Waiting times at Hong Kong theme parks rise as tourism increases

Third report in a series on city's capacity asks: are our theme parks overcrowded?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 January, 2014, 5:33am

As the number of visitors to Hong Kong continues to rise, the biggest challenge for the city's theme parks is to ensure everyone has their share of fun without having to wait too long.

Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland saw their annual attendance figures exceed six million in 2012, but both had yet to reach their maximum capacity, a government assessment of Hong Kong's tourism capacity concluded.

The government has predicted annual visitor numbers will reach 70 million by 2017 and 100 million in 2023.

Queues for rides are growing longer even before the Lunar New Year holiday, with waiting times for popular attractions in Hong Kong Disneyland reaching up to an hour.

However, according to an informal survey by the Post, the majority of visitors would prefer to skip a ride if the wait took longer than half an hour.

On Friday afternoon, Disneyland was buzzing with energy, with its Main Street USA full of visitors. The waiting times for a ride on the Big Grizzly Mountain rollercoaster and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Disneyland dark ride was an hour.

"The queue is too long. Let's go for another ride," said one mother from Zhejiang province to her daughter in front of the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride. The waiting time was 50 minutes.

Local James Cheung, 23, was frustrated by the hour-long wait for the Grizzly Gulch roller coaster. He said he could accept a 30-minute wait, but not an hour. "Parks should put a cap on admission numbers," he suggested, adding he would not visit the park again this year.

Better prepared visitors went for fast passes, which allow them to book a ride two hours in advance and then wait in a shorter queue. People using the passes said they found the waiting time acceptable in general. The waiting time for other rides ranged from 10 to 40 minutes.

As for Ocean Park, visitors wanting to take the cable car ride to the top of the park had to wait 45 minutes on a weekday afternoon, while it took 30 minutes to get into the Grand Aquarium. Waiting time for the scariest Hair Raiser roller coaster was 15 minutes, while that for the milder Whirly Bird and Arctic Blast rides was 30 to 45 minutes.

Another visit to the park yesterday showed queueing times similar to those on a weekday.

Queues for older rides were much shorter, with people being able to jump on in five minutes.

Getting off the cable car, Mary Zhao from Zhejiang said she found the wait reasonable: "It's similar to the other attractions on the mainland."

Local Kelvin Lam, 20, said he was currently comfortable, but did not want more crowds.

Others suggested the park adopt a fast pass system so they could skip the queues.

A Disneyland spokesman said the park attached great importance to guest experiences. A new themed area based on the comic hero Iron Man is expected to be ready in late 2016, while a new electronic parade will be launched later this year.

The park set a record for daily attendance of nearly 45,000 during Lunar New Year last year, with about 34,300 people inside the park at one time. Its current maximum capacity is 42,000.

After expansion, the park will be able to cope with more visitors by 2020.

At Ocean Park, the highest daily attendance was 46,700 last year, while its maximum capacity at any one time is 36,300.

New attractions featuring koala bears and sharks will open this year, but the park's attendance cap would remain unchanged, chief executive Tom Mehrmann said. A new water park due to open in 2017 would cater for a maximum of 10,500 people per day.

Queueing times had been shortened since the park opened more attractions, he said. Whereas in 2005 people visited one attraction every two hours, last year they could visit an average of 1.75 attractions in an hour.

Dr Sam Kim, associate professor in Polytechnic University's school of hotel and tourism management, suggested the parks set different prices for weekdays and weekends to spread out usage.

He expects the rate of increase in visitors to Hong Kong Disneyland to slow in the years following Shanghai Disneyland's opening next year, but said it would pick up again in the long run.