The prospects for Euro Disney, Walt Disney Co.’s beleaguered theme park outside the French capital, are starting to look a lot brighter, just as its financial problems have hit a low point.
Disney officials and the French-led creditor banks are due later this month to start discussing a crucial financial restructuring of the resort, which has debts of about 24 billion French francs ($ 4 billion) and equity of less than $ 67 million. Without substantial financial relief, which analysts say will have to total at least $ 1.67 billion in debt write-offs and fresh funding, Euro Disney may have to close.
But in a paradox that gives hope for its future, the park seems to be solving its problems on the ground. Analysts and tour operators in Europe are applauding a revamped marketing strategy recently put in place by Euro Disney’s new management. And attendance is strengthening.
“The park is making money. It’s the underlying financial structure that is untenable,” said Rebecca Winnington Ingram, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Intl. in London.
With its new marketing strategy, Euro Disney has sought to counter criticism from tour operators by focusing more clearly on short-term visitors staying for between one and three days, and by cutting prices sharply.
Moreover, the outlook for 1994 is brighter as Europe pulls out of recession. Tour operators expect two big events in the coming months will help to boost attendance at the park: the opening of the Channel Tunnel between England and France and the completion of a new high-speed train stop near the resort.
Tour operators upbeat
“It now does, we feel, represent good value for money,” said Peter Shanks, commercial director of Thomas Cook, a large British tour operator. Thomas Cook sold about 15,000 Euro Disney holidays in 1993, but Shanks expects to sell 25, 000 holidays to the resort this year and as many as 50,000 in 1995.
Indeed, the company said, it enjoyed a hectic Christmas holiday season, with all its hotels completely filled on New Year’s Eve, compared with an average occupancy at the resort’s six hotels last year of just 55%.
One sign that Euro Disney could be in for a recovery is the emergence over the past few days of a secondary market for its debt. Market participants say at least one large trade has been transacted, the sale of $ 22 million of Euro Disney debt at 60% of face value by Britain’s Midland Bank PLC.