Government has role to play in makeover of Disneyland

Recent lay-offs and last year’s HK$148 million loss underline difficulties that the theme park is facing amid falling visitor numbers and fierce competition

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 1:09am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 1:09am

Hong Kong Disneyland’s laying off of dozens of employees speaks volumes of the challenging times ahead for the theme park that’s majority owned by the government. Visitor numbers are down, the first loss in revenue for five years has been recorded and a rival park that’s three times bigger opens in Shanghai in two months. Under a new managing director, it was inevitable that changes were in the offing. But while the tourist attraction has to be more appealing, authorities also have a hand in bringing about a turnaround.

Disneyland has yet to explain last Friday’s dismissals, which involve back-office workers. No exact numbers were revealed, nor was a reason given for the retrenchment beyond that it was an “operational adjustment”. Mystery similarly surrounds Samuel Lau’s replacement last month of Andrew Kam as managing director. There is nothing bewildering about the park’s circumstances, though: it made a loss of HK$148 million last year, visitor numbers having fallen 9.3 per cent to 6.8 million and worse feared as fewer mainland tourists come to our city and the competition from Shanghai Disney Resort looms.

First large-scale lay-offs at Hong Kong Disneyland strike fear in city’s tourism industry

The Shanghai park bills itself as having “Chinese characteristics”, which were long Hong Kong Disneyland’s strength as the only Disney attraction in China. Changing circumstances mean adjustments, though, and healthy competition brings out the best in businesses. Differentiating itself has to be a priority for Hong Kong’s version and offering international appeal is one way forward. But while the new Iron Man Experience ride opening later this year is one such approach, entertainment that can be found at no other Disney park would be an advantage.

Disney manages the park, even though the government has a 53 per cent stake. As US-centric as the company may be, though, capitalising on Hong Kong’s East-meets-West position in the world would be advantageous. The number of mainland visitors fell 23 per cent last year and making our park different from that of Shanghai’s would make sense. But having broader appeal to the region and beyond given competition from other theme parks is also a useful strategy.

Hong Kong’s Tourism Board has a role to play as it promotes our city’s strengths to the world. Disneyland is just one reason for tourists to come to Hong Kong. The theme park needs to reposition itself in the region, build new attractions and be as inviting as possible to visitors, but coordinating its strategy with tourism officials is equally important.