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Big trouble in Hong Kong: Disney all but abandons Hong Kong Disneyland

Jason Cochran

Mar 18th 2009


Seeing no end to the money-hemorrhaging madness in Hong Kong, Disney is halting all plans for expansion for its park in Hong Kong. The show will go on, but it will be frozen, and nothing new will be added. About 30 Imagineers will be laid off.


Attendance in Hong Kong was never what they'd hoped. In fact, it's slid. Originally, the expectation was that people from mainland China would flood its gates, but that never quite happened. And when it did, the results haven't been golden. It's not always easy for Mainlanders to get clearance to travel to Hong Kong; generally speaking, only the wealthiest ones can or do. And inside the park, staff must continually explain to Chinese guests why it's not all right for them to urinate in the park's gardens -- they would be politely directed to the squat toilets in the bathrooms. Citizens of Hong Kong traditionally disdain Mainlanders for behavior like that (and rival Ocean Park is closer and viewed as less corporate/imperialist), so Hong Kongers have mostly avoided the park, too.


By stalling its joint venture, though, a turnaround isn't in the cards, leaving Hong Kong Disneyland the only Disney resort in the world sustained by just a single theme park. The Disney brand is showing signs of drastic erosion.


In terms of the bottom line, the surrender isn't as bad for Disney as you'd think, primarily because the company has always been wily about its investment exposure. In Hong Kong Disneyland's case, it convinced the government to put in an 80% stake of the $3.5 billion investment for just a 57% share. You can imagine how Hong Kong residents took that news. Hong Kong authorities even created massive landfill to accommodate the Mouse; the park sits on what was once a bay in the South China Sea, just 20 minutes by rail from the city. Every leaf and blade of grass was planted by human hands. Nevertheless, the majority of the financial pain will be felt by taxpayers, not Disney Parks.


I was lucky enough to be at the grand opening of the park in September of 2005. It was one of the last official bits of business overseen by Michael Eisner, although incoming CEO Bob Iger was also on hand. I thought the park, though pretty, was best described as Disney Lite: just four lands and only nine rides, several of the spinning types, like the Dumbo attraction. It has since added two more (including the first "it's a small world" to be stocked with Disney characters), but it's way behind the growth curve that its parent park experienced after opening in 1955.


The day before the opening ceremonies, I sat with Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Vice President Wing Chao, a 37-year veteran of the company, in Tomorrowland, and talked about his new baby. Seeing the Disney brand through an Asian lens was refreshing: Hotels lack unlucky fourth floors, carts serve cold watermelon juice, and you can do the Jungle Cruise in Cantonese, English, or Putonghua (Mandarin).


Although Disney execs are notoriously tight-lipped about specifics, Chao said that the Hong Kong authorities had created much more landfill than Disney was using, and that a second "gate" (industry speak for a park) and a shopping zone were in the offing. He had high hopes. On that day, the park stood in a vast field of unadorned new land. Expansion was essential. Hong Kong Disneyland is a mini Mickey.


But from an outside perspective, it appears that when it came time to talk turkey about who would fund the expansion, Disney couldn't see a bright future, and it couldn't come to terms with how much the government should shell out. The government is already under fire for pumping money into the project, so giving more wouldn't be politically savvy.


There's one other massive reason that Disney has all but given up hope on Hong Kong for now. It's the same one that Hong Kong's leaders won't say out loud: Disney has left them behind. Disney is about to officially announce that it's building a new park outside of Shanghai. Negotiations are in their final frame. Once that happens, then Disney won't have to court the massive Chinese market through the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. They can court the Chinese within their own country, where passports are not required.


Even before the economic turmoil, Hong Kong Disneyland drew a third of its visitors from Mainland China (plus a third from abroad, and a third from Hong Kong itself). If that crowd can get to Disneyland Shanghai easier, Hong Kong's share will plummet. Disney is on the verge of not needing Hong Kong anymore. Without expansion, its attendance won't rise, and Hong Kong Disneyland will be doomed.


The argument isn't hard to make: In a terrain as densely populated as Hong Kong, the land Disneyland sits on, which was put there using support from the state, would be better used for housing. Will that happen? Not yet. But it could. And should that happen, it would be the first Disney park in history to close.


Seems a bit odd, and I'm not seeing many sources listed but geez, that park was creepy empty when TPR was there in September!

Edited by larrygator
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^^ There are Disney parks in Japan so it would still be a "Round the World" tour, even if HKDL closes.


This is really unfortunate for HKDL as well as Hong Kong itself. This situation kinda reminds me of HRP.


If the park closes, it would be the second Disney park to close its gate and the first full-sized Disneyland to close.


EDIT: I read the article closer and it turns out that the park isn't adding more attractions. It will stay open.

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That's an interesting article. I guess I missed the Hong Kong trip report last year. I had this vision in my mind of the folks over there pouring into the park and hopping fences to get in. (didn't that happen in the beginning?)


I'm going to hope that they can turn the park around. It'd be weird to see a Disney park shut its doors.

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If this article is true, it really sends the message that Disney is banking on the success of the Shanghai park. Either that, or it's just a ploy to get more money from the Hong Kong government. I actually remember reading awhile back that Disney and the Hong Kong government were in negotiations regarding the finances of expanding the park, so it could very well be just a negotiation tactic.


I'm certainly not an expert on the Chinese theme park market, but just on the surface it seems like a short-sighted decision. I'm sure that their attendance from mainland China will suffer with the Shanghai park, but I don't see why they can't continue to grow the local and "westerner" market, as Hong Kong is still a crucial "gateway" to China.

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I remember reading a news article about a year ago on how HKDL was failing because the Hong Kong GP would rather go to ocean park to see the pandas that they have there etc. It's one of the wonders of the world to see a truly failing Disney Park

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And inside the park, staff must continually explain to Chinese guests why it's not all right for them to urinate in the park's gardens --

See, I question the validity of the article when I see things like this.


How much time did we spend at mainland Chinese parks and how many people did I see urinating in the park? ZERO!


In fact, I saw people go into...wait for it...THE BATHROOM!


So when I see things like "CONTINUALLY" explain.... and I've witnessed NONE of the problems that someone say CONTINUALLY happen, I have to call shenanigans!


For the record, I have seen more people pee in the park at Disneyland in California than I saw pee in any of the Chinese parks. (The unfair advantage of course is I spent about 1300 days at Disneyland over a period of 5 years)



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^I agree that the notion that the Chinese are completely uncivilized is not true based on my experience. I really think this is Disney playing hard ball. Ultimately it is in both parties best interests to get the expansion financed.


While your trip in September saw the park empty, when we visited earlier in the summer the park was hopping, even on a weekday. The addition of IASM clearly was well received and more E-tickets are needed to draw out the locals.


With Ocean Park in the midst of a huge expansion, it is crucial that HK Disneyland expands into a full day park IMO. Given the size of China I believe there is plenty of room for both parks (HKDL & Shanghai DL) in the country. China's middle class is approaching the size of America's and growing every day. If we can fully support two Disney resorts then the Chinese can as well. In fact, if they make each one of the parks somewhat unique, then they may grow a whole generation of Disney fans in China who visit both parks.

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^ "Stories" yes. But I've been there three times now, and traveled all over China and haven't seen it happen ONCE! Remember we were there about the same time those stories broke.


So my guess is that someone saw it, created a news story around it and it gets repeated over and over whenever they need some dirt on Hong Kong.


I'm guessing that people peeing at HKDL happened about as many times as SFMM was going to close.



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After reading this story it sounds more and more like arm-twisting. All of the lay-offs involved people working on the expansion. If I was able to convince someone to build me a park and then hand over the keys I think I'd have a really hard time not making money.


Disney cuts 30 jobs in HK as park expansion stalls


HONG KONG (AP) -- Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday it has trimmed about 30 jobs in Hong Kong as discussion with the local government to expand its theme park remains uncertain.


The latest layoff also came a month after the Burbank, California-based entertainment giant said it would shed an unspecified number of workers amid the global financial turmoil.


Disney has been in talks with the Hong Kong government about expanding Hong Kong Disneyland, which is a joint venture between the two parties. Local media had reported the government, which shouldered the bulk of the park's $3.5 billion construction cost, is reluctant to invest more public money.


'After two years of Disney investment in creative and design work and extensive negotiations with our partner, the Hong Kong government, we have not yet reached a final agreement to expand Hong Kong Disneyland,' Leslie Goodman, executive vice president of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement.


The layoff on Monday included about 30 Hong Kong-based employees after the company suspended all creative and design work of the expansion plan, Disney said in the statement.


Responding to Disney's decision, the Hong Kong government said it is 'puzzled' and urged the company to reconsider.


'We consider that The Walt Disney Company's laying off of Walt Disney Imagineers who have been working on the design of Hong Kong Disneyland's expansion will not be conducive to the discussions,' a spokesman for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said in statement emailed to The Associated Press.




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Its PR strongarm ploy to get more money from the HK government, plain and simple. We all know a mainland park is going to outright whip the HK park unless they expand accordingly. So, I think Disney is playing both sides in a calulated PR battle to get the money they need, smart move businesswise, but not necessarly honest.


On the "asian urination" rumors, I know quite a few people who are from mainland china and HK who take offense to things of that nature, its a stereotype that came from behavior years ago, similar to how us Americans used outside privys before indoor plumbing. I can also attest to what Robb said concerning American Theme Park Urinators, as ive seen people (both small and grown) who've done the dirty #1 at SFoT out of the way, both in my time working there and today....

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  • 3 months later...
By James Pomfret


HONG KONG, June 25 (Reuters) - Hong Kong has reached a deal with the Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) to expand the local Disney theme park, seen as necessary to bolster the park's long-term prospects against a Shanghai rival, a government source said on Thursday.


The agreement is expected to be announced by June 30, with details of the deal to be laid out to local legislators in a special meeting next Tuesday.


The government source, who asked not to be named, said the meeting's agenda would include the Disneyland deal and that a media report on the imminent announcement "was largely accurate".


The Hong Kong Economic Times on Thursday reported that the deal was expected to be worth HK$7 billion ($903.3 million) of which HK$4 billion would be used for expansion.


But a Disney spokeswoman in the United States told Reuters that discussions were ongoing and that there was "no" deal yet.


The size of Hong Kong Disneyland, the smallest of Disney's magic kingdoms, is expected to almost double, with construction to begin within a year, pending approval from the city's legislative council in July, the newspaper reported.


The Hong Kong government, which owns 57 percent of the underperforming resort, desperately needs the expansion to boost flagging attendance, with a much larger rival Disneyland expected to be built in Shanghai in 2014 that could draw much visitor traffic from the burgeoning mainland China market.


"At this stage, we have to support the expansion, otherwise it will be very difficult to compete with Shanghai in five to six years time," said legislator Fred Li of the Democratic Party, who said his party backed the expansion as long as Disney boosted its financial transparency in future on attendance figures.


Hong Kong's Financial Secretary John Tsang travelled to Los Angeles in May, where he met senior Disney executives. The trip is seen to have paved the way for the breakthrough after Disney earlier said it would stall any expansion amid the credit crunch.


The Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) earlier indicated it would likely invest more capital in Hong Kong Disneyland and allow the Hong Kong government to convert its loans to equity to maintain its majority share of the theme park, a source involved in their talks told Reuters earlier. (Additional reporting by Gina Keating in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Lewis and Muralikumar Anantharaman)




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3 new lands, with what sounds like custom variations of BTMRR and Haunted Mansion according to BlueSkyDisney:




Grizzly Trail

Grizzly Gulch, Frontier Gold-Mining Town


The path along Grizzly Trail offers high-spirited frontier fun in an abandoned mining town called Grizzly Gulch, set amidst mountains and woods. The town was founded August 8, 1888 – the luckiest day of the luckiest month of the luckiest year – by prospectors looking to discover gold. Bears have now started causing havoc at the Big Grizzly Mountain Mining Company.


Key Technology and Creative Elements

• Guests visiting Grizzly Gulch are part of the action, experiencing hands-on water features, massive geysers and various leaking structures in the abandoned town.

• Life-size Audio-Animatronic® bears set the story in motion on Big Grizzly Mountain Coaster, an adventure aboard a runaway mine train through town. Guests careen backward down an incline that propels them through twists and turns, before a launch sequence “blasts” the mine train out of the mountain.

• A Wild West stagecoach, an old time Jail House, and the world’s largest nugget of gold provide fun photo opportunities.

• Guests can relax with a Wild West refreshment at the old Saloon or shop for mining supplies and souvenirs at the Bear Necessities merchandise stand.


Mystic Point


Mystic Point is the site of mysterious forces and supernatural events in the heart of a dense, uncharted rain forest.


In Mystic Manor, home to an eccentric world traveler and adventurer and his collection of exotic international artifacts, strange things are afoot as an enchanted music box releases its magical powers, thanks to a mischievous monkey.


Key Technology and Creative Elements

• Inside Mystic Manor, a trackless ride system enables vehicles to move “freely” about the attraction as the story unfolds. Audio-Animatronic® figures and special visual and audio effects help tell the story of mystical phenomena.

• Within Mystic Point lies a beautiful garden full of relics and mythological figures, where guests discover a hidden world of illusions and mysteries that trick the eye.

• Guests can dine at the Adventurer’s Club amid a vast collection of unusual artifacts from around the world or purchase exclusive curiosities and collectibles at the Archive Shop.


Toy Story© Land

Disney·Pixar-themed Play Area for Kids of All Ages


Andy, the young boy from the Disney·Pixar Toy Story films, has left his toys unattended in this immersive and highly themed environment, based on one of Disney·Pixar’s most popular film series. While Andy is away, the toys come to life and play...and Guests are invited to join!


Key Technology and Creative Elements

• Oversized outdoor rides and photo opportunities allow Guests to experience the different perceptions of scale, and shrink to the size of a toy.

• One attraction includes a shuttle coaster which propels Guests along a U-shaped style track.

• A drop-style parachute attraction lets Guests join a “training mission,” plunging from a 25m tall tower.

• Guests will enjoy fun, immersive and interactive environments with life-size toys.

• A themed food kiosk provides a barrel of fun snacks and refreshments and Guests can shop for Toy Story inspired collectibles at the merchandise location.

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The Toy Story Land painting looks exactely the same, like the one they are building right now at the Walt Disney Studios in Paris. Other that that it would be good for the park to add some rides. But in that way it dosn´t really looks like a Magic Kingdom park to me anymore.



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