What is Disneyland Hong Kong's Problem?

What is Disneyland Hong Kong's Problem?
Going to a Disney park means going on a ride. Whatever size that ride may be. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Going to a Disney park means going on a ride. Whatever size that ride may be. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This week, several articles discuss the fact that Hong Kong Disneyland is in the red financially. This comes in the shadow of Shanghai Disneyland opening in June. What is the problem? A comparison to the original Disneyland might give some clue.

In 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland opened. Last year it celebrated its 10th anniversary.

In 1955, Disneyland opened. It would celebrate its 10th in 1965.

Most of what has been Disneyland’s attendance has been from the surrounding area. Definitely some of its attendance in the early years was from the surrounding region. But its most important attendance came from the greater Los Angeles area. In 1965, the Los Angeles area had a little less than 7.5 million residents within her surrounding area.

Hong Kong Disneyland depends on regional attendance as well. And it’s reaching out to places like Singapore and India to draw more attendance. But it has plenty of people to draw on within its own local area. Today, Hong Kong has a little more than 7 million residents, most of whom are a short train ride from Disneyland. That’s not much different than the population of the greater Los Angeles area in 1965.

Let’s assess both parks. In 1965, Disneyland’s top attractions included:

  1. Matterhorn Bobsleds
  2. Submarine Ride
  3. Jungle Cruise
  4. Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland
  5. Monorail

The Matterhorn was mighty and the Submarine drew long waits, but this is still before Pirates of the Caribbean and “it’s a Small World” and other major 1960 era attractions opened. Now look at the current top 5 at Hong Kong Disneyland. Its top attractions on its 10th anniversary included:

  1. “it’s a small world”
  2. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars
  3. Space Mountain
  4. Mystic Manor
  5. Jungle River Cruise
"it's a small world". Perhaps the best version ever built. It's stunningly beautiful. But it needs neighboring rides as well.
“it’s a small world”. Perhaps the best version ever built. It’s stunningly beautiful. But it needs neighboring rides as well. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

With all due respect to the original masterpiece, Hong Kong Disneyland had better attractions to offer on its 10th anniversary than Disneyland did in 1965. So it isn’t that there aren’t great attractions to visit. What I really believe is that there aren’t enough rides. There are many attractions, but there aren’t enough rides. Let’s look at that number:

  1. Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad
  2. Main Street Vehicles
  3. Rafts to Tarzan’s Treehouse
  4. Jungle River Cruise
  5. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars
  6. Toy Story Parachute Drop
  7. Slinky Dog Spin
  8. RC Racer
  9. Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  10. Cinderella Carousel
  11. Mad Hatter Tea Cups
  12. “it’s a small world”
  13. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  14. Space Mountain
  15. Orbitron
  16. Autopia
  17. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Now let’s look at Disneyland’s ride count in 1965:

  1. Disneyland Railroad
  2. Main Street Vehicles
  3. Horse Drawn Street Car
  4. Jungle Cruise
  5. Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island
  6. Indian War Canoes
  7. Sailing Ship Columbia
  8. Mark Twain Steamboat
  9. Mike Fink Keelboats
  10. Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland
  11. Pack Mules Through Nature’s Wonderland
  12. King Arthur Carrousel
  13. Motor Boat Cruise
  14. Casey J. CircusTrain
  15. Alice In Wonderland
  16. Mad Tea Party
  17. Fantasyland Autopia
  18. Peter Pan Flight
  19. Dumbo Flying Elephant
  20. Snow White’s Adventures
  21. Skyway to Tomorrowland
  22. Matterhorn Bobsleds
  23. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  24. Snow White’s Adventures
  25. Midget Autopia
  26. Casey Jr. Circus Train
  27. Storybook Canal Boats
  28. Skyway to Fantasyland
  29. Submarine Voyage
  30. Tomorrowland Autopia
  31. Astro Jet
  32. Monorail
  33. Flying Saucers

And beyond that, Disneyland had attractions like The Enchanted Tiki Room and Flight to the Moon. In short–Disneyland had many, many rides. And that’s what kept guests coming back again and again.

Now let’s look at Disneyland Hong Kong’s competitor. Ocean Park Hong Kong had better attendance than Hong Kong Disneyland in 2014, and its second-highest overall revenue. Examine Ocean Park Hong Kong’s ride line up:

  1. Arctic Blast
  2. Balloons Up-Up-And-Away
  3. Bumper Blaster
  4. Cable Car
  5. Clown A Round
  6. Crazy Galleon
  7. Eagle
  8. Ferris Wheel
  9. Flying Swing
  10. Frog Hopper
  11. Hair Raiser
  12. Merry-Go-Round
  13. Mine Train
  14. Ocean Express
  15. Ocean Park Tower
  16. Raging River
  17. Rev Booster
  18. Sea Life Carousel
  19. The Abyss
  20. The Dragon
  21. The Flash
  22. The Rapids
  23. Toto the Loco
  24. Whirly Bird

Most of these are simply carnival rides. But there’s lots of them, and it gives reason for locals to return more often. You might say, but that’s not what you call the kinds of rides you find at Disneyland. Well, what about the Motor Boat Cruise and the Midget Autopia? What about Dumbo’s Flying Elephants and Mad Tea Party? They’re carnival rides themed differently. But at least they gave Californians something else to do when they returned–which they did frequently.

Even today, you have Bug’s Land at Disney California Adventure. That land has four different rides attached to it. Repeat visitation is critical to Disneyland Hong Kong like it is today to the Disneyland Resort in California. You need lots of different things to do for people living in the immediate area. And that means rides!

I mention this because in 2015, they were building the new Iron Man simulator. Good! They need this. But they need more than this. In the same year they opened up Fairy Tale Forest. From what I can tell, it’s cute. Really cute. But it’s not a ride. And so it goes in the same categories as the Liki Tikis. Earth to Disney: People don’t count the Liki Tikis as an attraction! I can’t honestly count it as an A-Ticket attraction. Would you count the tikis in the pre-show for Enchanted Tiki Room as an A-Ticket?

Liki Tikis-this is not an attraction--much less a ride! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Liki Tikis-this is not an attraction–much less a ride! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

In essence, Fairy Tale Forest could have been a Storybook Canal Boat type of attraction. Its models are essentially the same as those. Throw a Casey Jr. Circus Train around it as well and it could have been two attractions. But no, it’s a walk through, and that’s not going to cut it when its compared with the Enchanted Storybook Castle boat ride going into the Shanghai park.

I assure you that if there are people who love Disney in Singapore and in India, they have already checked out Hong Kong Disneyland. From the ones I’ve spoken to in Singapore, the answer is, “there isn’t enough to do.” That’s code, for “I’m not coming back soon.” But these are the same individuals who are going to fly over Hong Kong on their way to Shanghai when the park there opens. And when they get home, they’re going to tell people who have never been to Disneyland to skip Hong Kong and go directly to Shanghai.

Speaking of Shanghai Disneyland, when it opens, it will include these powerhouse attractions:

  1. Roaring Rapids
  2. Soaring Over the Horizon
  3. Voyage to the Crystal Grotto
  4. Tron Lightcycle Power Run
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure

To do something comparable in Hong Kong that competes against this is going to take several years to do. But if you want to fix Hong Kong Disneyland in the short term–Get rides into your existing park. Big ones. Small ones. But get rides now! There’s room enough for two parks in China–But they both have to have something to offer.

J. Jeff Kober

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