in enhancing the perceived quality of both parks is the impeccable cleanliness of the parks. Both parks are extremely clean and fresh and trash is never allowed to be left lying around for long. People responsible for cleaning the parks, referred to as "custodials," speedily use their brushes called toy brooms in their efforts to maintain the parks' aesthetic appearance. Custodials are divided into areas of responsibility and conduct their cleaning activities every 15 minutes, but one very interesting point is that there is a 6-level ranking certification system according to their skill in cleaning. Since they can move to the next level by conducting their work speedily and mastering sweeping techniques, the motivation of custodials is raised by this system, which contributes greatly to the improvement of cleanliness throughout the parks.

Moreover, upon every visit, I am always impressed by the maintenance of trees and plants. Within the parks there is approximately 30,000m2 of grass and flowerbeds but apparently people often mistake this for artificial grass. This is not surprising in that the grass is never allowed to wither or die, be it winter or summer, and it looks rather like a beautiful green carpet has been laid. However, this grass is, of course, real. The planting division of the parks begins its maintenance of the grass by hand from 4am every morning. As a result, it is possible to provide natural grass of such a beautiful appearance and so well cared for that it resembles artificial grass, 365 days a year.

The above sorts of watertight efforts have yielded success and both parks have achieved astounding brand loyalty, with a repeat visitor rate of 90%.

Finally, I would like to say something about the entry fees for guests to the parks. The price of a 1 Day Pass to TDL (for one adult) was 3900 yen in 1983, when the park first opened and has continued to rise to 6200 yen at present, and certainly does not appear cheap. However, I believe that there is still room for this price to be raised even further. This is because, due to the success of the branding, for products or services which have achieved the status of being the only one of their genre, the concept of price competition does not exist. A sort of quasi monopoly is created for the rare services which can only be experienced here. Of course, I do not think that park entry fees can go on becoming more expensive without limit, but even if the current price of 6200 yen were raised to, say, 9800 yen, I believe that there would be no substantial drop in the number of users.

Tomoo Noguchi
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

[Profile and main works]
The author is now a professor at School of Social Sciences, Waseda University. He was born in Tokyo in 1956. After completing credits in the Doctoral Program at Hitotsubashi University Graduate School in 1984, he became associate professor at Yokohama City University, followed by associate professor at Waseda University in 1992. He was promoted to the current position in 1993. For a period from March 2006 to March 2008, he mainly studied c American commerce as visiting scholar at Economics Department, Stanford University. In 1988, he was awarded the Japan Society of Marketing and Distribution Prize for Aspects of Modern Retail Distribution [Gendai Kouri Ryutsu no Shosokumen].
His main works include Basics of Visual Marketing (3rd Edition) [Bijuaru Maketeingu no Kihon (Dai San Han)] (Nikkei Publishing Inc.), Visual Marketing Strategy [Bijuaru Maketeingu Senryaku] (Nikkei Publishing Inc.), New Price Theory [Shin Kakaku-ron] (Jiji Press, Ltd.), PB Strategy in an Era of Price Destruction [Kakaku Hakai Jidai no PB Senryaku] (Nikkei Publishing Inc.), Get It After Reading One Book! Marketing [Issatsu de Wakaru! Maketeingu] (PHP Institute, Inc.), Distribution, Mega-battle [Ryutsu Mega Batoru] (Nikkei Publishing Inc.), The Revolution of I Type Distribution [I gata Ryutsu Kakumei] (Kodansha), Walmart Will Change Distribution in Japan Like This [Uorumato ha Nihon no Ryutsu o Ko Kaeru] (Business-sha Co., Ltd.), FREE Economy Will Change Japan [FREE Keizai ga Nihon o Kaeru] (Chukei Publishing Co.), Matrix Marketing to Create Markets Using Horizontal Thinking [Suihei Shiko de Shijo o Tsukuru Matorikkusu Maketeingu] (Nikkei Publishing Inc.), among others. In addition he acted as supervising editor to and appeared in Easy to Understand Marketing (Nikkei Video) [Yoku Wakaru Maketeingu (Nikkei Bideo)] (Nikkei Publishing Inc.).