HONG KONG — Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger said Friday that Hong Kong Disneyland is "definitely ready" to open next week and called it a giant step for the company's plans to break into China's huge market.
Iger spoke to The Associated Press at the theme park while in the background a singer rehearsed songs from "Mulan" and workers nearby brushed green paint on fences ahead of Monday's scheduled opening.
During the past week, Disneyland has given tens of thousands of visitors a sneak peek of the park on outlying Lantau Island, about a 30-minute subway ride from central Hong Kong. The crowds who were allowed to try out the attractions during the "rehearsal days" have complained about long lines at the rides and restaurants.
But Disneyland has refused to lower its maximum capacity of 30,000, and Iger said he was pleased with the park's progress.
"The park is definitely ready for its grand opening," said Iger, who will become the company's chief executive officer on Oct. 1, replacing Michael Eisner.
Set against lush mountains, Disneyland is expected to draw about 3.6 million visitors within a year and up to 7.4 million annually after 15 years, the company has said. About 40 percent of the visitors are expected to come from mainland China, Disney has said.
Iger said that the Chinese are less familiar with Disney compared to people in other major markets, and that the Hong Kong park will be key to igniting greater interest in Disney.
"We fully expect this is a giant step in the direction of growing the company and all its Disney brands and businesses in this very populous region," Iger said.
"This is the biggest venture that any, certainly any Western media company has ever embarked on in this region _ not just in terms of the scope from a financial perspective, but the commitment it has taken, the detail, the planning, the technology and training," he said.
The park is a joint venture deal between Disney and the Hong Kong government signed in 1999. Hong Kong taxpayers are forking over HK$16.5 billion, or $2.1 billion, including costs for reclaiming land and supporting infrastructure. The government has also extended a $782 million loan.
Disney has pitched in $314 million and $15.4 million in rent per year.
Iger said that Disney is a global brand but it has to become more of a global company.
"Disney has achieved over the years a great brand breadth. We're known throughout the world," he said. "But if you really analyze it, it is mostly breadth and not as much depth as we'd like in certain markets. This (Hong Kong Disneyland) is digging really deep in this market, and it will create great depth for Disney for decades to come."
Iger said that Disney has been talking to the government in Shanghai — China's financial center — about opening a park that wouldn't open until at least 2010.
"Those discussions are ongoing," he said.
Eisner told the AP he was sure that Hong Kong Disneyland would be a hit because the Chinese have such strong value for families.
The outgoing CEO said he was touched when he saw how thousands of visitors were using digital cameras on their mobile phones to photograph the fireworks show on Thursday night at the park's main strip, Main Street, USA.
"Last night I went to Main Street to watch some of the shows and then the fireworks. Seeing 15,000 people lined up on Main Street, with probably 15,000 telephones photographing a fireworks show," he said. "That to me was one of the most amazing things."
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