Taxpayers to pay more than half of HK$11 billion cost for Frozen and Marvel superhero attractions to boost Hong Kong Disneyland

Construction of the new attractions is set to begin in 2018 as part of a six-year expansion plan for the theme park

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 November, 2016, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 10:18am

Hong Kong Disneyland is seeking to boost business with a HK$10.9 billion expansion – more than half of which will be funded by taxpayers – featuring, in a global first, zones based on themes from its blockbuster Frozen and Marvel superhero films.

The six-year mega upgrade will see the park increase its attractions from 110 to 130 between 2018 and 2023, and is expected to create 5,000 to 8,000 jobs across the ­tourism industry.

As the Lantau theme park’s largest shareholder, the ­government will inject HK$5.8 billion – subject to Legislative Council ­approval – while the rest will be covered by the Walt Disney ­Company.

Commerce Minister Greg So Kam-leung played down concerns about the difficulty in securing funding from a deeply divided legislature, insisting it was “the right time” to expand for the sake of long-term tourism development. So urged lawmakers to look at the “big ­picture” and approve the spending of public money.

Shorter lines, more fun: Hong Kong Disneyland still draws fans as doors open at Shanghai counterpart

“The capital injection by the government for the expansion and development plan will be capped at HK$5.8 billion,” he said. “[Disney] is confident that the works will be completed within budget.”

Despite dwindling tourist numbers, So expects the park’s new offerings to help attract up to 9.5 million visitors annually by 2025, up from 6.8 million in 2015.

The expansion comes after the park’s first descent into the red in five years and large-scale layoffs earlier this year. It lost a total of HK$148 million last year, while the number of visitors dropped 9.3 per cent.

The facelift will involve a major renovation of the park’s iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, which is expected to shut down next year and reopen in 2019, Disney design executive Doris Woodward told the Post.

It will offer two new day and night shows upon completion.

Superheroes from the Marvel comics series will arrive at the park in phases, with the first attraction, “Iron Man Experience”, launching in January next year, with more to come, Woodward said.

The city’s tourism industry welcomed the upgrade, expecting a boost for Hong Kong.

“Developing attractions is a long-term investment. We need to be ready before the opportunities emerge,” Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat said.

Wong said the city’s current tourism woes should not get in the way of adding new elements to existing attractions. “At least we have one more selling point.”

Shanghai Disney opening is a wake-up call for Hong Kong

Apart from the tourism downturn, which saw the number of visitors dip 6.1 per cent in the first nine months of the year, it is also facing stiff competition from its mainland counterpart.

Shanghai Disneyland – which opened in June – has been flooded with visitors. The mainland park is three times bigger, but ticket prices are similar to those charged in Hong Kong.

Watch: Trial run of Shanghai Disneyland in June

Just four months after its opening, Shanghai Disneyland has already started expansion with a new themed area. “Toy Story Land”, based on the hit animation film franchise Toy Story, is expected to open in 2018.

The company sees it as an indication of Shanghai Disneyland’s early success in the Chinese market. An additional 3 sq km has been earmarked for expansion.

Disney will brief lawmakers on Monday in an attempt to lobby enough support for the funding.

Holden Chow Ho-ding, vice-chairman of the pro-establishment DAB party expressed support for the expansion, ­expecting it to attract more ­tourists to the city, but the pan-democrats raised concerns.

“The attractiveness of the park is not as good as before, and it will face competition with Shanghai opening a new Disney Park. Its competitiveness is lower than Ocean Park,” lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said, doubting whether new attractions would improve the park’s operational situation.

The Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu was concerned that ­Disneyland might feel the pressure to increase its admission fees in the future, resulting in fewer ­locals visiting the park.

It’s a slow year after all: Hong Kong Disneyland reports first annual business loss since 2011

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the government had a responsibility to move forward with new projects so that the city could offer more tourist attractions. Shanghai Disneyland will have introduced new attractions by 2018, and its Lantau counterpart should respond to the competition, he said. “Even if the reward is slow in coming, [the project] is believed to help Hong Kong directly.”

Lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung noted that Marvel heros are popular among youngsters.

He said the expansion would be a unique global attraction which would bring new sources of tourists into the city and increase the number of overnight stayers.