Monday, April 20, 2009

Three new lands for Hong Kong Disneyland ?

Let's talk a bit about Hong Kong Disneyland's future today. On April 2nd, an article was published in the South China Morning Post, talking about the current situation between HKDL and the government, and what is supposed to be the theme of 3 new lands. Here it is:

"The government and The Walt Disney Company appear to have agreed to include new "lands" and rides based on wilderness, arctic and adventure themes as part of a planned expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland, informed sources have said.

But how the new attractions will be paid for and by whom, and the impact on the existing shareholding structure of the theme park, have yet to be resolved.

The expansion plan would see the largest area in the site become a nature wonderland. Passengers on a roller-coaster ride would pass through mine shafts, tunnels and a wilderness area complete with audio effects and animatronic (robotic) animals, the sources said.

The arctic environment would allow visitors to enjoy real snow slopes in enclosed, temperature-controlled areas. A train ride was also planned.

A third land was based on the "unexpected" theme. Inspired by the adventures of early explorers, the area will see visitors transported on computer-controlled rides. The different environments would incorporate supernatural elements and animatronic figures, but the sequence of the rides would vary to let passengers enjoy a different experience each time, the sources said.

Each of the three new lands would have a specific storyline to immerse visitors in the ride.

Disney representatives presented a scale model of the expansion site to the government in Hong Kong in March last year.

In November, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan reviewed the expansion plans with Disney management while in Los Angeles.

It is understood that the government found previous designs ordinary and uninspiring and demanded changes, but was unable to explain to Disney what it wanted.

The current plans were not final and could still be changed, but there did not seem to be any major disagreements about the themes and designs of the lands, the sources said.

Both joint-venture partners agree that expansion is necessary to help Hong Kong Disneyland grow in attendance and business. But given that the multibillion-dollar price tag attached to such an expansion will attract intense scrutiny by the public and lawmakers, it is understood that the government wants to ensure that it negotiates the best possible deal.

The government owns 57 per cent of the theme park with Disney holding the rest.

Visitor numbers had grown by a double-digit rate in the past six months, compared with the same period a year earlier, managing director Andrew Kam Min-ho said. But merchandise sales had risen more slowly than expected because some visitors were reining in their spending due to the financial downturn.

Okay, let's say this is all true. So, what's going on really in Hong Kong? The last time we've heard about it the WDC, apparently in anger because of the impossibility to find a financial deal with the Hong Kong Government - or, more exactly, the refusal of the HK government to pay his share - was removing most of his WDI imagineers working on HKDL's future.

In these three lands, the first one is obviously a "Frontierland" and the described coaster is the "Grizzly Mine Show" we talked about previously. The "arctic" land is hard to believe. I can understand that an experience with snow could interest Hong Kong people as the last time it was snowing in Hong Kong was probably 20000 years ago, but a skiing experience inside a Disney theme park? C'mon, we're not in Dubai...i simply can't believe that.

As for the third land, the article is not clear about it, so we can expect anything including this awaited Pirates of Caribbean land. Anyway, until we have a real official announcement, let's take all this with caution and let's hope that all this will have very soon a happy ending .

Text: copyright South China Morning Post


john321 said...

This is what you get if you do not dare to stick out your head and give away control. Endless negotiations. It worked pretty good in Japan, but only because the Oriental Land Company was more Disney than Disney at several crucial times.

With 43% of the shares, you're not in control, you've sold yourself to the guy that has the other 57%.

To be honest, the whole Hong Kong thing is a big drama and there will probably be no end to it soon. It's nothing like Paris. Paris didn't have a good start, but it had a great park and thus it was fixable, even without spending additional billions. Many lessons might have learned from that, like not building Las Vegas sized hotel complexes right from the beginning and a better integration into the local culture.

But obvious mistakes are repeated all over again. The initial failure of DCA, and the WDS in Paris didn't really help. Also the immediate success of TDS also didn't help. Hong Kong Disneyland became a multi-billion dollar midget-Disneyland. It is really hard to believe that Eisner & co. really believed this thing would ever fly in the current form.

So the only way to fix it is to throw another billion or two into the game, instead of that extra one right at the beginning. But since you sold yourself to some semi-totalitarian government, you are not the guy who is deciding how it is going to be...

And the best thing of all... that other guy at the table (the one that owns you), what the hell does he know about theme parks? He doesn't care about theme parks like you do. He only wants to be the big guy and make money at the same time.

If they only hadn't built a midget-Disneyland but a Midget Studios or Midget DCA, they could just sell their part of the shares back to the government and start all-over again and do it right this time. One import lesson might be: keep in control. The chances you find another OLC are quite small...

If they aren't careful, they might easily end up in the same situation in Shanghai.

Marco Antonio Garcia- São Paulo, Brasil said...

Very good news if true! This project seems to be great, except for the snow themed area, that as Alain said, does not fit in a Disney theme park. I hope that the third land will be the pirates land, that looks like a great idea for a new themed land, specially the new modern version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
This park really needs an expansion, and the best one to attract customers is one with lots of original attractions, something still missing in this resort.

Anonymous said...

You may find 'snow' hard to believe, but most people found just about everything the Imagineers have created these past 50+ years 'hard to believe' before they first experienced it.
Don't be so quick to judge.

Alain Littaye said...

Dear Anonymous, i am not judging what i don't know. Wkat i was saying was in relation with the article text, talking about snow slopes. I don't doubt at all that imagineers can do something great out of everything, i just don't believe - if the project is to have Hong Kongers skiing on snow slopes inside a Disney theme park - that this can happen, beginning by security for the guests - whether it's on fake or real snow, people can easily hurt themselves or break a leg in skiing... But may be the newspaper description is wrong, and in this case it's totally different.

To John321, now: John, i think the WDC probably didn't had the choice with the Hong Kong government. The chinese probably asked to have the majority of shares to give their approval to build the park.

Anonymous said...

Snow slopes = Everest?

Alex said...

OMG, as if the beancounters weren't enough, they now have to deal with a communist dictatorship deciding what gets into the park and what not? Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

How about the Haunted Mansion? It seems that the HK version of Haunted Mansion would be placed in the 3rd land.

Anonymous said...

Well we know one thing for sure is that disney will not let any of it's park fail ( look at dca make over and wds these last 2 years AND IF NOT IT WOULD BE TO MUCH BAD PRESS ) maybe we should think of new attractions to come to HK instead of old ones ( Cars & little M from dca , EE from AK ... ) and ofcourse pirateland with POTC and HM . Anyhow they won't let the news break until it's 100% good to go.

john321 said...


Maybe the Hong Kong government would be a bit shy, but with so much money involved, I doubt it. The economy in the region isn't in its best shape, they have to do something... And just look at Macau, a mere 70 km to the south. This is also a "Special Administrative Region", just like Hong Kong. Yet hotels/casinos like The Venetian are entirely owned by the Las Vegas Sands corporation. It's also an American entertainment complex.

But lets be fair, it was a cheap deal done by the past Disney management. The Hong Kong SAR invested about US $3.2 billion, whereas Disney only invested about US $310 million (less than 10% !), yet they got 43% of the shares, because they were the guys with the knowledge and intellectual properties...

To Eisner & co. this must have sounded like THE golden opportunity to get a foothold in China at a bargain price. Unfortunately, we all know how this cheap deal ended. And now the current management has to fix this mess.

CheriBibi said...

let's keep in mind that traduction chinese can be a bit tricky especially for someone not familiar with the Disney theme parks...

Maybe the artic part is just some kind of matterhorn thing or Everest... Let's assume the skiing, the slopes etc... was just a bad translation of something even more evasive...

I still have hope in Hong Kong, but to be honest, i'm more expecting an official announcement for Shanghai than anything else...

Jones said...

@ john 321:
well, i guess this is what you get if you decide to do business with the Chinese. "Semi-totalitarian" - politely put, but personally, I could think of harsher adjectives...

Michael said...

Yes, it's quite a mess. Hopefully this will be the final failure of Eisner-era policies. I very much doubt that Disney was forced to cede any ownership stake to the Chinese government - rather, it was their way of making the government foot the bill and minimize Disney's investment.

In actuality, Disney came out way on top with the deal and Hong Kong got more than a little screwed - Disney paid a very small portion of the resort's cost but received a very large ownership stake in exchange. Typical Eisner hardball - and although it might have sounded like a sweetheart deal at the time we see how it works out. Disney is actually having to plead to spend money on the park.

When this article came out I wrote a post about it on Progress City, and I pointed out that a lot of the vague language of the report could be due to the combination of translation issues and the age-old problem of press coverage by people who don't understand the Disney theme parks. Hence the constant confusion and mixing of the terms "land", "area" and "ride".

What's good is that some parts of the report obviously match what Alain has said before. When the article came out I sent it to Alain, figuring if anyone knew what the "arctic" thing was, he would. But I haven't been able to find anyone who could explain it yet - it's funny, though, because I thought about indoor ski slopes in Dubai as well.

They could be talking about some snow-covered mountain for Frontierland, of course. Everest at DAK is supposed to have snow effects, though they never work. It also makes me think of the original Matterhorn plans for Florida's Magic Kingdom, where the WDW Railroad was supposed to pass through an icy tunnel in the mountain with snow effects, etc. Of course, maybe they're just building Marc Davis's Snow Palace :)

Anonymous said...

"Glacier Bay" -Land
"Mysterious Manor" - attraction
"American Wild Wilderness" -Land