As large theme parks go bust across Japan, Tokyo Disneyland and its affiliate, Tokyo DisneySea, are exceptions, attracting more than 20 million visitors every year with the help of their innovative business strategy.
When Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki Prefecture collapsed in February, it was following on the heels of Seagaia in Miyazaki Prefecture and Gulliver’s Kingdom at the foot of Mount Fuji.
Huis Ten Bosch, which means “House in the Forest” in Dutch, filed for protection from creditors with the Nagasaki District Court under the Corporate Rehabilitation Law. It was the largest theme park failure since Seagaia went belly up in 2001.
The Dutch-style theme park had attracted more than 3 million visitors annually.
“The impact from the recession is large, but there is still demand for theme parks,” said Shiro Komatsu, director of the regional policy research department at the Mitsubishi Research Institute, a private think tank.
“What is required are good ideas and good management,” he said.
Komatsu said Tokyo Disneyland in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, is in a geographically favorable location. But he feels that the main reason for its success is its ability to render its fairy-tale world convincingly.
Universal Studios Japan, which opened in the city of Osaka in March 2001, was once regarded as Tokyo Disneyland’s top rival.
USJ hosted more than 10 million visitors its first year, but people stayed away in droves following a spate of scandals. These included the discovery that industrial-use water was being piped into drinking fountains and that an excessive amount of gunpowder was used in fireworks displays.
Komatsu said the collapse of the bubble economy and a massive investment in houses for sale within the Huis Ten Bosch compound triggered that theme park’s failure.
“But its (rehabilitation) is possible because it still has the ability to attract visitors,” he said.
Private railways built several leisure facilities along their lines. Once the development projects ended, however, the carriers lost whatever vision they had, along with customers, as the firms had no fresh means of attracting people, Komatsu said.
Many of the theme parks that were built in the 1980s lacked careful planning, causing visitors to grow tired of them, he said.
“Although the government declares that Japan is a tourism country, the tourism industry has yet to mature,” he said.
Declan Murphy, an Australian who has lived in Japan for nearly 20 years and runs an information technology-related venture in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, said Internet guides to tourist spots across the country feature the same content, discouraging visitors. Japan is rich in tourist resources and would attract more visitors if it polished its act, he said.
Komatsu is now visiting local governments and industries while doing research for lectures on theme parks.
“Theme parks should pursue things not found in Tokyo Disneyland, such as natural richness in contrast to imaginary worlds, and hot springs and other facilities that can also attract elderly people,” he said.
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