(CNN) — It was Friday, sunny, and at the end of summer — all the perfect components for a day at Disneyland. The theme park should have been packed.
Lines for the rides, which usually take upward of half an hour’s wait, were short and quick — if there were any lines at all. The rides themselves were nowhere near full capacity — at the Mad Hatter Tea Cups ride, most of the giant pastel teacups spun emptily to the cheerful music. At lunchtime, visitors had their pick of empty tables.
This decline in tourists was written large and clear all over Disneyland. Inside the Hyperspace Mountain ride, the winding fenced path meant to accommodate a long line was largely empty. Some tourists at It’s a Small World had the boat all to themselves, sitting solitary in the empty rows.
Almost empty boats at the It’s a Small World attraction in Hong Kong Disneyland.
Xyza Cruz Bacani/Redux for CNN
The low tourist numbers were especially striking during the peak summer season, when students are out of school and families are on holiday. But this summer has been anything but normal, and as the city enters its 16th consecutive week of mass demonstrations, the happiest place on Earth is feeling the heat.
Travelers worldwide are staying away
Protesters themselves deliberately worked to reach global audiences — they crowdfunded enough money to take out full-page ads in major newspapers worldwide, and thousands occupied the airport with signs directly appealing to arriving travelers.
“There are particularly few visitors this summer,” said a Disneyland employee who declined to be named. “Everyone is on holiday, so there should be more people coming in. But there are fewer tourists.”
The low number of visitors at the moment was “not normal,” she added.
For Afaizul Ashari, a tourist from Malaysia, this was his second visit to Hong Kong’s Disneyland. Last time, before all the political unrest, he recalled baby strollers stretching all the way up the street. Now, there were only a handful parked on the side of the walking path.
“Last time, we had to wait 30 minutes (for a ride). This time — five minutes,” he said.
The decline of mainland Chinese visitors is hardly surprising, with a strong anti-China sentiment among the protest movement and an increasingly harsh stance from Beijing.
The Disneyland employee said there were still normal numbers of tourists from Japan, Korea and other nearby countries — but there was a significant dip in Chinese tourists. The number of tourists dropped most sharply in August, she said — reflecting the tourism statistics Chan had cited in his blog post.
The tourism industry is hurting
In many ways, Disneyland still looked like Disneyland — speakers blared music from “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid,” food stands sold snacks and cold drinks, and families strolled through the park.
And yet, the empty lines and lack of crowds were jarring and impossible to ignore, adding a hint of unease to the atmosphere.
“It’s a bit subdued,” said Annamarie Devitt, who was visiting from Sydney with her husband and two children. “It’s just not the buzz of Disneyland that I expected.”
Shaun and Annamarie Devitt with their children Jameson and Felix inside a restaurant in Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.
Xyza Cruz Bacani/Redux for CNN
Photos on social media and local media showed similar scenes of near-empty rides and streets in Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s other theme park. Ocean Park’s attendance numbers had “remained stable” in 2016 and 2017, but it has not yet released visitor numbers for 2019.
Helen Regan and Michelle Toh contributed reporting.