The Walt Disney Co. owns 43 percent of Hong Kong Disneyland, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government owns 57 percent; currently, no other Disney park is partly government-owned. In a recent interview with the CBR, Josh D’Amaro, vice president, Sales and Travel Trade Marketing, the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, said, “Disney has a strong relationship with the Hong Kong government. Hong Kong has been working to boost tourism and has been aiming to attract families instead of just businesspeople and shoppers. According to Hong Kong Tourism Board figures, overnight family visitors to Hong Kong in the first half of 2006 grew 24 percent over the first half of 2005; 36 percent of overnight family visitors brought along their children, compared to 20 percent in 2005. We like to think Disneyland played a role in this change-people don’t just come to Hong Kong for business and shopping anymore.”
Hong Kong Disneylands summer 2006 visitor boom ran from July to the beginning of September. That summer, roughly 50 percent of the park’s visitors came from mainland China. During the rest of the year, about one-third of park visitors came from Hong Kong, one-third from mainland China, and one-third from Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand-and other parts of the world. D’Amaro continued, “Hong Kong Disneyland receives a mix of family and nonfamily visitors, such as young adults, married couples without children, and the elderly. About half of the families have been from mainland China.”
Marketing the mouse-and more
As one might expect, there are challenges to building and marketing a Disneyland park outside of the United States. Disney has to work twice as hard to market itself in mainland China because most Chinese have not grown up with Disney. South China has some ‘Disney spillover’-meaning people in southern China are generally more familiar with Disney because they live near Hong Kong. It is much easier [to market the park] in the United States, where kids learn about Disney from an early age, and their parents and grandparents know us too.
To help guests become more familiar with Disney and Disneyland attractions, the park gives tourists an introduction after they enter the park. One of the first buildings in the park, the Disneyland Story, exhibits artwork and film footage on Disney history, from the creation of Mickey Mouse through the construction of Hong Kong Disneyland.
Disney has launched numerous marketing initiatives to raise awareness of, and spark interest in, Hong Kong Disneyland. These efforts include establishing cooperative advertising programs with travel agents and the Hong Kong Tourism Board; offering “salute programs” to travel agents and airline and hotel industry staff that operate in the region so that they can visit the park and act as park ambassadors; and creating a website to introduce Disney culture, news, and promotions to travel agents. D’Amaro said that Disney has placed advertorials in mainland magazines to inform the public about Disneyland and inspire them to visit the Hong Kong Disneyland website-and order a vacation planning kit. Disneyland is also moving its marketing team into South and Southeast China to better focus on those regions.
Disney runs promotions throughout the year. “One big promotion we have been running is called ‘Stay and Play for Two Days.’ This was created mainly to give mainland tourists a chance to experience the park for a longer period of time. Because many Chinese tourists cross into Hong Kong by bus, they arrive at Disneyland mid-day. Under the promotion, if a guest stays at a Disneyland hotel and purchases a one-day ticket, we give the guest a second day at the park for free,” D’Amaro explained. In addition, the company has offered special hotel rates for Hong Kong residents.
Disneyland also administers a student program in which student groups enter the park 30 minutes before the park’s opening and receive a special introduction and tour of the park. “We are building on the program to make it more educational. For example, we hope that soon students can learn physics by studying light, sound, and motion on Space Mountain,” said D’Amaro. Disney began offering other youth programs, such as performance opportunities in the park and school fun days, to primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong during the 2006 Christmas season.
Park traditions and adaptations
Because the Hong Kong park is inspired by the original Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, many aspects of the park remain the same, explained D’Amaro, who worked at Disneyland in California for eight years before relocating to Hong Kong. “For example, the Hong Kong park offers classic attractions such as Space Mountain, the Sleeping Beauty Casde, and Mad Hatter Teacups. Also, after visitors enter the park, they pass through Mainstreet, USA, which looks almost exactly like it does in California-like an American town in the early 1900s.”
Disney took local culture into account when planning the park, however. For example, it consulted a feng shut master to help with the park’s placement, orientation, and design. Along with following feng shui principles, the park’s hotels have no floors that are designated as fourth floors-because “four” is considered an unlucky number in Chinese culture. Furthermore, the park opened on September 12 because it was listed as an auspicious date for opening a business in the Chinese almanac.
Hong Kong Disneyland has modified many aspects of the park to better suit its Chinese visitors. Our cast members are extremely diverse, understand various cultures, and many speak three languages. Signs, audio-recorded messages, and attractions are also in several languages. For example, riders can choose from English, Mandarin, or Cantonese on the Jungle River Cruise. Also, the park serves a wide variety of food offerings-ranging from classic American fare, such as burgers, to Chinese, Japanese, and Indian cuisine. (At one time, Disney planned to serve shark’s-fin soup for business dinners and special events because the soup is commonly served at Chinese banquets. But after protests by animal- and environmental-rights activists, the item was removed from the menu.)
Certain park elements, rides, and festivals have been created just for the Hong Kong park. D’Amaro explained that because many people in Hong Kong and mainland China love to take photos, Disneyland set up Fantasy Gardens in the Fantasyland area of the park. In the gardens, guests can have their photos taken with, or get autographs from, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, and other characters.
Though other Disneyland resorts operate hotels, Hong Kong Disneyland runs two hotels that are unique to the park: the Victorian-style, 400-guestroom Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and the Art Deco-style, 600-guestroom Hollywood Hotel. The park also features a lake with boat rentals and a 3.5 hectare arboretum.
According to D’Amaro, the most popular attractions at the Hong Kong park to date have been Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which is a three-dimensional theater that incorporates smell and touch; Space Mountain, the classic roller coaster; Disney in the Stars, the evening fireworks show above the Sleeping Beauty Castle that is choreographed to classic Disney music; parades; and character greetings.
Hong Kong Disneyland launched three new attractions in summer 2006-Stitch Encounter and UFO Zone, which are unique to Hong Kong Disneyland, and Autopia, which has been modified from the original ride in California. “Stitch Encounter is a new attraction in which audience members can interact with Stitch-the fuzzy blue alien from Lilo and Stitch. It is a fully interactive show that runs in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese-depending on the showing,” D’Amaro said. UFO Zone is an interactive, water-based play area. In Autopia, riders drive electric cars through a futuristic highway. According to Disney, the Hong Kong park has the first all-electric version of Autopia, the cars’ pick-up is smoother, and the special effects and landscaping have been improved.
“One of our goals is to continually enhance the park so that when guests return to Disneyland, they see something new. For instance, since Halloween is fairly popular in Hong Kong, we prepared the park for Halloween by setting up a Villains Lair-with Disney villains-decorated the park with pumpkins, and set up trick-or-treat stations. The winter holiday season is a very popular time for the park. Beginning November 11, we set up the Mainstreet Christmas tree, hold holiday parades, change costumes, and add theatrical snow. For the Chinese New Year, characters change costumes again, the decorations change, and we hold lion dances,” continued D’Amaro.
Though there has been much in the press about Disney’s plans to set up a larger amusement park in Shanghai, the company is not yet ready to make an official announcement. With China’s vast population-and doting parents and grandparents willing to spend money on the family’s only child-it can only be a matter of time before Disney sets up a park on the mainland.