Walt Disney Co. opened its Shanghai theme park Thursday, its first in mainland China, with a Chinese children's choir, Sleeping Beauty and other Disney characters, and speeches by Communist Party leaders. Vice Premier Wang Yang joined Disney CEO Bob Iger in cutting a red ribbon as the park opened, signaling the ruling party's endorsement of the $5.5 billion investment in promoting tourism and other service industries at a time of slowing economic growth, the AP reports. They read out letters of congratulations from the Chinese and American presidents, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.
"This is one of the proudest and most exciting moments in the history of the Walt Disney Company," said Iger. Ahead of the opening, he said the park was "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese." Analysts expect Shanghai Disneyland to become the world's most-visited theme park, attracting at least 15 million and as many as 50 million guests a year. By contrast, Disney's flagship Walt Disney World in Florida drew 19.3 million people in 2014. "Even with the weak economy, Chinese are not cutting back on tourism," says the managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai. "They are still spending on experiences and on their kids." The festive sentiment was tempered by grim news that an alligator killed a 2-year-old boy at Walt Disney World. (Read more Shanghai Disney stories.)