Locals Bank on Shanghai Disney Boom
Jun. 13, 2016
People have been waiting for the opening of mainland China's first Disney resort in Shanghai. Some residents of the city are looking to cash in on the Disney success story.
On Thursday, they'll finally get to step through the gates of Shanghai Disneyland.
It's expected to provide 50,000 jobs and have an economic effect of over $7.5 billion dollars. Locals are already witnessing its massive impact.
Shanghai is China's biggest tourist destination, drawing more than 300 million visitors a year.
One of its hottest new attractions is the world's largest Disney store. The crowds there give a hint of what could be expected when the park opens its doors.
The new Disneyland is located 20 kilometers southeast of central Shanghai. People can go from the city center to the park by a new subway line. It was developed with the full cooperation of the Chinese government.
The subway started running in late April and although Disneyland has not opened yet, over a million people have already taken the train ride out.
"It should be better than Disneyland parks in other countries," one male visitor says. "It will attract people from around the world. And if you come here, you'll see what's great about this city."
The park was proposed in 2007, when President Xi Jinping was Shanghai's top official. It was scheduled to open in 2015, but construction delays pushed back the date.
The new Disneyland will be the biggest in Asia. It's larger than New York City's Central Park.
But it's just one part of a grand plan. Shanghai officials also want to develop the surrounding areas. The final size of the new development will nearly double.
It's located in a farming region that grows fruits and vegetables. Despite being a part of Shanghai, it's far less developed than the city.
With a globally renowned theme park set to open soon, land values there have soared, becoming more than 5 times higher. Many of the area's farmers are leaving their lands and receiving large payouts.
Qin Jinlong grew rice here until 7 years ago. He heard that fruit makes more money, so he buried his rice paddies and planted peach trees. Now he's going to quit working altogether. He plans to live off the large payment he'll receive for giving up his land.
"We're getting compensation of course," Qin says. "This house is 152 square meters. Four people live here. We heard that we can get a place nearly twice as big if we leave. And we can get a payment of $450 per square meter."
Even villages outside of the development zone have been impacted.
Chenqiao Village, east of the resort, is full of unused farmland. Many of its youth quit working and moved to central Shanghai.
The village has over 1,500 houses. A large number are uninhabited or have unoccupied spaces. Some 3,000 rooms are reportedly unused.
Zhou Qi was born in the village and moved away when he was 18. After finding that many of the area's houses were empty, he had an idea. He launched a company that renovates the unused rooms. They're now aimed at tourists visiting Disneyland.
"I undertook this project for the good of the village. Locals want to ride the coattails of Disneyland to wealth," Zhou says.
The Disney economic boom extends 5 kilometers northeast of the resort. That's where the town of Chuansha sits, which dates back to the 10th century. People are now expecting it to become a new tourism center.
One is restaurant owner Yu Deng. He won a bid to use one of the town's structures, built in 1905. He previously ran a hotel in Shanghai.
After hearing about plans for the new Disneyland, he sold all of his assets in 2014 to buy the building, and spent about $450,000 renovating it. But after the park's opening was delayed, upkeep for the property drove him into debt.
"At the time, the park was slated to open in the second half of 2015. So we aimed to open the restaurant before that, in March. I never expected a delay," Yu said.
His debt and worries continued to mount. But as the opening day draws closer, he's finally started to see more customers.
In just a short while, the big day will be here at last. But it remains to be seen how Shanghai Disney Resort will ultimately affect people in China.
Many are hoping that it brings not only new options for entertainment, but also new opportunities for success.