Image: Hong Kong Disneyland
Bobby Yip  /  Reuters file
Fireworks explode over the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland. The theme park in the Middle Kingdom celebrated its second anniversary amid disappointing attendance.
updated 9/12/2007 2:54:21 PM ET 2007-09-12T18:54:21

Hong Kong Disneyland, a major showcase of Disney entertainment for mainland China, celebrated its second anniversary Wednesday amid disappointing attendance and alleged labor problems.

The park, which opened on Sept. 12, 2005, drew 5.2 million guests in its first year, 400,000 short of its target of 5.6 million.

Park officials have been secretive about attendance figures. They haven't announced second-year numbers, but The Walt Disney Co. revealed disappointing earnings results for Hong Kong Disneyland in its quarterly reports this year.

Disney said the park's operating income dropped in both the first and second quarters, curtailing overall growth for its parks and resorts division. The company said Hong Kong Disneyland suffered from lower attendance and guest spending in the first quarter.

Local media reports estimate that up to 4.8 million visited the park in its second year.

Separately, the Hong Kong Disneyland Cast Members' Union recently surveyed 470 Hong Kong Disneyland workers and 63 percent said they were unhappy with management, general secretary Elaine Hui said.

The union also said in a recent newsletter that workers have accused management of unfair firings, rude behavior and banning workers from medical appointments during work hours.

Hong Kong Disneyland has also drawn scrutiny because it's a major government investment. Hong Kong taxpayers shouldered most of the $3.5 billion construction cost and own a 57 percent stake in the joint venture with Disney.

The Hong Kong government on Tuesday affirmed Hong Kong Disneyland's value.

Spokeswoman Cynthia Tong at the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau called the park "an important piece of travel infrastructure" that helped cultivate Hong Kong as a family tourism destination, but added that the government would welcome any measures to boost attendance.

Hong Kong Disneyland said in a statement the theme park was one of the most visited in the world. It said it won't reveal attendance figures but said that it was welcomed "many guests" who have given "consistently high" ratings.

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It countered the Hong Kong Disneyland Cast Members' Union's reported survey with its own, saying it found in a poll of more then 1,000 workers that 92 percent felt they were treated with respect at the park.

The pro-government Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po urged both the government and park management to do more in an editorial published Thursday.

"As the major shareholder, the government can't ignore Hong Kong Disneyland's predicament. It should try to help the park solve its problems and get through its difficulties. At the same time, park management should reflect on its deficiencies, learn its lessons and launch comprehensive, pro-active reforms," the editorial said.

The editorial also complained the park was too small. Park officials earlier announced plans to add three new attractions by the first half of 2008 — the classic Disney ride "It's a Small World"; Animation Academy, where Disney artists will teach cartoon drawing; and "Mickey's WaterWorks" water-based parade.

"The government invested so much money ... It offered very good terms to Disney. Hong Kong Disneyland has to deliver," opposition lawmaker Sin Chung-kai said.

The park also suffered a bumpy first year. In a ticketing miscalculation, the park had to turn away thousands of Chinese tourists with tickets during the peak Chinese New Year holidays last February. Angry guests tried to storm the park gates, with some climbing over them.

Environmentalists protested shark's fin on the menu, and it was eventually dropped.

Critics also accused park management of abusing its jurisdiction by asking health officers to remove identifying parts of their uniform in the park.

Despite the mixed results at Hong Kong Disneyland — its first and only theme park on Chinese soil — Disney continues to expand in the country.

In late June, it made its first major push into creating original Chinese-language content with the release of "The Magic Gourd" — Disney's first-ever non-Hollywood movie — and adding to an already significant presence in China. The movie was co-produced with state-run China Film Group.

Chinese audiences have seen "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and a stage production of "The Lion King," and they can buy Mickey Mouse Magazine and Pooh Magazine. They also have access to Mickey dolls at any of the more than 4,200 Disney outlets in China.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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