Hong Kong Disneyland has a bright future if we embrace visitors from mainland China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 1:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 8:46am

Hong Kong Disneyland has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

But by the time it turns 11, it will no longer be the only Disney theme park in the region barring Japan.

In terms of sheer size rather than age, it will become a little brother to Shanghai's Disney park, three times as big, when it opens next spring.

If the loss of its exclusive position and the prospect of regional competition were the only clouds on the horizon, there should be little to worry about.

Not only will the two parks be carving up a market of more than 1.3 billion mainlanders, but Hong Kong Disneyland retains the advantage of proximity to Guangdong and beyond, not to mention that the city remains a tourist destination in its own right.

Little wonder that Disneyland managing director Andrew Kam Min-ho is not worried about attendance. But while he may be positive, he is also a realist. "We face challenges," he says.

The park, 52 per cent owned by the Hong Kong government, is grappling with one now. That is the nexus between tourism and growth in Disneyland's attendance.

Tourism is sensitive to the economic cycle and, in particular, to economic conditions and sentiment on the mainland.

The economic slowdown there, the recent plunge in the stock markets and a strong Hong Kong dollar pegged to the US currency have reversed growth in the number of mainland tourists and weighed heavily on park attendance.

Mainlanders accounted for nearly half the number of Disneyland visitors last year, Hongkongers for nearly a third and other tourists for about 20 per cent.

To maintain market share and grow attendances when conditions improve, the park must remain competitive.

Before long it will also face competition from the biggest theme park in Asia, being built on Hengqin Island near Macau.

Kam says Hong Kong Disneyland has already been forced to adjust its strategy and beef up its product offering. But he is not backing away from the aim to double attendance to 11 million a year by 2022 from 5.9 million in 2011.

Continued investment in expansion, such as a third luxury hotel due to open in 2017 and new attractions, is paramount.

There is scope for it on the Lantau site and it is in the city's interests, as major shareholder, to back it.

There is, however, another negative element in Disneyland's outlook that only Hong Kong people can fix - anti-mainlander sentiment that is unhelpful to tourism.

This is not in our interests. Hopefully time, and greater efforts to foster understanding on both sides, will heal the rift sooner rather than later.