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Land of Magical Dreams

After 30 years with the company, Tim Sypko’s enthusiasm for Disney remains undimmed – perhaps magical times have that effect. The Senior Vice President, Operations of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort did not hold back his excitement about the resort’s 15th anniversary.

“It’s remarkable that it has been 15 years since Hong Kong Disneyland first opened!” he said. “It plays such a special part in the portfolio of Disney parks around the world, and we know it plays a special role here for Hong Kong people.”

To mark 15 years since Mickey Mouse and friends arrived in the city, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort currently has a range of special and hotel stay offers and promotions. The biggest part of the celebrations has unquestionably been the opening of its reimagined castle – the Castle of Magical Dreams – on November 21.

At Disney parks around the world, the castle is a major highlight for visitors. “Many of Disney’s castles are centred around one princess, one story,” Sypko explained.

What makes Hong Kong’s new castle unique is that it has grown not only in scale, but also in the number of heroines it represents. The Castle of Magical Dreams is now home to 13 Disney princesses and queens – from Cinderella to Moana – in distinctly decorated towers.

“It stops you in your tracks,” Sypko said. “I have seen our castles around the world – but there is something special and unique about this one. When I show colleagues or friends its pictures, they are wowed by it.”

Visitors can also learn about the transformation process in the Castle Exhibition Centre, from the original sketches and 3D projection-assisted choice of colours to the actual construction. The exhibition also reveals the incredible attention to detail paid to patterns, textures and ornamentations, and their relevance to the tales of the princesses and queens, who originate from different cultures around the world.

The opening of the Castle of Magical Dreams and the 15th anniversary celebration have been joyous occasions for the park. However, as we all know, 2020 has generally not been a year for celebrations. Like all entertainment companies, Hong Kong Disneyland has faced major challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic. Sypko explained how it has coped with the outbreak and the measures it has introduced.

“We always start by thinking about the safety of our guests and cast members,” he said. “In light of social distancing, cleaning and other additional measures, everything has had to be rethought.”

So, in a matter of weeks, the whole operation was reinvented. After taking guidance from health officials and communicating with Disney parks around the world, everything was revised, from capacity management and social-distancing ground markings to guidelines on interactions between cast members and visitors.

“We are experts in operating parks and hotels for 65 years, and 15 here,” Sypko stated. “We are very proud of all that we did in that first closure period, leading up to our reopening in June.”

He is delighted to have the park open again and to ensure that guests can continue to have a magical time.

“We take it seriously, and want to make sure that it’s the same Disney experience, but with the comfort of additional safety and health and hygiene procedures,” Sypko said.

Even in normal times, the day-to-day running of the park requires a highly complex operation. The teams under Sypko’s leadership include park and hotel operations, food and beverage, merchandise, security, facilities, entertainment and costuming. “What you see as a guest is the tip of the iceberg of all of the planning and people behind the scenes that make everything work smoothly and safely, each and every day.”

But all the energy spent on planning comes back as satisfaction when you see it all come to life, he added.

Green commitments are also part of Sypko’s remit. The park was an early adopter of recycling, and it donates surplus food to help feed the city’s needy population, while its three hotels collect soaps and other amenities for NGOs.

Another initiative that Sypko is excited about is the installation of more than 4,500 solar panels last year, making the resort the largest single solar panel site in Hong Kong. “It’s enough to power over 500 homes of three individuals for a full year,” he explained. “And we are continually evaluating our rooftops to see where else we can put the panels.”

Despite the challenges of 2020, Sypko remains optimistic about the fate of the theme park industry, Disney in particular.

“We look at the stories that Disney tells and how popular they continue to be. People love finding ways to immerse themselves,” he said. “What keeps them coming back is our cast members that bring those stories to life, that make families and children feel special, and create memories that last a lifetime.”

The same magic that brings visitors to Disney’s parks is what attracted Sypko to the company in the first place, and maintained his enthusiasm over the years. He started his journey at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando as a host at the “it’s a Small World” attraction, and held a number of senior roles in the Florida operation over the following decades before moving to Hong Kong.

“The brand got me in, but what’s kept me for 30 years are the people, the culture, and being a part of the Disney family,” he said, adding that “inclusion” and “collaboration” are key parts of the company culture.

And despite moving half-way around the world, he found much the same environment at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.

“What is consistent is the quality of the people – the way we treat each other and the way we work together as a team,” he said. “We start with people, and that’s what I think is special and shines through to the guest experience. Because how we treat each other as cast members is how we treat our guests.”

Founder Walt Disney said: “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” And even amid the external challenges,

Hong Kong Disneyland continues to fulfil this vision. Since the park’s launch, three new “lands” have been introduced and a fourth is in the making. With a “Frozen” theme, it will let visitors dive into a fantasy world of ice and snow.

In his long career, Sypko picked the reopening of Hong Kong Disneyland in June, after the first Covid outbreak, as his most memorable moment to date. “We weren’t presenting Hong Kong Disneyland for the first time, but to me it felt that way,” he said.

Some visitors were even moved to tears amid the music and confetti of the reopening celebrations.

“It was an emotional moment, and when you looked around at fellow cast members, you were filled with pride,” Sypko said. “With the struggles that we have had through the pandemic, we need more of these moments to bring back joy to the community.”


Company: Hongkong International Theme Parks Ltd

HKGCC Membership No. : HKH0597

Established : 1999

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