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September 12, 2006

Hong Kong Disneyland Celebrates First Anniversary

Hong Kong - Hong Kong Disneyland today celebrated its first anniversary, but the park continues to struggle falling short of its first year projected attendance and with complaints from park guests about overcrowding.

The first anniversary was celebrated under rainy skies with Disney's characters piecing together a puzzle that resembled a birthday cake. Celebrity spokesman, Jacky Cheung was on hand for the event.

The park is a joint venture between the Chinese government and the Walt Disney Company. Hong Kong taxpayers paid more than half the $3.5 billion it cost to construct the theme park and the government owns a 57 percent stake.

Disney had projected that Hong Kong Disneyland would have 5.6 million pass through the turnstiles in its first year. The actual number fell short of that projection and is estimated to be closer to 5 million.

"We have well exceeded the 5 million figure already," said Bill Ernest, Hong Kong Disneyland's managing director, but when asked Ernest declined to provide the exact figure.

Hong Kong Disneyland didn't get off to a running start and park officials acknowledge this.

Disney had hoped to draw more visitors from the mainland where affluent Chinese now have visa's allowing them to travel to Hong Kong without restrictions. The company admits that it's still trying to figure out the mainland market. While the Disney brand is well known in China, the theme parks are not.

To address this issue Disney has begun marketing to mainland tourists on what Disney's characters and theme parks are about. The company hopes to increase awareness that will in turn sell admissions. A new pre-show is also in the works for the theme park to educate park visitors upon arrival.

Hong Kong Disneyland has also had its share of bad publicity since it opening about overcrowding, environmental concerns and complaints about the lack of attractions.

In February during the busy Chinese New Year holidays the park turned away thousands of tourists with tickets when the park reached capacity. After the gates shut, angry tourists rioted in front the park, some climbing over the closed gates.

Disney responded immediately by changing the ticketing to be date specific to prevent a reoccurrence.

Reports of park visitors complaining about long lines in part due to the lack of attractions have also made headlines. Some guests claim that the lines for rides often exceed an hour on busy days.

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