Less than four months after its grand opening, Hong Kong's Disneyland theme park has announced a major executive reshuffle by replacing managing director Don Robinson.
Robinson, a 34-year Disney veteran, will be replaced by Bill Ernest, a company statement said Tuesday.
Ernest had been managing director of operations in Hong Kong - and Robinson's underling.
Coming so soon after the park's high-profile launch and with worries mounting that expectations for soaring attendance are not being met, the shake- up is sure to be seen as a worrying sign by some observers. A park spokeswoman, however, insisted Robinson had "resigned" from his post and taken a "fabulous" new post with another company to run a new resort in the Bahamas.
She also insisted she could see no difference between the terms "replacement" and "resignation."
"Resigned and replaced essentially mean the same thing," she said. "They both mean going to a new job."
Robinson submitted a letter of resignation last week to accept an offer to head the development of a 400-hectare luxury resort in the Bahamas called Baha Mar, jointly operated by Harrah's and hotel giant Starwood.
"It was a personal decision," the spokeswoman said.
Allan Zeman, chairman of Disney competitor Ocean Park, is not so sure. He said he suspected Robinson was a scapegoat for the theme park's troubles.
"It's been a rocky start for Disney, and US companies often like to hold someone accountable," he said. "Maybe it was one of the things they wanted to change."
Though Zeman heads Disneyland's fiercest competitor, he said he will be sad to see Robinson go.
"It's unfortunate. Don is a nice guy," he said. "Whether he made some mistakes or not, it was an adventure."
Robinson's successor has been with Disney for more than 12 years, he "understands the Disney culture" and is likely to succeed, Zeman predicted.
According to the company statement, Ernest was instrumental in achieving record-high customer satisfaction ratings for the company when he helped launch Disney Cruise Line in 1998.
"Under his leadership, Disney Cruise Line enjoyed tremendous success, with some of Disney's best guest satisfaction ratings," the statement said.
The SAR government holds a 57 percent stake in Hong Kong Disneyland. An Economic Development and Labour department spokesman said Tuesday: "The government has been working with Ernest since the run-up to the opening of the theme park. We look forward to working closely with Ernest in the future development of Hong Kong Disneyland."
The spokesman also thanked Robinson for his part in "ensur[ing] the successful opening of Hong Kong Disneyland."
Robinson, who began his career in 1972 as a dishwasher at Disneyworld in Florida, assumed the title of executive vice president of Hong Kong Disneyland in the summer of 2002.
He was transferred to Hong Kong from his former post as senior vice president of Walt Disney World operations, where he oversaw all Walt Disney World Resorts, as well as facilities at four theme parks.
Among his achievements was the opening of Disneyland Paris, which had its fair share of snags after its 1992 opening and continues to flounder with more than US$2 billion (HK$15.6 billion) in debt some 13 years later.
Hong Kong Disneyland, which has been plagued with a string of union strikes, visitor complaints and technical mishaps since its opening on September 12, attempted to dispel rumors of low attendance rates in late November by announcing it had received more than one million visitors.
But factoring in the park's soft launch in August, that number is still well below both Disney's and the government's projections of more than 5.6 million visitors this year.
Source : The Standard