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Battle heats up as ex-Disney chief joins Wanda rival

By Chai Hua and Wang Zhuoqiong | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2016-10-23 13:42

The theme park battle between Walt Disney Co and Chinese real estate giant Wanda Group is set to intensify after a former Disneyland senior executive joined its rival, industry insiders say.

Andrew Kam, former managing director of Disneyland Hong Kong, will join Wanda as vice-president of Wanda Culture Industry Group and president of Wanda Themed Entertainment Co Ltd, according to Chinese news portal

Kam will be in charge of the overall operation of all Wanda theme parks and Wanda City projects, is an integrated entertainment center of theme parks, hotels, theaters, shopping malls and residential apartments, according to the report.

Hong Kong Disneyland in March announced Kam's resignation "for personal reasons" after the theme park reported a loss of HK$148 million ($18.9 million; 17 million euros; 15.5 million pounds) last year - its first yearly deficit since 2011.

Wanda declined to comment on Oct 17.

The hiring of former Disney executives will help Wanda better learn Disney's strategy and insights, said Ben Cavender, a principal of China Market Research Group.

Wanda opened the first Wanda City project in May in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, and four months later the second opened in Hefei, Anhui province, marking the start of Wanda's ambitious plan to build 15 such projects across the country by 2020.

Wanda Group said more than 1,700,000 people visited the two projects during the weeklong National Day Holiday.

But Cavender noted that planning and developing a culture business is a complex progress, and if Wanda wants to do it correctly, it is going to have to form a very strong team with a long-term strategy rather than hiring a few people and opening parks quickly to get quick profits.

The burgeoning theme park market in China has attracted several local and international players in recent years.

He Jianlin, director of the tourism management department at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, says Wanda still needs to further improve its soft power in a bid to stand out.

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