Mickey Mouse or Paris: which would you choose?

Ear to the World: American theme parks come under scrutiny in our review of world press

By Maria Balinska

From the world’s opinion pages, two very different takes on American theme parks.

Mickey Mouse in Hong Kong. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Canadian entrepreneur Chris Griffiths is just back from his first trip to Walt Disney World. And the takeaway in his column for the Toronto Globe and Mail is that there is a lesson for small businesses in Walt Disney’s insistence – despite the fierce resistance of all those around him – to venture into a new, risky and expensive business by building a theme park.

“We learn from Disney that a belief in, and development of, an exceptional product, without compromise, can be an amazing and profitable journey for any small business.

Sometimes, when you build it, they do come. Naysayers, be damned.”

In Spain, however, the naysayers are very much out and about. The object of their criticism? Recently unveiled plans for six theme parks called Barcelona World which, the developers, claim will generate 20,000 jobs and pull in 10 million visitors a year. But critics interviewed by the Madrid daily El Pais say it’s unrealistic and unwise because the theme park is an American model that does not work in Europe.  Period.

In the U.S. . . . the theme park “let people escape the boredom of the suburbs, where leisure options were limited in practice to shopping malls, and the environment the theme parks offered was friendly and safe for families…’ The theme parks substituted for the cities in America,’ [sociologist Jose Miguel] Iribas argues. ‘If Europe has any strength, it lies in its network of cities. The appeal of Mickey Mouse . . . is very limited when any neighbourhood of Paris is just around the corner.’”

One American not listening to the likes of Iribas is Mitt Romney’s benefactor and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. He’s just concluded a deal to build “EuroVegas” outside Madrid and, he says, create 250,000 jobs (a boon in a country with 24% unemployment). But once he builds it, will they come?