It’s not all about Disney: Hong Kong has a wealth of tourist attractions, and we must make the most of them

Ken Chu says the opening of the new Shanghai Disneyland should not be seen as a threat to Hong Kong’s tourist numbers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 5:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 6:50pm

Disney finally opened a US$5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai in June. It is three times the size of Hong Kong Disneyland and has more attractions. The theme park is forecast to attract 15 million visitors in the first year, compared to 6.8 million visitors received by Hong Kong Disneyland last year.

The Shanghai Disney resort has unsettled the tourism industry in Hong Kong. Some in the industry see it as a threat because mainland visitors won’t need to come to Hong Kong to experience the magical kingdom of Disney. Some even point out that Hong Kong’s tourism industry is at risk because there aren’t any new or upcoming tourism attractions in the foreseeable future, while more and more attractions will be launched on the mainland in the next decade. It is reported that at least 20 new theme parks are scheduled to open on the mainland this year.

To me, Shanghai Disneyland isn’t really a threat. The market for Shanghai Disneyland differs from our Disneyland, and Shanghai faces its own challenges. Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin has said that the admission fees for the Shanghai Disneyland resort are too high, and the cold and damp winters of Shanghai will take their toll on visitor numbers.

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Is our tourist industry in decline? I admit we could still do more for our tourist industry. As the old Chinese saying goes, if one fails to keep moving forward, one is bound to fall behind. We must continue to look for ways to sustain the growth of our tourism industry, which is one of the key pillars of our economy.

Singapore is a salient example. Its efforts in the 1970s to develop the island of Sentosa into a tourist destination paid off beautifully. The island attracts 20 million visitors a year. Is there anything we can learn from Sentosa in developing tourism on Lantau Island?

What we should do now is keep innovating, and learn from others’ mistakes and successes so as to revive Hong Kong’s past glory as the Pearl of the Orient.

The success of a city’s tourism does not rely upon one mega theme park, and people do not travel abroad solely to visit a theme park. A number of factors are at play to push and pull people to travel to a foreign destination.

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An example of a push factor is a tourist’s strong home currency relative to the one in the country he is considering visiting. An example of the pull factor can be the exotic scenery in a foreign country that one cannot find back home. A combination of push and pull factors will motivate travellers.

If Hong Kong wants to attract a foreign visitor, these are the fundamentals that we ought to consider: whether or not we have the unique selling points; whether or not we have the ability to continuously offer new attractive landmarks and experiences; and whether we make every visitor feel welcome, that their money was well spent and that the city is convenient and safe to move around. More importantly, we must not forget to exploit opportunities presented by new travel trends in wellness, adventure and cultural tourism.

The trick is to keep rolling out new offerings so that different tourists can find what they want

Of course there are always threats. In terms of “software”, our hospitality service standards are said to be declining. In terms of “hardware”, we don’t have any new tourist attractions on the horizon. Besides, even if we want to expand our existing famous tourist destinations, there simply is not adequate physical space for further development or expansion.

Hong Kong was recently named the world’s most expensive city. High hotel rents and consumption may deter tourists from certain income groups. Like any other industry, tourism needs market segmentation to appeal to tourists with different levels of spending power and diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. For Hong Kong, the trick is to keep rolling out new offerings so that different tourists can find what they want in our city.

Take New York and Singapore as examples. Both are expensive cities, but this does not stop people flocking to the Big Apple or the island state. Last year, New York lured about 60 million tourists from around the world, compared to 59 million visitors for Hong Kong.

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To boost Hong Kong as one of the world’s top tourism destinations, I do see opportunities.

We enjoy unique advantages that make our rival cities envious. We are part of the prosperous mainland whose outbound tourists are growing richer than ever before. Furthermore, we don’t have the same cold winters as we find in Shanghai or New York that might dampen outdoor mega shows and signature activities such as the annual Lunar New Year parade.

Tourists are looking for personalised and sophisticated experiences abroad

Additionally, changes in demographics and demand among global tourists offer opportunities. Tourists are increasingly heterogeneous because they are looking for personalised and sophisticated experiences abroad. They don’t just go to a foreign destination to shop, eat and stay in a hotel for a few days. They want new experiences, seeking, for example, the excitement of extreme sports, self-improvement, spiritual rejuvenation, indigenous culture and opportunities to participate in nature conservation, relief work and so forth. That’s why we need to continuously build new tourism infrastructure and introduce new service offerings to reignite excitement.

Hong Kong is blessed with a unique and diverse environment to cater to the needs of traditional as well as new tourists. We have first-class hotels, superb restaurants with Michelin stars, and glamorous shopping malls. We are endowed with natural wonders and lush country parks. We have many temples in the urban area and century-old clan houses in the rural areas for cultural and heritage tourism.

Competition for visitors is not solely determined by one mega-scale theme park. There are many factors that influence the decisions of tourists, and Shanghai Disneyland is no cause for alarm.

Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a national committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference