The boss of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort has unexpectedly announced he will step down, amid losses and changes at the top of its US headquarters.
The theme park announced on Thursday that Hong Kong managing director Samuel Lau Wing-kee would return to Orlando, Florida, to take up a position at Walt Disney World in February next year, ending a three-year stint in the city.
He will be succeeded by Stephanie Young, who has been with the company for 26 years and was the Hong Kong theme park’s chief financial officer between 2006 and 2009. She currently leads the operations team at the Disneyland Resort in California.
“I am thrilled to return to Hong Kong and work with Hong Kong Disneyland Resort team to further grow the business,” Young said.
The Hong Kong government owns 53 per cent of the theme park on Lantau Island, and The Walt Disney Company owns the rest.
Disney’s Asia-Pacific president and managing director Michael Colglazier said Young’s appointment would position the theme park to capitalise on Hong Kong’s tourism growth.
He thanked Lau for his leadership, during which the park opened a 750-room hotel, the Disney Explorers Lodge, and the Iron Man Experience feature.
The theme park's visitor numbers shrank 10 per cent in 2015/16 to 6.1 million, while it maintained 79 per cent occupancy at its two hotels, the 400-room Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and 600-room Hollywood Hotel. The Explorers Lodge opened earlier this year.
Losses widened to HK$171 million in 2015/2016, from HK$148 million in 2014/2015, partly due to lower visitor numbers and extra depreciation from the new hotel.
During his tenure, Lau was in charge of the park’s HK$10.9 billion expansion project, which was controversially approved by the Legislative Council last year.
Yiu Si-wing, who represents the tourism industry in Legco, said Lau was “very hard-working and serious about Disneyland’s performance”.
“The new managing director has a finance background, which shows the management may want her to improve the theme park's balance sheet,” he said. “The business is challenging, facing competition from the region but also Disneyland in Shanghai.”
Yiu urged the Hong Kong theme park not to raise fees for next year, saying that would weaken its competitiveness and attractiveness to visitors, as “existing fees are already expensive”.
Hong Kong Disneyland charges the highest fees of any of the city’s theme parks, at HK$619 for an adult one-day pass. Ocean Park in Southern district costs HK$480 per adult, and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car on Lantau charges HK$235 for an adult return ticket.
Yiu was optimistic about Disneyland’s outlook, noting boosts in cross-border infrastructure which could entice mainland Chinese visitors, namely the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link and the 55km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
Lau’s departure comes amid a broader and higher-level reshuffle at the company’s US headquarters. Parent group The Walt Disney Company merged with Rupert Murdoch’s film and television unit of 21st Century Fox in a US$71.3 billion deal in the summer.
In September, co-chairman of Disney’s media networks unit Ben Sherwood announced he would leave after the merger is completed, expected by the end of this year. Sherwood, who is only a year into a four-year contract, was previously thought to be a front runner to succeed CEO Bob Iger, who is due to step down in summer 2019.
This article Boss of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort Samuel Lau to step down first appeared on South China Morning Post