French Dip : With Attendance Lagging, Euro Disney Will Step Up Marketing in France

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the end of its first summer, Euro Disney had substantially fewer visitors than anticipated, mainly because the French have not frequented the resort in the numbers expected, a Euro Disney senior executive said Tuesday.

Euro Disney President Philippe Bourguignon said the newest Disney amusement park, opened in April at a cost of $4.4 billion, has begun an intensive fall marketing campaign to attract the French to the site 20 miles east of Paris in Marne-la-Vallee.

Bourguignon, a French national recently appointed to his post when American Robert Fitzpatrick was named Euro Disney chairman, said 6 million visitors had come since the park opened April 12.

Bourguignon said attendance was higher than expected for certain nationalities, including the British, German and Spanish. But by Sept. 3, when Euro Disney hit the 6-million-visitor mark, there had been only 1.6 million French customers--27% of the total.

Bourguignon declined to quantify the French customer shortfall, but last spring Euro Disney said it hoped for 11 million visitors its first year, half from France.

To reach that total by April 11, 1993, the resort must attract 5 million guests in the traditionally slower fall and winter seasons.

In July, Euro Disney officials announced that the company, 49% owned by Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., would incur a loss in its first fiscal year ending Sept. 30. It did not say how much.

Bourguignon's appointment as a main public representative for Euro Disney has been interpreted as an attempt by the resort, which has suffered from critical press in France, to put a "French face" on the company.

"The idea was good to appoint a Frenchman," said Jean-Jacques Limage, stock analyst with James Capel & Co. in Paris. "Disney had made some mistakes here, and they started to understand they should be a little kinder to the French environment."

Bourguignon declined to discuss the French press coverage. He placed principal blame for low French attendance on strikes by Communist Party union workers on suburban rail lines serving the park and erroneous French transport ministry reports predicting "the worst traffic jams of the century" during the park's opening days.

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