Hong Kong Disneyland hopes to reverse the fortunes of Disney's first theme park in China with a marketing campaign geared toward young, well-to-do Chinese adults.
Mainland professionals in their 20s and 30s may have an affinity for Disney not seen in the larger population, and park officials say the solution to its poor performance is a targeted marketing campaign aimed at this segment of Chinese consumers.
Those children who were first exposed to Disney as they were growing up in the 1990s — now young adults — are prime potential visitors to the Hong Kong park, Maple Lee, Hong Kong Disneyland vice president for marketing, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
And advertising will be shifted away from billboards to these younger consumers' medium of choice — the Internet, Lee said.
"Our marketing campaigns weren't this targeted before," she told AP.
Pressure is mounting on park management to turn around the $3.5 billion project majority owned by the Hong Kong government. Local legislators grilled park and government officials about the park's results during a hearing late last year, with one suggesting Hong Kong pull out of the joint venture with The Walt Disney Co.
The theme park was supposed to be a triumphant showcase of the Disney brand at the doorstep of mainland China when it opened in September 2005. But its first year it drew just 5.2 million guests — 400,000 fewer than projected — and attendance tumbled to about 4 million the second.
Although Chinese tourists did outnumber Hong Kong and foreign visitors that second year, according to data from the Hong Kong government, they still haven't arrived in the volumes that investors had hoped for.
The new marketing approach differs from an earlier, more general publicity blitz in which the park distributed two million 21-minute DVDs featuring the park.
The younger, urban workers targeted are relatively high earners that can afford the pricey trip to Hong Kong — usually an hours-long plane ride — and the HK$295 ($38) per person adult admission. That's too much for the average Chinese worker, who makes 500 to 800 Chinese yuan ($70 to $110) per month.
The younger and better paid Chinese are more interested in Hong Kong Disneyland, agreed China Travel Service (Hong Kong) Ltd., which organizes Hong Kong tours for mainland visitors.
Such visitors have often already been to Hong Kong before and have often returned since the park opened in 2005, the travel agent said in a statement in response to questions from the AP.
But park officials still face an obstacle in Disney's young history in China. Mickey Mouse animation first appeared in China in 1986 and Disney only started expanding in earnest in the country in 1993 and 1994, according to Lee.
"Dragon Club," a Chinese TV show that features Disney animation, has been on the air for 12 years, the same length of time that genuine Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck stuffed animals have occupied store shelves in China.
In contrast, the first Disneyland opened in Anaheim, Calif., in the U.S. in 1955, and the brand appeals across generations.
"Take an 8-year-old child in the U.S. in 2008 for example, his or her parents and grandparents already had ties to Disney," Lee said.
"If you haven't grown up with the Disney characters and the stories, it takes a while to understand," Hong Kong Disneyland Managing Director Bill Ernest said at a recent press briefing.
Ernest said the park hasn't set a target attendance figure for its third year but expects to improve its performance.
Announcing quarterly results in February, Disney said attendance at Hong Kong Disneyland recorded double-digit growth in the first few months of its third year of operation. It said revenue also grew but didn't give a specific number and didn't address the park's profitability.