Gaffes cast cloud over future of Hong Kong Disneyland

The park faces a potential lawsuit from the Hong Kong authorities after hygiene inspectors investigating a case of food poisoning were forced to remove their caps and epaulettes by Disneyland security staff before being admitted. And this is only the latest in a string of gaffes and controversies that have dogged Disney's newest addition to its theme park empire.

Having been forced to remove shark's fin soup from its menu by outraged environmentalists, Disneyland's management is still struggling to counter the bad press generated by a disastrous rehearsal day on Sunday 4 September that saw 29,000 visitors queuing for hours for rides and unable to find space in the park's restaurants.

Along with accusations of unreasonable work conditions and poor pay from disgruntled "cast members" (the Disney code for employees), Disneyland's refusal to admit the hygiene inspectors until they had removed the parts of their uniforms that identified them as officers from the Food, Environment and Hygiene Department (FEHD), has led some Hong Kong residents to wonder if Disney are taking the mickey.

One local newspaper claimed Disney "wants to turn the theme park into an independent kingdom that Hong Kong laws can't reach". But with the FEHD consulting lawyers to see if Disney can be prosecuted for violating Hong Kong's Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, Disneyland management has moved swiftly to placate the authorities.

"We apologise for what happened, it was inappropriate," said Maggie Lee, head of publicity for Hong Kong Disneyland. "We respect and comply with all local laws and regulations. We will never let this happen again." But Disneyland's management has a habit of making enemies. When their plans to offer shark's fin soup at wedding banquets at the park were revealed in June it created a storm of protest, with environmentalists pointing out that shark stocks were already severely depleted by the demand for the traditional Chinese delicacy.

Disneyland may have to stagger the number of visitors admitted to the park, which is much smaller than the US and Paris venues, after the rehearsal descended into chaos with people queuing for over two hours for rides, some of which had to be shut down after system failures. The Hong Kong authorities have also urged Disneyland to add at least 600 more restaurant seats.

More ominously for the $1.8bn (£1bn) park, which is located at Penny's Bay on outlying Lantau island, ticket sales have been poor on the mainland, with travel agents claiming that mainland Chinese have been put off by high hotel prices and reports of long queues. Entrance tickets are still available throughout this month and next, while the two Disneyland hotels both have vacancies. The park is the second to be built in Asia after the Tokyo site. Disney is reportedly planning to open a park in Shanghai after 2010. A visit to Shanghai will be considerably cheaper for the mainland tourists and is likely to render the Hong Kong Disneyland redundant.

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