Taking the mickey out of Disney tales Johor claims deflated; could Minnie come closer to home?
Ansley Ng [email protected]
SHEER coincidence perhaps, but just around the time Singapore was awarding its Marina Bay integrated resort licence to Las Vegas Sands last week, Malaysia started buzzing with reports of its own forthcoming mega attraction. .
Disney was setting up a theme park in Johor, reported Malaysian newspapers. They even had specific details. The theme park would occupy 800ha in Nusajaya, a new town in Johor being developed by government-linked UEM World, said the reports. .
Oriental Land Company (OLC), a Japanese firm that operates the Disneyland in Tokyo, was doing the research, they added. .
Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi, said that the government met Disney executives from America to discuss the project. .
The American company has now crushed those rumours, even as a new possibility takes hold — could Disney be coming to Singapore? .
Said Ms Lisa Haines, a spokeswoman for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts: "At this time, there are no existing discussions in Malaysia and we currently have no plans for a Disney-branded resort development in that country." .
And in a barely-disguised dig at OLC's rumoured role, she added: "Oriental Land Company, which owns and operates Tokyo Disney Resort as our licensee, is a valued partner. However, they have no role in evaluating or negotiating other opportunities for Disney outside of Japan." .
So, is this the end of the Disney dream in the region? Not quite. Unlike the flat denial on Malaysia, Disney was far more open-ended when asked about the possibility of opening a theme park in Singapore. "Singapore has long been a good market for Disney and its position as a hub in South-east Asia continues to develop," said Ms Alannah Goss, director of communications of the Walt Disney Company in Asia Pacific. "We continue to evaluate the market but do not have anything to announce at this time." .
Similarly, Mr Chang Chee Pey, Singapore Tourism Board's director for cluster development, added: "To reach the Tourism 2015 targets, we will need to introduce or develop new tourism products beyond the two integrated resorts that will appeal to family visitors, such as attractions and theme parks, and anchor these in Singapore." .
He said Singapore would welcome bold and exciting proposals in this regard. .
In fact, the Republic had almost managed to bring Disneyland to Seletar in the 1990s but talks collapsed because Disney wanted almost 300ha of land but was not willing to pay for it. .
Mr Darrell Metzger, vice-chairman of International Association of Amusement Parks who played a key role in setting up the Tokyo Disney Resort, said that a Disney theme park here could attract "high-yield" tourists from Malaysia, Thailand and India. .
Even if the IR at Sentosa came up with its own theme park, having another one in the region would not be a problem, said Mr Metzger. He said theme parks complemented each other, attracting more visitors for one another. "I just read that (Hong Kong's) Ocean Park is having its best year ever and that's because of Hong Kong Disneyland," he said. .
Meanwhile, despite denials from Disney executives, Malaysia insisted it was very much in the race. Mr Ahmad Pardas Senin, managing director of UEM World, said that the Malaysian government was in talks with Disney to bring the theme park to Johor. .
"At this stage it's very exploratory. For a project that size, various elements have to be in place," he said. .
Mr Ahmad brushed aside reports that the US entertainment giant has ruled out building a park in Malaysia. "It's never easy, but we keep trying. With a big name such as that ... you can try to attract them but whether or not they will be attracted is another issue." he said. "We will continue to pursue."