Strategist uses Harry Potter magic to lift fortunes of Osaka theme park

by

Kyodo

For theme park strategist Tsuyoshi Morioka, it was clear that a little Harry Potter magic might lift the fortunes of Universal Studios Japan as it struggled with falling ticket sales.

The Osaka theme park launched its wizard’s attraction in July, and has since enjoyed visitor records for three months in a row.

The success has brought corporate fame to 42-year-old Morioka, an executive officer with operator USJ Co., yet his proposal to invite the attraction from Universal Orlando Resort in Florida initially met with opposition over the extremely high costs involved.

A native of Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, Morioka showed he had a head for figures back when he was in elementary school. He could memorize numbers in the telephone directory.

At Kobe University, he majored in management. After graduating, he joined a foreign company dealing with consumer goods and accumulated experience in promotion and marketing.

“The experience made me good at producing effective advertisements and analyzing business opportunities,” he said.

In 2010, Morioka left Tokyo to return home to western Japan.

Searching for the most interesting job in the region, he found a place at USJ. The company hired him for the “straightforward communications” skills he had developed at his previous workplace.

At USJ, Morioka was soon tasked with stemming the theme park’s slump in attendance.

After analyzing the kind of visitors who had visited the park since its opening in 2001, Morioka decided children’s characters were key: he created Universal Wonderland, featuring popular images such as Hello Kitty and Snoopy.

Opening in 2012, it proved a hit, drawing many families through the gates. The success helped elevate Morioka to the post of executive officer.

“What I always keep in mind is customer satisfaction,” he said. “Understanding what is popular and why, is important.”

After visiting the Harry Potter attraction in Florida, Morioka was sure it would be a hit in Japan.

But since the estimated cost of construction was ¥45 billion, roughly half USJ’s annual sales, his colleagues opposed the idea — with some fearing it would drive them to bankruptcy.

After meeting with Chief Executive Officer Glenn Gumpel every day in an effort to win his approval, Morioka finally received the go-ahead.

Morioka is a driven individual. He gets by on only four hours of sleep a day, he loves his job, and he numbers among his passions music, games and fishing.

In fiscal 2014 through next March, he aims to exceed the record attendance figures of 11.02 million visitors set in 2001, the park’s first year of operation.

“It’s really fun to realize a goal by working backward from what you want to achieve and making it happen,” said Morioka, the number cruncher who invited Harry Potter to work his magic for USJ.