Minister hints at cash injection to protect Disneyland stake

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2007, 12:00am

The government may invest more taxpayers' money in struggling Hong Kong Disneyland to avoid its majority stake in the venture being watered down.

Outlining options for the park's future financing to legislators, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Frederick Ma Si-hang said: 'If one shareholder decides on a cash injection while the other refuses to do so, this may result in a change in the shareholding ratio between the two parties.'

The Walt Disney Company is widely expected to pour additional investment into the Lantau attraction to add more rides to help draw more visitors, and Mr Ma's remark implies a cash injection from the government.

Speaking last night, the park's managing director, Bill Ernest, said: 'We do not require additional cash from the government.'

Mr Ernest said the future business structure of the two-year-old park was part of ongoing negotiations between the government and Disney about investing in and expanding it.

The government is the majority shareholder in the attraction, with a 57 per cent stake.

The administration said it was premature to comment on whether the shareholding structure might be affected as the discussions were ongoing.

Mr Ma reiterated to the Legislative Council that he would not rule out any options, such as an injection of funds or a withdrawal of financing.

As the majority shareholder, the government was concerned about the use of public funds, he said.

Long-term financial arrangements would need to take into account the overall economic benefits to Hong Kong, the appeal of new attractions as well as the park's financial prospects, Mr Ma said.

The park's attendance fell to just over 4 million in the second year, lower than expected and down from the opening year's 5.2 million - itself short of the target of 5.6 million.

The theme park chief echoed Mr Ma's dissatisfaction with the park's performance in its first two years, but revealed that attendance in the first quarter of its third year, which began in September, had shown double-digit growth year on year.

Mr Ernest said that although he was not happy with last year's results, a slump in second-year attendance was not uncommon among theme parks around the world.

The managing director will update Legco tomorrow on the park's progress.

The park will unveil the It's A Small World ride, and two smaller attractions, in spring, and Nemo Submarine's 'Turtle Talk' and The Art of Animation later next year.

In a new initiative being tested, HK$198 tickets to the park will be available to passengers in transit at Hong Kong's airport. The offer will apply from January 1, and will include round-trip bus rides between the airport and the park.