When Hong Kong Disneyland opened in September of 2005 it set a goal of 5.6 million visitors in the first year. Now the park is falling short of that projection, and company officials are working to attract visitors during the crucial summer holiday season.
Disney says attendance is lower than expected at its newest theme park, but hopes the summer holidays will make up the difference. Marketing experts say ticketing controversies and the small size of the park are to blame for the problem.
Marketing Professor Oliver Yau at the City University of Hong Kong says the U.S. entertainment company failed to understand the local market.
"Unless the management really do a lot of things, in improving, in looking into the cultural perspective, how the Disney culture [is] going to mix with the Chinese culture, the Hong Kong culture, there's something [that] needs to be done," he said.
Yau cited one well-publicized example in which Disney sold tickets with open dates only to be overwhelmed by mainland Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year holidays early in the year. The park was forced to close its gates, denying admittance to many angry ticket holders.
He also says the park is too small. With fewer than 20 attractions, Hong Kong Disney has half the attractions of the company's parks in the United States, Japan and Europe.
Hong Kong Disney's director of marketing, Josephine Lam, acknowledges that things have not been easy. She says the park needs to do well this summer to meet projections, but will not say the exact number of visitors Disney hopes to get.
"We have been learning. Most of the new businesses just have to get into the market and then learn from trial and error," noted Lam. "To be honest, in the last few months we have been working really hard, focused on our needs and what improvements we can make. And so far we are doing quite well."
There are new advertising campaigns to attract Hong Kong residents and to promote the park's image in mainland China and Taiwan. Hong Kong residents can get a second visit free with the purchase of a regular ticket. On the mainland, where Disney is less well known, Lam says the ads aim to inform people about the park and what visitors can expect there.
Marketing Professor Yang Zhilin at City University says the key is with Disney's biggest fans - kids.
"I think you really need to attract the kids. You know my two kids, they seldom talk [about] Disneyland this year. Last year they ask us, 'when shall we go to Disneyland?' But this year, no, they're not asking," he mentioned.
Yang says among kids Disney has failed to maintain the buzz that surrounded the park when it opened.
Lam, the Disney executive, says the company expects a spike in attendance during the next few months when schools in China and most of northern Asia are on holiday. She also expects longer-term growth as mainland China becomes more familiar with Disney and its products.