HONG KONG, Nov 18 (Reuters) - With a new theme area that makes guests feel as if they’re being shrunk to the size of a toy, Hong Kong Disneyland hopes to boost the number of visitors to a magic kingdom the performance of which to date has been less than dazzling.
Since opening to great fanfare in 2005, Disney’s first park in China has struggled to attract the expected flood of visitors from the mainland. Stakes will rise with the planned opening of a rival Disneyland in Shanghai in several years.
Thursday’s opening of Toy Story Land, based on the blockbuster movie trilogy, is the first phase of a three-part, $468 million expansion that will increase the physical footprint of the park by 23 percent by 2013 and bring the number of attractions, shows and other exhibits to more than 100.
“We believe it will be a strong boost in terms of business,” said Andrew Kam, Disneyland managing director.
“I’m really happy about that too because, not only does it bring business to Hong Kong Disneyland, it actually creates demand for tourism to Hong Kong.”
Among the three new attractions is a 25-metre (80-foot) “Toy Soldier Parachute Drop”. Coming over the next two years are the “Grizzly Gulch” and “Mystic Point” theme areas.
The park’s performance has been difficult to gauge given Disney declined to fully disclose key results and attendance figures.
But last year, in its first major disclosure of its financial performance since opening, it announced a loss of $169.4 million in 2009 while attracting 4.6 million visitors.
The Hong Kong government — which has a 52 percent stake in the park with the Disney company holding the remainder — expressed disappointment, calling on the park to improve.
Disneyland initially said it hoped to attract 10 million visitors a year after 15 years, but attendance has fallen short of targets. The park was the smallest Disney theme park.
As part of the expansion deal, partly financed by Hong Kong, Disney pledged to boost the transparency of its operations by releasing annual operating and financial results.
Once the expansion is complete, visitor numbers are projected to rise to between 5.2 million and 8 million by 2015.
“What I think we do best is to create these environments that completely immerse you,” said Joe Lanzisero, creative senior Vice President, Walt Disney Co, at the opening.
“When you walk into our parks and you’re no longer in the real world, you’re transported to a completely different place.”
Visitors invited to the launch of the new area said they enjoyed it, despite the rain.
“Great view of the park when you get up to the top and it was just great dropping down,” said Mandy Petty, who had just tried the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop.
“It wasn’t too scary, just within the comfort zone.”