Will HK Disneyland's Iron Man attraction live up to hype?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts announces the Iron Man Experience is coming to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2016.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts

Hong Kong Disneyland's planned new Iron Man attraction may be getting a lot of hype, but will it draw in key tourists from mainland China?

After the stellar performance of the Iron Man 3 film, both in China and around Asia, the newly announced plan for an "Iron Man Experience" would seem like a natural fit to boost Chinese tourists' attendance at the Hong Kong park.

But there may be a problem, says Chris Yoshii, vice president of the economics group at Aecom, a technical support company.

"The Chinese are not so interested in thrills," Yoshii said, citing ridership data from theme parks around the region.

Aecom, in conjunction with the Themed Entertainment Association, compiles an annual global theme park and museum index report. Around 45 percent of the visitors to Hong Kong Disneyland in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012, were from the mainland, according to data from the company.

Marvel's Iron Man comes to Hong Kong
Marvel's Iron Man comes to Hong Kong

"In the U.S. market or in Europe, particularly the U.K., having the biggest, scariest roller coaster is always a major draw for the parks. In Asia and China, that's not the case," he said. "The Chinese markets like more of a show element. They like live entertainment."

Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened in 2005, posted its first profit in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2012 after suffering from low attendance for years, with 2012's attendance around 1.5 million behind the original 1999 projections.

Attendance at the park hit a record in 2012, climbing 13.6 percent from a year earlier, driven both by a surge in tourists from the mainland and the opening of a slew of new attractions.

"Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong and international guests embraced Iron Man in theaters and they will embrace him in the park," said Linda Choy, vice president of public affairs for Hong Kong Disneyland, in an email.

(Read more: Shanghai Disney Must Deliver 'Big' Experience)

She added that one of the park's recently opened thrill rides, the Big Grizzly Mountain "Runaway Mine Cars," ranks as the most popular attraction among all visitors. The next-ranking thrill-ride is two places behind.

Yoshii said the Iron Man attraction is probably aimed at increasing the size of Hong Kong Disneyland. New attractions have already expanded the size of the park by around 25 percent over the past two years.

(Read more: Hong Kong Disney Ends Seven-Year Itch to Make Money)

"Hong Kong got a lot of criticism for being a smaller park," Yoshii said, noting that Hong Kong Disneyland is about half the size of other parks because initial attendance estimates were about half what a new park would usually generate.

It's a lesson Disneyland is likely to take to Shanghai, where it plans to open a theme park at the end of 2015.

Disney will make sure the park is big enough, Yoshii said. "Even the Cinderella castle is going to be the biggest Cinderella castle of all the Cinderella castles in the world," he added. "Everything is on a much larger scale."

Yoshii expects Disney to increase the show and entertainment components at the Shanghai park.

Another concern, he says, are the queues. "In a lot of Western countries, people are used to waiting in a long queue. In China, they aren't. They need to provide more entertainment while waiting in line."

(Read more: Theme park economy on a great ride)

But Disney probably won't have to worry about the Shanghai park cannibalizing Hong Kong attendance.

"We've have seen the strength and success of one Disney park location always ends up reinforcing the strength and success of other Disney park locations," Thomas Staggs, chairman of Disney's theme park division, told CNBC.

Yoshii agreed: "What we've seen is when new parks are introduced; it does tend to expand the market."

He also expects Hong Kong to be oriented toward South China, while Shanghai will focus more on Eastern China. "People will try both to see the different experience."

The importance of getting Shanghai right is high as Disney faces a competitive landscape. "There are huge ambitions to get into this area," Yoshii said.

—CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from Disney.