Shenzhen ripe for Disney boom

Here is a little factoid to amuse you. Did you know that we, in teensy-weensy Hong Kong, have 2.3 times as many visitors a year as all of Japan? It's true. Over the past year we had 10.4 million visitors, the highest count of any country in Asia.

Thailand was next with 8.3 million and Japan had only 4.4.

Now here is the question. Do you think they were tourists? Silly you. When only 5.6 per cent of all visitors are under the age of 15 and the average age is 38 you may wish to ask yourself whether the line-up of juvenile tourist traps we offer is really what makes us No 1.

They may have been tourists in the past. As the chart shows you, average daily spending by visitors in 1999 dollar terms has fallen over the decade from almost $3,800 to less than $1,600. Ten years ago people came here to shop. They don't any longer.

It is business now and when about 70 per cent of all visitors are male it is Minnie, not Mickey Mouse, they want when business is to be mixed with pleasure.

Unfortunately, we do not have from the Government any detailed analysis of tourism that could show us exactly what proportion of the 10.4 million visitor arrivals represents people who would really spend a day or two at the new Disney theme park.

Not even close to half is the likely answer.

It's a good question in fact whether the Government's studies on this park consist of anything more than approvals of a Disney study by a government economist and a French bank (why this choice?) who perhaps approved it because they could not prove it false.

One element of the Government's projections is certain however.

The Disney Park may get five million visitors in its first year as we in Hong Kong all decide to have a look, but after that it will have to be new visitors if we are to squeeze 10 million people a year into the park. Our existing base of tourism won't do it.

But where are we to squeeze them in when they want to stay for the night? We have had virtually no net addition to hotel rooms for seven years and occupancy rates are already back to 80 per cent. They have rarely in the past exceeded 90 per cent. A total of 1,400 rooms at the park itself is much too few to answer this problem.

The answer will probably be Shenzhen. Park guests will be welcomed with open arms across the border. There is plenty of land there for hotel construction, cheap room rates, golf courses all around and Minnie Mouse too if they want her.

So right away we can say good-bye to a big slice of the economic benefit that this park was supposedly to bring us unless we are prepared to shoulder another huge burden of infrastructure cost.

We shall still have costs aplenty, however.

Those visitors will want to come down from Shenzhen to the Disney Park and the West Rail connection will not give them a point to point trip.

Just picture it, up to a thousand minibuses clogging the arteries of the New Territories every morning, spewing out diesel fumes in traffic jams because the container port traffic must use those roads too.

We face a bill of $2.7 billion for infrastructure and $2.2 billion for transport links on this project, they say. You may want to move the decimal place one to the right by the time they are really finished.

And remember that none of it will address any need that you have just now.