Hong Kong Disneyland likely to fall short of attendance target

BANGKOK (MarketWatch) — Attendance at Hong Kong Disneyland may fall short of first-year targets, comments by the park's top official suggested.

Bill Ernest, managing director of the theme park, said at a press conference that the first-year attendance target of 5.6 million visitors was being approached and would be reached later in September or in October, according to reports.

Hong Kong Disneyland, Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS :

DIS29.95, +0.06, +0.2% ) first park in China and fifth overall, opened on Sept. 12, 2005. Ernest said it has received "well over 5 million guests," according to reports. But he declined to say if the 5.6-million visitor target would be achieved.

The apparent attendance shortfall has raised concerns questions about Disney's ability to tap the mainland China market, which it has also been targeting through merchandise, movies and online video games.

Disney is reportedly in negotiations with Shanghai officials about building a theme park there. But Ernest denied reports that Disney had already concluded a deal with the Shanghai government.

Hong Kong Disneyland was built primarily to target mainland Chinese tourists, who are coming to Hong Kong in ever-increasing numbers as travel restrictions are progressively eased.

Ernest denied the slightly lower-than expected attendance indicated broader problems with the new park's business. "Like all new ventures, there have been teething problems and adjustments," he said at the Monday press conference, according to reports.

He also declined to give details on financial performance, but said the park was "on very solid ground financially."

The park is 57% owned by the Hong Kong government, while Disney has a 43% stake. End of Story

Ilya Garger is a reporter for MarketWatch based in Hong Kong.

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