The government and The Walt Disney Company appear to have agreed to include new "lands" and rides based on wilderness, arctic and adventure themes as part of a planned expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland, informed sources have said.
But how the new attractions will be paid for and by whom, and the impact on the existing shareholding structure of the theme park, have yet to be resolved.
The expansion plan would see the largest area in the site become a nature wonderland. Passengers on a roller-coaster ride would pass through mine shafts, tunnels and a wilderness area complete with audio effects and animatronic (robotic) animals, the sources said.
The arctic environment would allow visitors to enjoy real snow slopes in enclosed, temperature-controlled areas. A train ride was also planned.
A third land was based on the "unexpected" theme. Inspired by the adventures of early explorers, the area will see visitors transported on computer-controlled rides. The different environments would incorporate supernatural elements and animatronic figures, but the sequence of the rides would vary to let passengers enjoy a different experience each time, the sources said.
Each of the three new lands would have a specific storyline to immerse visitors in the ride.
Disney representatives presented a scale model of the expansion site to the government in Hong Kong in March last year.
In November, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan reviewed the expansion plans with Disney management while in Los Angeles.
It is understood that the government found previous designs ordinary and uninspiring and demanded changes, but was unable to explain to Disney what it wanted.
The current plans were not final and could still be changed, but there did not seem to be any major disagreements about the themes and designs of the lands, the sources said.
Both joint-venture partners agree that expansion is necessary to help Hong Kong Disneyland grow in attendance and business. But given that the multibillion-dollar price tag attached to such an expansion will attract intense scrutiny by the public and lawmakers, it is understood that the government wants to ensure that it negotiates the best possible deal.
The government owns 57 per cent of the theme park with Disney holding the rest.
Visitor numbers had grown by a double-digit rate in the past six months, compared with the same period a year earlier, managing director Andrew Kam Min-ho said. But merchandise sales had risen more slowly than expected because some visitors were reining in their spending due to the financial downturn.