It's a small Disney after all for Shanghai

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2009, 12:00am

So much for best laid plans of mice and men: after being billed as the mother of all theme parks, Shanghai's new Disneyland will be the smallest yet.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the central government's top planning agency, has announced that the park will be 116 hectares - less than a third of the size most pundits had predicted. This will make it smaller than Hong Kong Disneyland, which covers 126 hectares and is currently the smallest of the US entertainment giant's five parks worldwide.

In stark contrast to the triumphal manner in which the project's long-awaited approval was reported three weeks ago, the official confirmation of the park's small size led local media to openly take the Mickey.

'Really Minnie! Shanghai Disneyland will be even smaller than Hong Kong Disney' screamed the headline on yesterday's Xinmin Evening News. Shanghai residents were ambivalent about the news yesterday.

'I believe it is pointless to build a Disney park in Shanghai,' said Coco Wang, an employee of a Japanese company. 'The city's construction boom for the World Expo and for the city's international profile is going on at the expense of people. We are suffering more traffic jams and pollution.'

The Shanghai government's announcement three weeks ago that the project - which has been on the drawing board for a decade - had been given the go-ahead, sparked concerns in Hong Kong about the impact competition could have.

It was widely reported by Shanghai's official media at the time that the first phase of the project would cover an area of more than four square kilometres (400 hectares) - more than three times the size of the Hong Kong site.

The first phase was to be completed sometime around 2013 or 2014, and later stages of construction were expected to expand the site to more than 10 sq km.

The new figures suggest those initial Hong Kong concerns about competition may have been unfounded.

However, an official with the Pudong district government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 116 hectares mentioned in the NDRC's brief statement released on Monday was just for the first-phase of construction.

He said this would be followed by second and third phases of development, and Shanghai's Disneyland would eventually be larger than its Hong Kong counterpart.

'Some details of the park are not finalised yet,' he told the South China Morning Post. 'Space for the project will definitely be expanded.'

The information office under the NDRC could not be reached for comment by telephone yesterday.

A brief statement issued by Walt Disney Company's head office on November 3 made no mention of the project's size, but stated that 'final agreement' had yet to be reached. It also hinted that the project would be completed in several stages.

'The project's initial phase would include a Magic Kingdom-style theme park with characteristics tailored to the Shanghai region and other amenities consistent with Disney's destination resorts worldwide,' the company said.

The largest of the Disney parks is Walt Disney World in Florida, at 10,117 hectares. EuroDisney, outside Paris, comes a distant second, covering 1,942 hectares. Both Disneyland in California and Tokyo's Disney Resort are about 200 hectares.

The land allocation has raised concerns the Shanghai park could run into troubles similar to those that plagued Hong Kong Disneyland when it first opened. Lack of size was widely cited as a reason for its disappointing ticket sales.

But Dr John Ap, an associate professor of tourism at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the initial compact size could help maintain the ambiance and theme of the Disney park, which was important for attracting tourists. It was the number of attractions at the park, rather than its size, that was critical, he added.

The mainland's amusement park market is already highly competitive with large parks having sprung up around most major cities.

A recent study by consultancy firm Horizon Group found that about 150 billion yuan (HK$170 billion) had been invested in about 2,500 mainland theme parks, but only one in 10 of them was making a profit and 70 per cent were in the red.

The new slimline plan for Shanghai Disneyland means it won't be able to rely on sheer scale to get visitors through the gates.

The Disney park will be smaller than Shanghai's largest public park, Century Park in Pudong, which covers 140 hectares. The city's largest amusement park is the newly opened Shanghai Happy Valley in the western suburb of Sheshan. But at 90 hectares, it is slightly smaller than the proposed Disney park.

But there are larger parks elsewhere in China, both already open and currently being built.

There were several media reports in June of plans to build a 133 hectare park in Huzhou , Zhejiang province, dedicated to the Japanese cartoon character Hello Kitty.

Hong Kong's Ocean Park covers 212 hectares, almost double the size of the Shanghai Disney, and Honey Lake China Amusement Park in Shenzhen covers 214 hectares.

These all pale in comparison with Shenzhen's vast Interlaken theme resort. Styled after a Swiss Alpine resort, it covers 890 hectares.

Additional reporting by Dennis Eng