Hong Kong should keep backing Disneyland

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:12am

Hong Kong Disneyland can finally be called a financial success. Seven years after it opened, a decade after construction began and 14 years after plans for the development were unveiled, it has turned a profit. Taxpayers, in effect majority shareholders through the government's 52 per cent stake, can feel relief that inroads can be made into the billions of dollars of losses and hefty infrastructure investment. But going from the red into the black does not mean that the right formula has been found or that it is time to relax. Sustained profitability will come only from continued innovation and expansion.

Wise management and perseverance have been fundamental to turning the corner. Our Disneyland was the smallest of the five in existence when it opened and expanding the number of attractions has been vital to drawing new visitors. The gradual relaxation of visas for mainland tourists has significantly boosted revenue. Competition with Ocean Park has kept planners and managers on their toes. Hong Kong has gained huge economic benefits.

Yet sceptics abound. The government struck generous terms with the Walt Disney Company to entice the firm to ensure our city was the first in China to be home to one of its renowned theme parks. Great hype and promotion went into convincing people of its benefits and potential. Instead, though, there was the impression that a white elephant had been foisted on us. Visitor numbers and gate receipts fell far below forecasts; authorities for years were not transparent about attendance and revenue; controversies and complaints proliferated.

But patience has been rewarded. In the fiscal year to last September, a profit of HK$109 million was made and visitor numbers were up 13 per cent to 6.7 million. New attractions last year and in 2011 helped, as may Mystic Point when it opens this spring. Further boosts are expected with the completion of the high-speed rail line from Guangzhou in 2015 and the bridge from Macau and Zhuhai the following year.

Continuing the advantage requires investment, though. Lawmakers who have resisted expansion plans have to lay aside objections so that the park can attain its full potential. Ample land has been set aside with that in mind. As attendance breakdowns show, the theme park is not just for tourists. Hong Kong residents comprise a third of the total. It is in all our interests that full support is given to Disneyland's development.