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December 14, 2009

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Exec: China can handle 2 Disney parks

CHINA is big enough to support two Disneyland resorts, a top executive said yesterday amid concerns the company's new Shanghai park would draw visitors away from its one in Hong Kong.

Bill Ernest, president of The Walt Disney Co's parks in Asia, noted that in the United States, where the population is about a quarter of the size of China's, there are already two major resorts - in Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California.

"We think there's plenty of room," Ernest said at a groundbreaking ceremony for a long-awaited expansion of Hong Kong's Disneyland. "We think there's plenty of business there that supports both parks."

China's planning agency approved plans for a Disney theme park in Shanghai last month, part of a government push to develop China's biggest city into a global services center and tourist destination.

The Shanghai park has been estimated to cost US$3.5 billion, though Ernest said it was too early in negotiations with the government to give details about the resort's price tag, attractions or capital structure.

The addition of three new theme areas in Hong Kong's park will enlarge the resort, the smallest of Disney parks worldwide, by nearly a quarter over the next five years.

The US$465 million expansion, announced in July, was considered a long-overdue move to lure more young adults and other visitors by addressing complaints the park was too small.

It opened in 2005 to great fanfare only to suffer disappointing attendance in its first two years. However, visitor numbers in its third year grew by 8 percent, the Hong Kong government says. Total attendance since 2005 has been 19 million.

Likely anticipating a Shanghai park, Hong Kong secured as part of the expansion two new areas, featuring "frontier town" and "rain forest" themes that will be unique among Disneylands worldwide for five years after they open.

The third area, based on the hit Disney-Pixar "Toy Story" films, will be exclusive in Asia.

The park is a joint venture between the Hong Kong government and the American entertainment giant, based in Burbank, California.

John Tsang, financial secretary of the Hong Kong government, said the Disneyland is an important component of Hong Kong's tourism infrastructure.

"A larger park with more attractions will continue to draw the crowds," he said.

Tsang was one of Hong Kong officials at the ceremony together with Disney senior executives, including Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.


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