Heidi moves over for Mickey Mouse
The ski resort of Arosa has opened the first Mickey Mouse club in the Swiss Alps, becoming Switzerland’s official partner of the Walt Disney Company.
But the alpine resort is far from becoming the next Disneyland, as swissinfo found out after following the mouse trail to Arosa.
Anyone expecting larger-than-life Disney characters to greet them upon arrival in the village is in for a disappointment.
Instead, tourists travelling by train are welcomed by the drivers of hotel buses, taxis and horse-drawn sleighs - and not a single one of them is wearing big ears or a Donald Duck costume.
Disney’s presence in Arosa is actually quite discreet, limited to a few banners flapping on streetlight poles, colourful bunting around the children’s ski school and kids corners in hotels.
No alpine Disneyland
“It’s impossible to become a Disneyland in the Alps because Walt Disney doesn’t want that and neither do we,” Arosa tourist director, Hans-Kaspar Schwarzenbach told swissinfo.
What Arosa has done is sign a licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Company, permitting the ski resort to use the Disney name and logo.
The deal has raised fears that the Swiss Alps could be commercialised the American way.
But the parents swissinfo surveyed at the children’s ski school - mainly Swiss and Germans - were indifferent.
“As long as the kids like it,” they echoed.
The only parent to voice her concern was, surprisingly, an American tourist.
“I would rather not have the Disney characters here because [on holiday] I want to get away from America where everything is very commercialised,” said Deborah Katz from New York. “I liked the way it used to be in Arosa.”
Swamped in his bulky ski suit, her five-year-old son says he misses Bobo the penguin, the ski school mascot usurped by Mickey Mouse.
“I think the mountains are so overwhelming here that you see Mickey Mouse but not Mickey Mouse first and foremost,” said Heinz-Ulrich Richwinn, Arosa’s usually outspoken parish priest.
“It’s part of the children’s offer in Arosa but is not omnipresent,” he said.
“Throughout its history, Arosa has been different things for different people and it should maintain a diversity of offers,” Richwinn continued.
“There could be the danger though that Arosa will be equated with Disney despite Arosa’s cultural and tourism heritage.”
Hans-Kaspar Schwarzenbach says Mickey Mouse was chosen because his appeal is greater than that of any other fictional character in the world and – more importantly – he gives Arosa access to Disney’s powerful marketing machine.
In modern advertising jargon, alpine resorts are increasingly seen as “products” that need to be “positioned” in the market, and therefore need major “sponsors” if they want to realise their growth potential. Enter Disney.
“We now have access to Disney’s partners,” said Schwarzenbach, “like Völkl skis, and Uvex and Technica brands of ski gear, as well as Kodak, McDonald’s and Kellogg’s.
“For example we are going to advertise on Kellogg’s packets. A little alpine village like Arosa could otherwise not afford to market itself on such a large scale.”
“Disney is our door to the world,” agreed Thomas Blatter, the director of the Arosa hotel, Blatter’s Bellavista.
From Disney to McDonald’s
“I can imagine parents taking their children to a McDonald’s [restaurant] and seeing some advertising for Arosa,” Blatter said.
“We hope that children will remember the name Arosa when their parents plan their vacation, since children usually have a say in where the family goes on holiday.”
The Bellavista is one of about a dozen Arosa hotels backing the Disney deal.
The contract obliges the hotels to dedicate a playroom to Disney books, films and video games, and each young guest receives a gift box filled with Disney merchandise.
Blatter thinks it’s a small price to pay for the marketing potential Disney offers its partners.
He admits the American entertainment giant cannot promise that the name Arosa will be picked up by any of its partners but “we expect that Disney will help us make Arosa better known”.
“You may see it on the breakfast table, on the milk packaging or a picture [of the resort] inside the Kellogg’s box. This is what we expect from Disney.”
The only resident of Arosa who is not happy with the Disney deal is Max Mazzolini, manager of the children’s ski school.
He wants costumed cartoon characters to entertain the children every day, but the contract stipulates that this can only be done by actors and actresses authorised by Disney, and they do not come cheap.
“I’ve heard we can only afford to have Mickey Mouse here once a month in the winter season,” he said, bending down to comfort a crying child.
“This should be Mickey or Minnie’s job,” Mazzolini continued. “Mickey should be here with the children.”
“I would rather not have Mickey Mouse here at all, than only occasionally.”
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Arosa
Arosa lies at 1,800 metres above sea level at the end of the Schanfigg Valley in canton Graubünden.
It was a leading health resort before skiing became all-important.
The Arosa tourist office hopes the Mickey Mouse Alpine Club will be an added winter attraction, and draw more families to the resort in summer.
Arosa was awarded a prize from the Swiss tourism industry last year for the introduction of the all-inclusive ArosaCard, designed to boost sales in the normally slow summer months.
The unique card is given to every hotel guest in the resort, and grants them free and unlimited rides on Arosa’s network of lifts and other services.
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