After years of financial struggle, say Christian Sylt and Caroline Reid, the Paris theme park has finally found a path to profit — just as the European economy hits a downturn
Disney and happy endings go hand in hand. But after 16 years, shareholders in Disney’s theme park near Paris are still waiting for their frog to complete its transformation into Prince Charming. In November, Euro Disney is set to announce its first net profit for more than five years — a success achieved not by pixie dust but by hard, old-fashioned graft.
Despite an economic slowdown in Europe, things have never looked better for Mickey Mouse’s maison secondaire. Attendance is at record levels and its parks are brimming with new attractions. But perhaps its biggest strength is that after years of ups and downs, Euro Disney’s management has figured out how to make its business model work. The days of needing a fairy godmother are over.
Few corporate rollercoaster rides have been as wild as Euro Disney’s. For an enterprise built on magic, it has been blighted by bad luck. The original resort — theme park, 27-hole golf course and seven themed hotels with 5,800 rooms — opened to great fanfare in 1992. It was Europe’s second biggest building project, and from the start it was saddled with the equivalent of E3 billion of debt. The skies soon clouded over.
The opening day crowds, expected to number half a million, failed to materialise. Reportedly just 50,000 people had passed through the turnstiles by the time they closed. Then came the onset of recession: in 1993, Euro Disney made a net loss of E814 million and faced bankruptcy. But it was saved by a real prince, charming or otherwise, when Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed invested E263 million.