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Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Despite a shrinking and ageing population in Japan, Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR) has seen attendance continue to grow, breaking through the 30 million barrier for the first time in 2013.

With populations in many developed countries worldwide predicted to follow the same trend, what can attractions learn from TDR’s strategy?

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

By Hwan Heo (left). 

Andrew has more than 10 years’ experience at Everland, Korea, managing operations, strategic planning, budget, investment analysis and industry research. Currently based in LA, he is continuing his industry research primarily focused on the booming market in Asia with blooloop.

Tokyo Disney Resort, a case study on the Demographic Cliff*

For the first time, the Japanese government has officially reported that the nation‘s population has decreased, based on a census study that is conducted every 5 years. Though the decreasing and ageing population was nothing new, the result that around 947, 000 people, roughly the population of big city, has disappeared, shocked the whole nation.

* Japanese ministry of internal affairs and communication report : the population of 2015 is 127, 110, 037

(*The Demographic Cliff in Japan by Henry Dent, 2014) 

A shrinking market and declining demand have been primary concerns for many industries for some time now. For example, the size of the Japanese golf market five to six years ago was 9 million people, but it has since decreased by almost 2 million to 7.3-7.4 million currently. It is expected to decrease by another 20% within the next 5 years.

This population decline and the ageing society in Japan are phenomena that are also expected to occur in many other advanced countries; so the study of the Japanese market makes a good case study for the leisure industry as a whole.

 Aging trends in major countries

 Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Tokyo Disney Resort’s Success in a Shrinking Market

Despite the shrinking market, Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR) is consistently attracting over 30 million guests a year, and attaining new records. In the year 2013, the resort’s annual attendance reached a breakthrough 30 million, and this momentum continued in 2014.

As seen in the graph below, visitor numbers remained at 25 million until 2012; thereafter it recorded a jump in 2013 with the 30th anniversary celebration.

TDR Attendance Trend 1983-2014

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

(Source : OLC Home page, 2015 Fact Book)

It’s important to see that TDR’s strategy is not maintaining attendance, but instead actively seeking growth within the shrinking market.

The table below shows that the average annual attendance growth rate over the past ten years (2005-2014) at TDR was 2.7%, while the same rate for the guests over 40 years of age was 5.9p%. Almost 40% of TDR’s attendance growth can be presumed to have resulted from the prime aged guests.

When compared to the increase in the number of people over 40 years of age in the country for the same period, ie.1.0%, this growth at TDR is almost 6 times greater. Therefore, it can be assumed that TDR’s marketing strategy has been well executed for a long period of time.

Additionally, guests aged 40+ made up 20% of total attendance, exceeding the number of children aged 4-11.

TDR attendance per age segment

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

TDR 40+ Attendance Trend

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Clearly, thd 40+ age guest segment has quickly shifted from a sub-target segment to one of the main target segments. So, what is TDR’s strategy?

Strategy Check Point : New Age Marketing

While focusing on their original park concept as a family park, TDR has also attempted to increase the 40+ age guest segment’s motives to visit the parks. TDR defined these 40+ aged people as ‘New Age’ and started to execute targeted promotion.

Disney for Adults : Prime Target Age Range 40-60

Around 2008, TDR launched ‘45+ passport’ for guests over 45 years old and a campaign called 「Matures Travel to Disney (ディズニーおとな旅)」*. The campaign is focused on the message that the parks are entertainment for not only kids, teens or young adults, but also for adults. With the campaign, TDR tried to motivate the adult population to visit the parks. * Direct translation of「ディズニーおとな旅」is 「Adults travel to Disney」

On TDR’s website, a separate page could be accessed from the homepage 「Disney for Adults(おとなディズニー)」marketing the 45+ Passport. The page included the message that adults could also enjoy the resort and provided information on Fast Pass and Priority Seating at the restaurants. TDR also included a section for guests to record their experiences at the park.

 Disney for Adults Page Information

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

TV Commercials also highlighted the same message. It showed three ladies recalling their memories of TDR through an old photograph that they had taken and afterwards, visiting TDR once again.

        Disney for Adults TV Commercial Scenes

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Disney for Adults TV Commercial


45+ Passport was a discounted ticket up until 2015; since then it has evolved into a more pricey ticket package that includes a meal at one of the high quality restaurants in the parks.

After implementing lower prices to increase the volume of adult guests, TDR realised the market demand and decided to change the strategy. They recognised that this segment enjoys a high level of income and therefore guests would prefer to avoid crowded restaurants and enjoy a premium meal.

45+ Passport Web Page 

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Senior Target : 3 Generation Disney

TDR also targeted marketing for seniors to attract them to the parks. The core marketing was called ‘3 Generation Disney’. The promotion focused on the message that the parks are whole entertainment experiences for 3 generation families, composed of kids, parents and grandparents. TDR offers senior discounted tickets for guests over 65 years old with the price of 6, 500JPY, which is 700JPY lower than the regular price.

From TDR’s Home Page, guests can access a dedicated ‘3 Generation Disney’ page, providing information on suggested tour routes, hotel package promotions, etc. TDR also posts the guest memories.

 3 Generation Disney Web Page

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Hotel Packages include special features such as secured spot for the special shows, and most of the packages come with connected rooms or bigger family rooms.

3 Generation Web Pages

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Press advertising ran as memory-style articles in weekly editions of major new papers.

Memory-style Press Advertisement

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

In Japan, there is a saying that each kid holds 6 pockets – one from each parent, and one from each of  their four grandparents. TDR used this idea in their marketing.

Strategy Check Point : Adult/Senior Guest-Friendly Content

A show-focused park appeals to adults

The original concept of the Disney parks differs from thrill-seeking parks. Many rides are also show-type attractions, often observed from moving vehicles. The parks are well-known for offering a programme of staged shows, day and night parades, as well as outdoor multimedia shows. As a result, the original park concept has fits well with these latest demographic trends.

Tokyo Disney Sea (TDS), the Theme Park Designed for Adults

Disney franchise parks are generally developed using the basic concept from one of the existing parks in U.S. However TDR decided to develop its second park with a brand new concept  themed on the sea.

Initially, TDR wanted the second park to be very different in concept from Tokyo Disney Land (TDL), and chose to theme it with historic buildings giving it a more upmarket feel. Guests were invited to have a grown-up experience with minimum exposure to the cuteness of Mickey and his friends. However, the market impact was lower than expected.

Oriental Land Group(OLC), the operating company of TDR, quickly realised that because TDS was developed for adults, it had lacked some of the basic elements of a theme park. So, TDS was expanded to include more content for kids, such as Jasmine’s Flying Carpets.

Jasmine’s Flying Carpets : Simple round ride similar to Dumbo

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

* Image Source : TDL Home page

Perhaps due to the change in population, the attendance at TDS has grown to the 14 million level. Sceptics that doubted the TDS concept are now beginning to see its wisdom. By looking at the historical growth trends, some people may still say that TDS is not a significant growth contributor as TDL exhibits a higher growth rate than TDS. However, considering that TDL attracted 17million people by itself a year prior to TDS’ opening, it can also be viewed that TDL has recovered its original attendance level while TDS has created new attendance.

Tokyo Disney Sea Attendance Trend

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Mid to Long Term Growth Strategy

Redefining the Target Market

OLC announced its mid to long term growth strategy, including the vision for 2014 at their shareholder’s meeting. The core plan is to maintain a theme park attendance figure of 30 million. To achieve this goal, OLC has specific action plans in place to build stronger family entertainment and increase guest comfort with the investment of 500billion JPY(4.5billion USD) for the ten year period 2014 to 2023.

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

While announcing this growth strategy, OLC also redefined their target segments to reflect the market changes. They introduced「The Family: Beyond Generation and Type(Kids & Parents or Different Forms)」and highlighted their three major targets : ①Family with Kids, ②New Age ③Foreign Tourists.

 OLC Mid-Long Term Strategy

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Focusing on Family Entertainment 

When looking at OLC’s investment plan, their strategy is clear.

Tokyo Disney Resort: Scaling the Demographic Cliff

Key Learnings

When considering long term strategies or master plans, companies ignoring the potential of an ageing population might be missing a trick.

Tokyo Disney Resort has proved that by actively challenging the market with a longer term outlook that engages adults and seniors, theme parks and attractions worldwide have the potential to make themselves more relevant than ever.

Unattributed images kind courtesy Disney

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