A joint venture between the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and the Walt Disney Company Hong Kong Disneyland reached a major milestone on Sept. 24th: workers topped off Sleeping Beauty Castle, the park’s centerpiece, placing the uppermost turret on the structure’s highest tower. The castle emblem symbolizes the immersive world that guests enter inside every Disneyland around the world. Now, Hong Kong has its own Sleeping Beauty Castle. Of course, the creation of such a kind of entertainment complex gives birth to the whole range of questions and problems connected with its development.
The big question after they build it, of course, is how many will come. The SAR’s economic-benefit model is based on the park’s drawing 5. 6 million visitors in its first year of operations, with that number rising to 10 million annually after about 15 years. And that may be a very reachable goal. According to Walt Disney Parks and Resorts President Jay Rasulo, Hong Kong Disneyland will serve as an important gateway for bringing the magic of Disney to families across Asia. Disney’s new park, in fact, is specifically aimed at a single huge market: Asia, the world’s most populous region.
A major step in that marketing strategy is planning the cuisine that the park will offer. With much of Asian culture centering around meals, the menu that Disney selects will surely be broad. Disney and other companies, they say, will create an estimated 18,000 new jobs by the time the park opens. And total job creation will grow to 36,000 when Hong Kong Disneyland reaches full build-out. Critics, though, point out that most of those jobs are low-skill, low-pay positions. Even so, the SAR estimates that the project over a 40-year span will give Hong Kong’s economy an overall boost of $19 billion.
Most of that payoff will come from Hong Kong companies’ profits, plus income from the wave of newly created jobs. In addition, the SAR government will get back about $513 million of Phase I land costs through subordinated shares in the joint venture. Five thousand temporary jobs were already in place at the beginning of the building of the park. Five hundred of those positions were for the first “cast members” — Disney-speak for park employees. By the time Hong Kong Disneyland opened, it was to have 5,000 cast members.
Nevertheless, despite many positive factors that are caused by the appearance of Hong Kong Disneyland, Disney is going to face some major challenges as it tries to make its latest park a success. The first Magic Kingdom in China officially opened on Monday, Sept. 12, but even before then, critics were having a field day. In the weeks before its official debut, the park was open to visitors for what Disney called “rehearsal days,” and the Hong Kong newspapers were filled with complaints about the food, the lines, and the attractions. Also, there’s the matter of size.
Disney executives and officials from Hong Kong don’t want to admit this, but the fact is that Hong Kong Disneyland is small. It’s just 306 acres and has just three “lands” — Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland. The park was only in Phase One and there were plenty of reclaimed land at the site to accommodate more. But that was not going to stop visitors to Hong Kong Disneyland from feeling a bit under-whelmed. Not only is Hong Kong Disneyland smaller than the Magic Kingdoms in the U. S. , France, and Japan, it’s also missing some of Disney’s most famous rides.
At the opening ceremony, a choir sang the Disney theme song, “It’s a Small World,” but Hong Kong Disneyland doesn’t have the Small World ride. Hong Kong also doesn’t have the Matterhorn roller coaster ride, the Peter Pan ride, and many other Fantasyland favorites. Experts in the Chinese tradition of “feng shui” -the belief that harmonious energy and good fortune can be achieved by the correct positioning of furniture and other objects -were put on the payroll. On the advice of “feng shui” masters, the park faces the water with mountains in the back. The “feng shui” experts even picked the opening date of the park-September 12.
Park officials also tweaked the layout to conform with “feng shui” principles. They recommended “no fire” zones in restaurant kitchens -with an eye to keeping the five elements of metal, water, wood, fire and earth in balance – and water fountains. A giant fountain near the park entrance features Mickey Mouse surfing on a stream of water spouting from a whale. Statues of Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse stand nearby. As to the Chinese traditions at all, Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York says (Holson 2005: n. p.
): “It used to be Disney was exported on its own terms. But in the late 20th and early 21st century, America’s cultural imperialism was tested. Now, instead of being the Ugly Americans, which some foreigners used to find charming, we have to take off our shoes or belch after a meal. ” It is quite reasonable as the Chinese traditions will be both customary for Asian visitors and exotic for foreigners. As to the sea park in the same zone, Economics Research Associates was already retained by the Ocean Park to provide an economic assessment of a major redevelopment of Ocean Park in Hong Kong.
Ocean Park is facing increasing competition from Hong Kong Disneyland as well as regional parks in Southern China. ERA’s analysis includes market and financial assessment of the theme park, hotels and related retail entertainment complex of the next 50 years of Disney theme park history. Hong Kong Disneyland is officially trilingual: English and two types of Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese. But “officially” and “actually” are two different things. At one of the live shows, the Golden Mickeys, the songs are in English but the narration is in Cantonese only.
At the Lion King show, the performers stick mostly to English, with a few words of Cantonese thrown in. Neither show features any Mandarin, although Disney hopes to attract millions of tourists from mainland China, where Mandarin is the most popular version of Chinese. Disneyland execs need to figure out how to make the park fully trilingual. There’s not much that Disney can do about another problem: the weather. Hong Kong in the summer is hot and muggy. It probably would have made for better headlines if Disney had waited till the weather cools off in November and December before opening the park.
Even worse, over the past few days, visibility has been terrible as the air-pollution index has been heading into dangerous territory. No doubt millions of tourists from China won’t mind, since they’re used to cities that are much worse. But dirty skies over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle are not the image that Disney wants to present to visitors venturing to its latest Magic Kingdom. Regarding the environment factor, opposition groups who have accused Disney of restricting union rights and lacking environmental awareness have held a protest concert.
They want people to know that Disney is no dream-world. It brings many problems for our environment, labour relations, economy and culture. For example, the problem with the shark fin is present here. Hong Kong has refused to sign any international conservation treaty that opposes the trade in shark fin. Shark fin soup is legal in Hong Kong but the official Disney policy, found on its Web site, states the company will work to identify issues that may not yet be identified in the law, but could result in adverse environmental effects.
The Hong Kong government has been trying to clean things up by, among other things, forcing all taxis to switch from diesel to cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas. That has helped, but Hong Kong won’t make significant progress until polluters across the border in Guangdong province clean up their act. Guangdong officials have promised to take action, but it will probably be years before there’s any noticeable improvement. Of course, Hong Kong Disney Land isn’t some kind of chemical plant or military complex. So, it is no way to speak about some really grave consequences.
Besides, it promises to bring a considerable financial profit for the region. But to make a general conclusion, it must be said Hong Kong Disney Land is able to bring certain negative influences to the whole social and natural environment of the area: -additional environment pollution, usage of some kind of rare animals species, etc; -the whole structure of the new park itself which doesn’t correspond to the classical Disney park: small dimensions, a shortage in a range of attractions appropriate for Disney original park;
-demographic or linguistic problem as the official and factual situation with languages in Hong Kong are two different things; -introduction of “feng shui” is a strong point for the park but it is no way to forget that the objects of the park must be located not only according to “feng shui” but to the general safety rules as well (for example, fire safety); -powerful development of Hong Kong Disneyland may and already causes negative influences to another entertainment zones of the area which are forced to survive within the conditions of strong competitionThe negative factors above must be reconsidered by the authorities in order to make the Hong Kong area more perfect.
1. Holson, L. M. International Herald Tribune: Business. 2005. Disney bows to feng shui. http://www. iht. com/articles/2005/04/24/business/disney. php (30 Oct. 2005). 2. Bayron, H. NewsVoaCom. 2005. Disneyland Opens in Hong Kong http://www. voanews. com/english/archive/2005-09/2005-09-12-voa7. cfm? CFID=36827631&CFTOKEN=24244189 (30 Oct. 2005).