HONG KONG — Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger said Friday that Hong Kong Disneyland, the company’s 11th theme park, is a giant step in the company’s plans to break into China’s huge market.
Iger, who will become Disney’s chief executive on Oct. 1, has made expanding in Asia a priority. He confirmed that Disney has been talking to the government in Shanghai — China’s financial center — about opening a park that wouldn’t open until at least 2010.
“Those discussions are ongoing,” he said.
Iger said that the Chinese are less familiar with Disney compared to people in other major markets, and that the Hong Kong park will be key to igniting greater interest in Disney.
“We fully expect this is a giant step in the direction of growing the company and all its Disney brands and businesses in this very populous region,” Iger said.
“This is the biggest venture that any, certainly any Western media company has ever embarked on in this region — not just in terms of the scope from a financial perspective, but the commitment it has taken, the detail, the planning, the technology and training,” he said.
Iger spoke to The Associated Press at the theme park while in the background a singer rehearsed songs from “Mulan” and workers nearby brushed green paint on fences ahead of Monday’s scheduled opening.
During the past week, Disneyland has given tens of thousands of visitors a sneak peek of the park on outlying Lantau Island, about a 30-minute subway ride from central Hong Kong. The crowds who were allowed to try out the attractions during the “rehearsal days” have complained about long lines at the rides and restaurants.
But Disneyland has refused to lower its maximum capacity of 30,000, and Iger said he was pleased with the park’s progress.
“The park is definitely ready for its grand opening,” said Iger, 54, who will become just the sixth chief executive in the storied 81-year history of The Walt Disney Co. when he succeeds longtime CEO Michael Eisner.
Set against lush mountains, Disneyland is expected to draw about 3.6 million visitors within a year and up to 7.4 million annually after 15 years, the company has said. About 40 percent of the visitors are expected to come from mainland China, Disney has said.
The park is a joint venture deal between Disney and the Hong Kong government signed in 1999.
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