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Wanda poaches Magic Kingdom’s former Hong Kong chief wizard to expand its China theme parks

Wanda hired Hong Kong Disneyland’s former managing director Andrew Kam Man-ho as vice president of its Wanda Cultural Industry Group unit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 11:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 10:55pm

Dalian Wanda Group, the shopping mall and entertainment group controlled by China’s wealthiest man, has hired the former managing director of Hong Kong’s Disneyland to help lead the expansion of the Chinese company’s theme parks across the mainland.

Andrew Kam Man-ho has joined Wanda as vice president of its Wanda Cultural Industry Group unit, the first senior hire from Disney, according to a Wanda spokesperson in Hong Kong, declining to give details.

Kam’s appointment would be a vital step in Wanda’s plan to build as many as 15 Wanda City theme parks across China to encircle Disneyland and compete for the entertainment spending of the country’s growing middle class households.

The hiring is in keeping with Wanda’s style of tapping talent from global competitors to build its own brands, said Zhao Huanyan, chief knowledge officer of Hotelsolutions, a hospitality solutions consultancy firm.

“Wanda is very good at learning from competitors,” Zhao said in Shanghai. “If Wanda wants to catch up with Disney, it needs to first know how Disney operates. So it’s wise for them to make such a move now, especially since a majority of Hong Kong Disneyland visitors are from Asia, as are those going to Wanda’s theme parks.”

Wang, whose net worth is estimated at 215 billion yuan according to the annual Hurun list of China’s wealthiest individuals, has set his sights on Disney, saying during an interview with China’s state television that he wanted to ensure the American theme park operator wouldn’t be profitable in China for 20 years.

“A tiger has no chance of beating a pack of wolves,” Wang said in May during the opening of his 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) Wanda City theme park in the Jiangxi provincial capital of Nanchang, just before Disney opened its first mainland park in Shanghai.

Kam, a 20-year veteran of Coca-Cola Co., managed Hong Kong Disneyland from 2007 until March this year. During his tenure, the park reported its first net profit in 2012, earning HK$109 million.

The Hong Kong theme park has a daily capacity of 34,000 visitors, the fewest of all Disneyland parks, and faces competition with a new Disney park in Shanghai. Since last year, a dwindling of visitor numbers to Hong Kong from the mainland has hit the theme park hard, causing it to swing to a 2015 loss of HK$148 million.

In March this year, the park began laying off dozens of employees, while Kam stepped down, citing personal reasons.

Before joining Disneyland, Kam spent 20 years at Coca-Cola. He also worked at the Hong Kong Tourism Board and served as Swire Pacific’s sales and marketing director.

Wanda Cultural Industry Group had assets of 90.3 billion yuan and annual revenue of 51.2 billion yuan in 2015, and was one of Wanda’s core businesses.

At Disney’s Shanghai park, a regular ticket costs 370 yuan while a peak-season pass is 499 yuan. That’s more expensive than Wanda City, which collects 218 yuan for a single admission to its Hefei resort, and 308 yuan for an entire family, or a multiple-entry ticket at 788 yuan.

With its affordable pricing, Wanda is better able to serve China’s hinterland than the single Disneyland theme park in Shanghai, said Northeast Securities analyst Gao Jian.

To succeed, Wanda City must create its own universe of characters and intellectual property -- China’s equivalent of Mickey Mouse and Snow White -- to attract visitors, a feat that will take decades to achieve, analysts said.

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