The Hidden Empire of Disney’s Real-Estate
Disney may be facing an uphill battle as it pushes into the brave new world of streaming, but the company has one asset that its digital competitors don’t -- real estate, lots and lots of real estate.
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
These words, supposedly spoken by Walt Disney himself, have made their way into reams of marketing documents and promotional materials and have been heard playing on loudspeakers throughout the company’s many parks. Considering the sheer size and number of Disney-themed properties, it’s a safe bet that the quote is favored by many excited corporate executives, too.
Real estate development is hardly what comes to mind when one thinks of Disney, yet in many ways, it lies at the heart of what the company does. Urban planning and development were always major obsessions of Walt Disney’s and the visionary businessman put great thought into almost every detail of the original Disneyland park, which was opened to the world in 1955. Nowadays, Disney boasts one of the world’s largest asset portfolios, while the ‘Parks, Experiences and Products’ segment managing much of it accounts for an astonishing 130,000 of its 180,000 employees.
At the center of the Disney empire, of course, are the theme parks. The company’s flagship Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando takes up approximately 25,000 acres of land and features not only its signature rides and hotels, but championship golf courses, shopping malls, and a 230-acre sports complex. With more than 50 million attendees per year, it is the most visited theme park in the world. Disney does not currently break down its revenue based on individual properties, but with a typical Disney World entry pass selling for $100, we can estimate that the park makes in excess of $5 billion in ticket sales alone.
Other record-breakers in the company’s park catalog include the 5,000-acre Disneyland Paris, which has long been the most visited theme park in Europe. The park accounts annually for roughly 6% of France’s tourism income, an astonishing figure considering the country is the most popular tourist destination in the world. Disney has revealed that a major extension of the park is due to take place before 2021. Meanwhile, Disneyland Tokyo opened back in 1983, retains the title of the most visited theme park in Asia and the third-most-popular in the world.
Peering a little deeper into that catalogue, and we can find a surprisingly vast collection of private residential properties, usually located at the edge of the resorts themselves. Perhaps the best known of these is Golden Oak, an enormous luxury residential complex of palatial villas and sculpted lawns. Though property prices start at $2 million, there is more than adequate demand. While the past few years have not been ideal for luxury property, Golden Oak and Disney’s other upscale gated communities may turn out to be an exception. After all, they possess a selling point that’s nothing if not unique.
Finally, it would be instructive to look at the company’s presence and potential for growth in China. Previously overlooked, the vast and rapidly developing country presents Disney with perhaps its biggest real estate opportunity yet. The company first made in-roads in the region with Hong Kong Disneyland, which first opened in 2005. Eleven years later, mainland China followed suit with the Shanghai Disney Resort. As with their counterpart in Tokyo, the two parks are not wholly owned by Disney but came about as the result of a licensing deal. The Hong Kong resort remains Disney’s smallest, with a daily capacity of just 34,000. However, the company is pushing to make a big investment in the region within the next few years. It seems Disney can’t get enough of finding places to call the happiest on earth.
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