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Work starts on long-awaited China Disneyland

08 april 2011, 11:41
RIA Novosti©
RIA Novosti©
Walt Disney Co. and Chinese officials broke ground Friday on mainland China's long-awaited first Disneyland, with hopes high that Mickey Mouse and friends will be a hit in the country of 1.3 billion, AFP reports.

Walt Disney Co. chief executive Bob Iger was joined by the entertainment giant's Chinese partners and top Shanghai officials in plunging golden shovels into the ground to launch construction at a ceremony in the bustling city.

The ceremony capped more than a decade of negotiations with the Chinese government to bring the "Magic Kingdom" to the mainland and Iger called it a "significant milestone" in Disney's history.

"Our Shanghai resort will be a world-class family vacation destination that combines classic Disney characters and storytelling with the uniqueness and beauty of China," Iger said.

Construction of the 24.4 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) project in Shanghai's Pudong district is expected to take five years. Disney already has a theme park in the southern Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

Disney is a minority shareholder in the project, holding 43 percent, with government-run Shanghai Shendi Group Co. holding 57 percent, a Disney statement said.

Iger was joined by Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Yu Zhengsheng and other Chinese officials at a colourful ceremony featuring singing Disney characters including Mickey Mouse in traditional Chinese dress.

Shanghai Disneyland will have "all-new attractions and experiences tailored specifically for the people of China," the company statement said.

Its ownership structure mirrors that between Disney and the Hong Kong government, but the company is hoping the Shanghai park will prove more successful than its Hong Kong predecessor.

The Hong Kong park has had a bumpy ride since opening in 2005, with critics there saying low attendance has not justified the public investment.

Mainland China is the biggest source of customers for Hong Kong Disneyland, accounting last year for 2.2 million visitors, or 42 percent of the total.

The Shanghai park will allow Disney to tap China's market like never before, attracting visitors who previously could not afford -- or found it difficult to obtain the required transit permits -- to travel to Hong Kong.

The park is also expected to help redefine Shanghai as a leisure destination instead of mainly a business city, travel industry experts said.

"This Disney project will boost economic growth both in Shanghai and eastern China," said Min Fan, chief executive of Ctrip.com, a Shanghai-based online travel company that makes about 10 percent of China's air ticket bookings.

The loss-making Hong Kong park announced on Thursday it would complete the first phase of its expansion by 2013 -- a year early -- as it seeks to increase its popularity.

The Hong Kong park said "Toy Story Land", based on the animated film, would open later this year while two other attractions would open in 2012 and 2013.

Shanghai's Disneyland is expected to attract 7.3 million visitors in its first year, according to a report on the city government's website.

Initially, it will feature Disney's famed "Magic Kingdom", with the possible addition later of an "Animal Kingdom" and "Epcot" area. The Epcot centre is a showcase of world culture and technology at the Disney World Resort in Florida.

Disney also has theme parks in California, France and Japan.

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