Shanghai Disney opening is a wake-up call for Hong Kong
The city needs to show its traditional ability to respond to competition and change
Hong Kong has been looking over its shoulder at a rival Chinese Disneyland for years, since even before Beijing gave its approval for the Shanghai park in 2009. The competition finally materialised with the opening of the much bigger Shanghai Disney park this week. It comes at a challenging time, as the Lantau Island theme park reels from a loss of HK$148 million in its 10th anniversary year – the first deficit in five years – a slump in tourist arrivals in the city from the mainland as well as from dozens of layoffs after the replacement of its managing director.
Only 11 years after the opening of the first Disney park on Chinese territory, there are now two out of six around the world. This raises the question whether there is room for two – or more to the point, what does it mean for Hong Kong?
Two located far apart hardly amounts to a crowd in a big country with a population of 1.4 billion – not when parks co-exist in Florida and California in a country with a quarter of the population, and when taking into account China’s growing prosperity. Moreover they feature a contrast between Shanghai’s Chinese flavour and Hong Kong’s more international Disney image. There are, of course, less cheerful scenarios, if emphasis on the positive were to lead to over-confidence and complacency.
Theme parks abound in China and the region amid competition for the tourist dollar. Recently, plans to develop a Legoland park in Shanghai and other visitor attractions across China have been unveiled by Merlin Entertainments. It is all a wake up call for Hong Kong’s renowned ability to adapt to change. That said, Hong Kong Disney has not been resting on past laurels, developing new attractions and a third hotel so more tourists can stay at the park and take in the full Disney experience. That shows the benefits of competition, which has never daunted the city in the past. Hopefully the competition will also help mute, if not disperse, the anti-mainlander sentiment that has clouded our image as a safe, welcoming city.