Revamped Hong Kong Disneyland set to face fierce competition from regional rivals

Commerce minister Greg So defends government plan to inject HK$5.8 billion into the project, saying new infrastructure and hotels will increase visitors by 40 per cent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 12:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 1:05am

Hong Kong Disneyland will have to fend off even more competition from the region, with a host of theme parks opening in China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia before its expansion project is completed in 2023.

Commerce minister Greg So Kam-leung remained confident the HK$10.9 billion Disneyland expansion plan, together with the completion of the cross-border bridge linking to Macau and Zhuhai, will help attract up to 9.5 million visitors each year by 2025 – a 40 per increase from last year.

The six-year expansion project will feature zones based on themes from its blockbuster Frozen and Marvel superhero films, as well as the transformation of its Sleeping Beauty Castle.

But competition is heating up as at least 10 theme parks are scheduled to open in the region between next year and 2020, according to the latest Legislative Council research report.

Fun fair interactive: comparing the theme parks of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Zuhai, and Guangzhou

“There are too many choices for theme parks,” CLSA senior analyst Mariana Kou said.

She added it would be much harder for Hong Kong Disneyland to attract tourists now – even with its new offerings – compared with 10 years ago when mainland citizens had limited choices.

China is now building theme parks faster than any other country in the world, with billionaire Wang Jianlin, the head of the Dalian Wanda Group, saying he was determined to challenge the American park’s dominance.

Some 21 theme parks opened in China last year alone, bringing the number of the parks in the country close to 300, according to a report from research organisation Forward.

In addition to Disneyland’s opening in Shanghai in June, Los Angeles-based Universal Studios is due to debut its latest park in Beijing in 2020.

Watch: Shanghai Disneyland's trial run in June

New parks such as Legoland in Japan, Twentieth Century Fox World in South Korea, and Funtasy Island Eco Theme Park in Indonesia will open in 2017 or 2018.

However, Kou said it was necessary to invest in tourism facilities to defend the city’s reputation as a tourist destination.

Despite the Hong Kong park’s loss of HK$1.48 billion last year, So said the expansion was much needed to boost its business.

“We could end up with 10 million visitors in the park with the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge,” So said.

“The projection of nine million [in 2025] is acceptable,” he said.

As the Lantau park’s largest shareholder, the government could inject HK$5.8 billion, subject to the Legislative Council’s approval.

James To Kun-sun, convenor of the Democratic Party, said he and colleagues expressed their reservations about the project at a meeting with commerce bureau officials and Disney management on Wednesday morning.

“We asked them whether Hong Kong Disneyland would have exclusive rights for some of the new [character-themed rides] – at least for a few years – to avoid vicious competition with the Shanghai and Tokyo Disney theme parks,” To said.

“But the officials were unable to answer,” he added.

The Democratic Party’s Wu Chi-wai said pro-democrat lawmakers would reject the funding request if the government could not clear up the doubts.