Disneyland Paris’ Refurbishments are about Marketing as much as Attractions

This morning I spent far longer than I’d like to admit scrolling through images of the beautifully refurbished Big Thunder Mountain. It’s exquisite. The colours are vibrant, the effects are working, and FINALLY the geysers are once again exploding! Thunder Mesa is truly alive. Of course, the refurbishment of Thunder Mountain is part of the wider Experience Enhancement Plan which has been impressing everyone since it debuted. Videopolis looks fabulous, as does Adventure Isle and It’s a Small World, but we must not forget that the Experience Enhancement Plan is greater than just the aesthetics of the refurbishments; it’s on a level above the physical improvements being made. The Experience Enhancement Plan comes just at the time when Disneyland Paris is realigning itself as a more luxury resort destination, and unsurprisingly that’s no coincidence. To market a luxury good, of course one needs a luxury product, so that’s exactly why the Experience Enhancement Plan is happening now. Let’s have a look into why there’s more to the EEP than meets the eye…

From a marketing perspective, the EEP will have been a tough one to sell. Imagine you were sat in the marketing offices and you’ve been tasked with making an advert for the 25th Anniversary – the first thing you’d ask would be “well Gary, what have we built that’s new?” and of course the response would be “sorry Sheila, we haven’t really built anything… But we’ve rebuilt some things! That’s cool right? Right? No?”. In credit to the marketing team at Disneyland Paris, they’ve done a great job so far: Hyperspace Mountain can be marketed as a ‘new’ Star Wars rollercoaster (conveniently dodging the whoring-out of a unique Paris-only attraction) and they’re capitalising on people’s existing knowledge of Star Tours to advertise to everyone a ‘NEW Star Tours’ with ‘NEW adventures’. It’s no coincidence that the two most obvious examples I’ve chosen here are both related to the majorly popular Star Wars franchise; Disneyland Paris will struggle to sell the idea that Big Thunder Mountain is now a shinier orange, but mention Star Wars and the punters should come flooding in. However, Disneyland Paris’ clever new marketing is about much more than content: it’s about style.

I won’t wax lyrical about why the new Disneyland Paris marketing is of a higher, more luxury standard, because if you’re interested you should just read @DLPToday ‘s article about this year’s resort brochure. This sentence from the article beautifully sums up the new luxury aesthetic, “the look of this brochure is simply divine. Understated serif headings, neat squared photos, crisp white borders. Rather than flying in your face, even Disney characters are only used delicately, as if to tease you to want more.” As fans, we love the new, more sophisticated style of advertising! And as far as I’m concerned, this classier style is a necessity. Disneyland Paris has always suffered from an image problem. Europeans too often associate Disneyland with garishness; big brash Americanism, which is tacky and – worst of all – just for children. We all know that Walt’s fundamental vision for Disneyland was as a place for people of all ages, and in America the themeparks don’t suffer so badly with the image of being childish. It’s mad that the American resorts aren’t seen as ‘just for kids’ when between them they only have two rollercoasters with inversions – Disneyland Paris alone has three! The resort understands that we Europeans like to feel like we’re doing quality things, cultural things, and has tried before to throw off its childish reputation with its ‘also for grown up kids’ adverts, but there’s no evidence to suggest they really worked. With the EEP bringing a totally new marketing ethos, this is the best opportunity Disneyland Paris has had to reinvent its image since dropping the EuroDisney name.

There is an obvious question to ask: in this period of rocky European economies and terror attacks, is it a safe business plan to try going more luxury; more expensive? Well, I reckon so. Since 2008 wages in the Western world have stagnated, and yet, people have remained remarkably loyal to expensive products and luxury brands. If I got a penny for every time I saw a new BMW, Audi or Jag on the road, I’d be rich enough to afford one, and the amount of people buying rip-off coffee at Costa or Starbucks everyday will never cease to amaze me. Partly that’s because I don’t like coffee that much, but shh, my point still stands: an appreciation for quality still exists, and whilst we may not have that much money to throw about, the average consumer is happy to spend lots of it on one thing, if we feel it’s good quality. If Disneyland Paris can achieve the same recognition as a quality brand then it should be able to weather these stormy times and even prosper in them. Moreover, I can’t think of that many amusement resorts which do market themselves at the high end, so perhaps there’s a space in the market waiting to be filled too.

The EEP is a long term strategy. Disneyland Paris will be aware that brand recognition doesn’t change overnight, but that’s why they’ve been willing to sacrifice building a new attraction for a few more years to be able to spend the money on making sure what already exists meets the standard needed to be a high-end resort. (Note that Ratatouille already meets this new standard!) But, wait, hold the phone a minute, you may have noticed that there is a glaring problem here. And it’s called Walt Disney Studios Park.

The EEP is undoubtedly making the Disneyland Park ‘sparkle’ again, but evidently the Programme is only the tip of the iceberg for the resort as a whole. The resort hotels are currently in the process of being reinvigorated (and made more expensive) and at some point the paint brushes will need to reach the Studios park too. Mickey and the Magician has received rave reviews, and the Season of the Force looks to bring the park to life, but the refurbishment of Studio Tram Tour has been cancelled; instead of receiving new scenes it will apparently only get a lick of paint. We have had no official word about the cancellation of this refurbishment, but considering the attraction is so central to the park, this is seemingly a big loss. If Disneyland Paris is to succeed in reinvigorating its brand image, the Walt Disney Studios Park will need a lot of attention. Don’t fear though, official word has told us that they want to make it a ‘full day park’ (which is code for “we fix it, promise”) and we know from Disney’s California Adventure that Walt Disney Imagineering can turn struggling parks around.

As I write this article, I’m scrolling through pictures of green construction fences closing off the vast majority of Discoveryland. Right now, the land is a mess with barely any attractions open – but come summer it will be one of the most exciting places in the world for a Star Wars fan, featuring Star Tours: The Adventures Continue and Hyperspace Mountain. I think, as a whole, this is quite a nice metaphor for the Experience Enhancement Plan. Right now, things are being sacrificed a bit, and a lot of work is in progress… But come the 25th Anniversary and we’ll see a Disneyland Paris which has been renewed inside and out; on the ground and in the strategy meetings. The resort’s big birthday is only half a year away, and oh boy should we be excited – not just for the 25th Anniversary, but for what a newly reinvigorated Disneyland Paris can serve up for us in the future.

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