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International Disney parks target U.S. customers with American influencers and bloggers

Disney World has become a repeat vacation spot and second home for a group of adults who love Disney. Now the company appears to be trying to replicate that magic at its international properties, using American influencers and bloggers to draw U.S. fans to Disney theme parks in China and Japan.

The professional content creators are some of Disney’s most valuable fans — making a living by sharing travel tips, updates and slices of life in the parks with their large online followings.

On June 6, Tokyo Disney Resort will open a massive expansion that includes new lands and attractions modeled after its hit films “Frozen,” “Tangled” and the animated classic “Peter Pan.” For a media preview event in May, the resort invited several high-profile U.S.-based Disney content creators to see the expansion, the first time some of them experienced Tokyo Disney and shared it with their followers. In 2023, some of the same creators were invited to media previews for the “Frozen” and “Zootopia” attractions in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The invitations to U.S. fan media indicate an evolution in who Disney appears to be trying to attract to its international parks. As they were originally conceived, Disney’s international parks were meant to “bring the unforgettable Disney magic to an international audience,” according to the company. But international park numbers have never quite caught up to the attendance figures at California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Disney World. While the international parks themselves have always taken steps to accommodate diverse audiences — providing shows and attractions in multiple languages — Disney appears to be marketing the international parks to American audiences in more direct ways.

In addition to the content creator efforts, Disney has begun to include its international parks in its own content consumed by Americans. In the Disney+ show “Behind the Attraction,” which premiered in 2021, numerous variations on American rides at international parks were discussed and digested for American audiences.

While Tokyo Disney Resort has been consistently popular with locals, Disney and other U.S.-based entertainment groups have recently found that Americans are willing to partake in familiar culture while traveling abroad, boosting numbers in both foreign and domestic markets, and creating a new target demographic for international projects.

Social media content showing the new expansions has resonated widely with Western audiences online. Some YouTube vlogs featuring the new Tokyo attractions were viewed upward of 100,000 times each on the first day they were posted by English-speaking creators. The official Disney Parks Instagram account, which posts content from all of the locations, has been repeatedly flooded with Americans commenting how eager they are to experience what the international parks offer.

More from NBC News:

“Disney gives us the opportunity to cover it and get coverage to our audience, because we do have such an important audience to Disney,” Quincy Stanford, who works for the Disney parks fan media operation AllEars and was invited to the Tokyo media preview, told NBC News.

“People who are seeking out AllEars are seeking out Disney planning information, and that means that they’re seeking out spending money at Disney,” Stanford added. “We have an opportunity outside of a broader media outlet to reach their target audience.”

Disney has been inviting both fan-run and traditional media outlets to cover its new attractions in the U.S. parks for years, but Stanford said the Tokyo invitation came as a “surprise” to the AllEars staff, which has been publishing content online since the late 1990s.

“It’s a very rare experience to see American media invited over to Tokyo,” Stanford said.

Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, and in more recent years, social media has shown American fans just what they’re missing on the other side of the world.

While many aspects of Tokyo Disneyland are the same as at Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom in Florida, it has some unique rides. The other Tokyo Disney Resort park, Tokyo DisneySea, is largely unique and is considered by many fans to be the best Disney theme park in the world.

“With Covid and the pandemic, social media went further than we even thought possible, and it exposed people to a part of Disney they had never seen,” said Emma Kenner, another AllEars staffer who traveled alongside Stanford to Tokyo. Disney parks social media content experienced a big uptick in attention following the reopening of the U.S. parks in late 2020, with people eager to visit after the only extended closure in Disney history. Disney creators around the world grew their followings, and demand for content from international Disney parks rose alongside them.

“It makes people want to go and experience it for themselves,” Kenner said.

Apart from the invitations to the exclusive previews, Stanford and Kenner said, Disney has always remained “hands off” with fan coverage. They don’t get paid by Disney and the company doesn’t tell them what to cover or how to cover it. Disney fan media is known for frank and sometimes even harsh coverage of what Disney is doing, but the overall tone remains passionately positive. The Walt Disney Co. didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Disney isn’t the only American entertainment operation pulling homegrown fans into other countries, either. More than a quarter of Taylor Swift tickets in Paris were bought by Americans, Paris La Défense Arena told Rolling Stone, and social media content has celebrated the cheaper prices for tickets and merchandise for both Swift and Disney internationally.

The American influx into other countries hasn’t been without controversy. Overtourism is a serious concern in Japan, with the country taking steps to limit crowds at some popular tourist attractions. But post-lockdown international travel continues to blossom years after places like the Disney parks reopened.

“I think people find a sense of comfort in finding those American entertainers and opportunities when they’re traveling,” Kenner said. “Having that one thing that feels familiar makes a little bit of the trip more comfortable or less stressful.”

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