Seven years after opening, Hong Kong Disneyland has made a profit for the first time, thanks to surging visitor numbers.
For the fiscal year ending September 2012, the theme park earned revenue of HK$4.3 billion, up 18 per cent from a year ago, and made a profit of HK$109 million. Visitor numbers were up 13 per cent to 6.7 million, with 45 per cent from the mainland, 33 per cent locals and the rest from international markets.
"Expansion is the number one factor of success," Andrew Kam Min-ho, managing director of the park, said.
However, an academic pointed out that the park had a long way to go to offset the HK$3.8 billion in net losses accumulated from 2008 to 2012.
Since 2011, the park has opened two new attractions - Toy Story Land and mining town Grizzly Gulch. When it opens Mystic Point - a mansion of visual effects - this year, the park will have grown by about a quarter.
The new attractions have lured more locals to the park. Their attendance saw the biggest jump, of 21 per cent to 2.2 million, last year, Kam said. The number of annual pass holders grew 40 per cent to almost 200,000.
The growth rate of mainland visitors was smaller at 13 per cent as more of them embarked on one-day return trips instead of staying overnight.
Also driving performance was higher per capita tourist spending and the high occupancy rate of its two hotels, which now stands at 92 per cent.
In a show of optimism about tourism performance in coming years, the Walt Disney Company and the Hong Kong government - which own 48 per cent and 52 per cent of the park respectively - agreed to use the profit for further development.
Despite the encouraging performance, visitor numbers at Hong Kong Disneyland still trail Ocean Park, which welcomed 7.3 million during the same period. The number also falls short of the government's estimate of 8.14 million back in 1999.
Explaining that it never regarded Ocean Park as a competitor, Kam said Disneyland's lower attendance could be a result of restrictions put on its annual pass holders - they are not allowed to enter during peak periods.
Kam did not rule out a price increase, saying it would not be a problem for tourists because their currencies had appreciated against the Hong Kong dollar.
On the other hand, Kam and Ocean Park's chairman Allan Zeman expressed reservations at calls by lawmakers to cap the number of mainland tourists coming to the city.
Such restrictions would affect the city's reputation as a free port, Kam said, and the government should focus on diverting tourists away from busy districts instead.
Forward planning on coping with visitors was more crucial, Zeman said. "Any city that stops tourism will die."
Dr John Ap, an associate professor of tourism at Polytechnic University, said it showed Disneyland was on the right track but it had a long way to go before recovering the more than HK$20 billion spent to build the park and related infrastructure.
Lawmaker Sin Chung-kai suggested different fares for peak holidays and low-season days to balance the interests of locals with business needs. "Charge a higher fare when the park is packed, and allow locals cheaper access on other days," said Sin.