Wanda Group hires former Disney executive in battle over Chinese theme parks

The battle to dominate China’s theme park industry is heating up with Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group hiring a former Disney executive to oversee its theme parks.

Wanda, which operates two domestic parks, has hired Andrew Kam, the former head of Hong Kong Disneyland, to be vice president of Wanda’s Cultural Tourism Group.

The position puts Kam in charge of the Bejing company’s Wanda Cultural Tourism City in Nanchang and Wuhan Wanda Movie Park in Wuhan. The company’s chairman, Wang Jianlin, also has promised to build nearly a dozen more parks.

The move to hire Kam looks like a shot at Disney because Jianlin ridiculed Disney’s $5.5-billion Shanghai theme park before it opened in June. Jianlin promised that the Wanda Group’s theme parks would outperform Disney’s park.

“The frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them have passed,” he told Chinese state-run television in May.

But reports out of China have suggested that turnout for Wanda’s parks and Disney’s Shanghai park has been meager.

Disney officials rejected such reports about the Shanghai Disney Resort, calling them “meritless.”

“Our financial results during the first 100 plus days of operation have exceeded our expectations, and guest feedback has been extremely strong, establishing a solid foundation upon which to grow,” Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement.

This summer, Wanda announced that it had to close its indoor movie theme park in the central Chinese city of Wuhan only 19 months after it opened, for “upgrades and renovations.”

Kam became managing director of Hong Kong Disneyland in 2008, after leaving Cofco Coca-Cola Beverages Ltd., a joint venture bottler in China.

But he resigned from Hong Kong Disneyland in March, shortly after the park posted a net loss of $19 million in fiscal 2015, according to a report by the Hong Kong government, a part owner of the resort. The park said he resigned over “personal reasons.”

Wanda’s hiring of Kam was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Sources familiar with Wanda confirmed his employment. The company declined to comment.

Disney officials declined to comment about Kam’s new position.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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