Joe Schott is a happy man – with just cause. As chief operating officer of Disneyland Paris, with responsibility for the quality of the guest experience, he was very involved with the park’s 20th anniversary celebrations. The success of these saw a record 16 million visitors to the theme parks and the new evening show Disney Dreams! won several awards, including IAAPA’s Brass Ring. It has now become one of the highest guest-rated shows at Disneyland Paris, with a 93 per cent satisfaction rating.
Despite this, he and the rest of the management team aren’t being complacent. Having had a tricky start when the park opened in 1992, they’ve learned that adapting, evolving and investing is the way forward. And with e440m (US$570m, £353m) set aside for maintenance and development over the next five years, there’s no shortage of plans.
First up is the recently opened ride Ratatouille – the park’s largest expression of that all-important trend for an interactive, immersive experience combining storytelling and state-of-the-art technology. As part of the group’s long-term commitment to investing in high-quality guest experiences, it’s projects like this that will bring work and revenue to the area. And the original agreed-upon structure between the French government and Walt Disney Company’s development team was not just to bring Disney to Paris, but to develop a world-renowned centre for tourism to create a strong vector for the social and economic development of the Eastern Paris Region.
Has Disneyland Paris realised its potential as an economic driver?
The city centre that’s right next to Disneyland Paris continues to grow and has one of the top visited malls in France – if not in Europe. And 55,000 people are in work thanks to direct, indirect and induced jobs throughout France. This amazing economic boost has happened because of our resort. Villages Nature [a vacation destination opening in 2016, just 6km south of Disneyland Paris] is a joint-venture with Pierre et Vacances, an independent French company [that owns Center Parcs in Europe]. It’s going to be an amazing experience based on the Center Parcs format, but in a very Disney way.
How do you meet guest’s needs?
My role is focused on the quality of the experience and making sure that for the 16 million guests we had last year, we maintain the quality of the organisation, the operation and the management of the resort. This includes seven hotels, two theme parks and the Disney Village.
Fifty-two per cent of our guests are from Paris, the rest from other countries in Europe. So you can’t focus on one group or one language in the shows and operation. We have to do things much more visually and put a lot of thought into how that’s going to make individuals feel. We offer our guide maps in seven languages and many of our cast speak several languages. Even the breakfast buffet can’t be traditionally French – it has to have bacon for the Brits. That organisation is quite complex.
How did you adapt the Disneyland concept to its host country?
Many of the things we had to change were based on culture relevancy. The decision not to have alcohol in the park followed a US paradigm about conduct within the park. However, in France, wine as part of a meal is common, so we developed our offer. That’s a good example of recognising when changing direction has to be met with the right kind of implementation or your guests aren’t going to be happy.
It’s taught me what’s unique about each place from an adaptation standpoint. You can’t go into a situation believing you have the answer. You have to get feedback from the people who will decide if your business is successful – your guests and cast.
How does your experience of living in France differ from back home?
In the US, we live our lives around the office. That’s not how the French look at the world, which gives you an appreciation of the quality of life and taking time to enjoy it and makes you a more thoughtful and balanced team leader.
I don’t spend all my time outside the office looking for new ideas. But, instead of working 80 hours a week, it’s more like 60 hours now, including visits to the parks regularly, which is a much healthier approach for me.
Sum up Disneyland Paris today
We didn’t open to a warm reception in France but today, 21 years after opening, Disneyland Paris is a powerhouse. We’re the number one tourist destination in Europe because our adaptation has made us relevant to all those different audiences.
Disneyland Paris is a European theme park now, not an American theme park.