|Kyodo News International, Tokyo
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 20, 2005 - HONG KONG -- More than one month has passed since Hong Kong Disneyland threw open its gates to the public amid growing concerns over whether Walt Disney Co. can gain a foothold in the world's most populous country.
At the opening ceremony on Sept. 12, Michael Eisner, then chief executive officer of Walt Disney, said a six-year-long dream had been realized. Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong also attended the luxurious celebrations with Disney characters competing with traditional Chinese lion dancers.
Local people are pinning their hopes on Disneyland as a trump card for a rebound from an economic sluggishness triggered by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.
The Hong Kong government has shouldered the greater part of the theme park's construction costs, which totaled HK$14 billion (about 200 billion yen).
Disneyland hopes visitors in the initial year will reach 5.6 million and eventually 10 million, and the Hong Kong government estimates the economic effect on Hong Kong will amount to HK$148 billion (about 2.15 trillion yen) in 40 years.
But a few factors are stirring worries. Disneyland initially said the theme park would cover a 126 hectare tract of land, including that of a hotel. But some Hong Kong newspapers reported that the park itself only comprises 15 hectares, less than one-third the size of Tokyo Disneyland.
In a rehearsal before the opening, restaurants were quickly packed to full capacity so some people could not enter, sparking calls for an additional expansion of the theme park.
In a survey, 30 percent of visitors said they did not consider it worth visiting again. Theme parks need repeat visitors for survival, and unless Hong Kong Disneyland can secure such a clientele, its expectations may become short-lived.
For Walt Disney, sales at the theme park division account for one-third of total earnings. A U.S. analyst said the advance to the unknown market in China will serve as a test for its future growth, and the U.S. markets are paying keen attention.
Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at market research firm Forester Research Inc., said 80-year-old Disneyland in the United States now only appeals to families, and that young people in their teens and twenties do not want to go there. For them, Mickey Mouse is no longer an attraction.
The management crisis at Disneyland in Paris is said to have been due to cultural differences between the United States and France. In Hong Kong too, related businesses are reacting unfavorably to Disneyland, which regulates the park and manages everything from staff education to advertising.
Visitors to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea totaled 11,660,000 in the first half of fiscal 2005, ended in September, down 3.1 percent from a year earlier and the lowest half-year performance since Disney Sea opened in 2001.
But Oriental Land Co., the operator of the facilities, associates the decline to the World Exposition held in Aichi Prefecture this year drawing people away from the Disney theme parks.
A public relations official at Walt Disney's theme park division, said that when Tokyo Disneyland was opened, visitors to U.S. Disneyland were expected to decrease, but in actual fact numbers at both theme parks shot up.
Business sources have said it remains unknown whether when Disneyland opens in Shanghai in 2012, with facilities four to five times the size of Hong Kong Disneyland, the two can continue to "coexist and mutually prosper."
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