Hong Kong has more to worry about than competition from Shanghai’s Disneyland

City has to reinvent itself – and drop its anti-mainlander attitude – if it is to attract tourists from across the border and beyond

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 11:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 11:53pm

Jitters about competition from Hong Kong Disneyland’s big brother on the mainland are a bit premature. There is enough to worry about now without fretting about the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in June. The Lantau Island theme park, a central pillar of the city’s tourism industry, marked its 10th anniversary with a HK$148 million deficit in the year to last October, its first loss since 2011 and a huge turnaround from the previous year’s profit of HK$332 million.

A slump in tourist arrivals from the mainland has hit Hong Kong Disneyland a year ahead of the lighting up of a rival that is three times as big, with a further drop in visitor numbers forecast this year. As a result, 23 per cent fewer mainlanders visited Disneyland.

After a decline of 2.5 per cent in overall tourist numbers last year, the Hong Kong Tourism Board predicts another 1.8 per cent fall this year, which some industry insiders regard as optimistic. Ocean Park, reeling from the same trend, has announced plans to seek new markets in Asia and boost its retail and food sectors.

READ MORE: It’s a slow year after all: Hong Kong Disneyland reports first annual business loss since 2011

Disneyland should take note. However, looking deeper, the picture is not all bleak. Managing director Andrew Kam says the loss also reflects a significant increase in investment in several new attractions aimed at drawing more visitors. This raises the question of how to make Hong Kong a more competitive destination for a global market. While not denying that our Disneyland will take a hit from the opening of Shanghai’s, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung says the Shanghai park highlights more Chinese characteristics, while Hong Kong is an “international playground”. That concept needs to be fleshed out to build on Hong Kong’s image as an Asian world city.

Unlike tourist destinations blessed with drawcards like ocean playgrounds, ski resorts, game parks, natural wonders of the world and so on, anyone can do theme parks. And they are proliferating in the region, including the biggest theme park in Asia on Hengqin island near Macau. Not only do we face such competition in our own backyard, but mainland tourists are increasingly bypassing Hong Kong for overseas destinations.

Continued investment in the park by the government and Disney is therefore paramount, along with promotion of the city as a unique visitor package. There is another cloud in Disneyland’s outlook that only Hong Kong people themselves can disperse – anti-mainlander sentiment, which has a negative impact on Hong Kong’s image as a safe, welcoming city. Sadly, it is compounded by violent incidents such as the Mong Kok riot.