Community entitled to Disneyland details

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 May, 2005, 12:00am

The eagerly awaited launch of Hong Kong's Disneyland is now only a few months away. Our city's bid to establish the top tourist destination in Asia is about to be put to the test. And the stakes are high.

Disney's first 'magic kingdom' in China has been gradually taking shape over the past two years and is now nearing completion. The site at Penny's Bay on Lantau will soon provide a new home for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and a host of other favourite characters.

The top turret of Sleeping Beauty's Castle was put in place last year, as work continued to construct Space Mountain. Thousands of jobs at the park have gone on offer, and bookings are coming in for Disney's two theme hotels.

Last week, new trains that will take visitors to the park from Sunny Bay on North Lantau were unveiled, complete with Mickey Mouse-shaped windows.

Everything appears to be set for a spectacular launch in September, when the park will finally open its doors to visitors. It is expected to receive 5.6 million of them a year.

There are, however, some important questions concerning the launch which are yet to be answered.

Concerns have been raised that a potential flood of initial visitors could cause chaos both at the park and at the mainland border.

Disney has not revealed how many visitors it expects on the opening day. The park has a capacity of 30,000. It is not yet known whether tickets will be available at the gate or whether - as the government has requested - they must be booked in advance.

No details of any contingency plans to cope with the expected crowds have been revealed. And there is no word on suggestions that special immigration controls should be set up at the park to ease potential congestion at the border.

Answers to these questions should be provided so that Hong Kong people can feel confident that all will go well when the big day arrives. There are considerable logistical problems to be overcome.

More than a third of visitors to the park are expected to come from the mainland. The relaxation of immigration controls for mainland travellers to Hong Kong has greatly increased their numbers over the past two years. The 'golden week' holiday, for example, which began yesterday, is expected to see 460,000 mainland tourists enter Hong Kong.

The arrangements for the expected influx of Disney tourists will need to be carefully worked out and made public well in advance of the opening.

It is worth remembering, as the launch approaches, how much this park means to Hong Kong. The government went to great lengths to seal the deal, which was announced in 1999. The investment involves the spending of $22 billion in taxpayers' money. The necessary land and infrastructure has been provided.

This great expense and effort is believed worthwhile because Disneyland is the key to Hong Kong's bid to become the top tourist destination in Asia. It has the potential to transform Hong Kong's image, attract more family-orientated tourists and pay big dividends.

The community therefore has a big stake in Disneyland's success. It is entitled to be kept informed of developments and details. Public interest is mounting.

Concerns that Disney would soon launch a new rival theme park in Shanghai have dissipated. It now looks as if the first mainland Disneyland will not arrive until at least 2010. But, as we report today, Disney is considering opening another Asian theme park, in India. Our city's park can, in time, expect to face growing competition.

We are looking forward to the grand opening of Hong Kong Disneyland and hope it will be a great success. But the park will be more likely to work its magic if the public are kept well informed.