Disney fights tide of falling attendances

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2007, 12:00am

Theme park battles for crowds

Hong Kong Disneyland is expected to struggle to achieve an attendance of 4 million in its second year of business, well below its first-year performance of 5.2 million, say sources familiar with the theme park's operation.

This means a daily average of less than 11,000, or about one-third of the park's capacity of 34,000.

The newest Disney park, which will celebrate its second anniversary in less than four weeks, has so far experienced a lower-than-forecast attendance. Disney's headquarters in Burbank, California, gave a second-year attendance target for Hong Kong of 5.7 million about 16 months ago. When the deal to build Hong Kong Disneyland was sealed in 1999, the government projected an attendance of 5.47 million in the second year, up from 5.21 in the opening year.

The theme park did not plan to reveal attendance figures annually except for milestone years such as the first, fifth and 10th anniversaries, the sources said. In a report to the Legislative Council, the park reported figures of 5.2 million visitors in its first 12 months of operation.

'While we don't comment on business-sensitive information, Hong Kong Disneyland recognises that it is a new business ramping up at expected levels,' a park spokesman said. Disney was committed to the park, which remained focused on improving business through marketing initiatives and new offers, the spokesman said.

A Tourism Commission spokesman referred questions to Hong Kong Disneyland. A government source said the authorities were aware of the situation and something was being done to address the issue. No details were given.

The government owns 57 per cent of the theme park joint venture, with Disney holding the remaining 43 per cent. The administration has said it plans to reduce its stake in the project in the long run.

Although it is not unusual for theme park attendances to fall in the second year before picking up in the third year and beyond, the poor results imply that Disney does not know how to attract business from the mainland, its primary source of guests, the sources say. Disney has always stressed the importance of the Hong Kong park in furthering its business ambitions on the mainland.

Disney expert Dennis Speigel, president of consultancy International Theme Park Services based in Cincinnati, Ohio, said he believed annual attendances at Hong Kong Disneyland should be around 6 million by now.

'I don't think they have their finger on the pulse of the mainland market,' Mr Speigel said.

The sources said part of the problem stemmed from public perception that the theme park was too small and lacked sufficient attractions and rides to occupy visitors for a whole day. Tour groups, for example, tend to leave after the 3.30pm parade and few stay for the 9pm fireworks display.

Paul Leung Yiu-lam, president of the Hong Kong Inbound Travel Association, said it was necessary to provide more activities for guests to enjoy throughout the day.

A Hong Kong Tourism Board spokesman said they would continue to work closely with the park on tactical promotions for the National Day and Christmas holidays.