Date : 2005-09-13World’s newest Disneyland boosts Hong Kong tourism
Neville de Silva - Diplomatic Editor Asian TribuneLondon 13 September ( The world’s fifth Disneyland theme park that officially opened yesterday, would further boost Hong Kong tourism, fast recovering from terrorism in the US and disease in China.

Though the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York four years ago and the SARS epidemic in China serious affected Hong Kong’s tourism, arrivals last year reached an unprecedented 21.4 million visitors. This year Hong Kong tourism authorities expect even higher arrivals boosted by the world’s fifth Disneyland. Hong Kong, with a population of just seven millions, expects 28 million or more visitors this year.

Hong Kong’s new chief executive Donald Tsang said at yesterday’s opening: “ The arrival of the world’s most widely recognised and best-loved theme park in Hong Kong will allow us to provide visitors from all over the region with a fun-filled and diversified experience.”

Here in London, Kevin Welch, regional director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board enthused about Hong Kong’s recovery.

“Hong Kong is a resilient place with a resilient industry,” Welch said. “Though some markets have been slow, we expect boom conditions after Disneyland’s opening.”

He said that UK and other European markets that come under his overall purview have proved to be excellent this year. So has Australasia.

According to Welch, UK is the biggest market to Hong Kong from Europe.

This is probably because of Britain’s colonial connections with Hong Kong. After 150 years of administering the colony that the British once called a “barren rock”, Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997 and became a special administrative region of China. Today UK, Germany and France provide some 55% of the regional market share of tourists to Hong Kong.

Though Hong Kong is relatively small in size compared to some other Asian, African or western destinations, it has emerged as the 14th largest tourism destination in the world.

“People do not realise what Hong Kong has to offer the visitor,” says Welch.

The World Tourism Organisation estimates that if current trends continue, by 2020 China will top the world’s tourism destinations and tiny Hong Kong will not be far behind probably climbing to be the 5th most popular destination.

“The Hong Kong tourism industry is very lucky to have a supportive and helpful government that has provided a focus for tourism,” said Kevin Welch.

After the SARS epidemic affected Hong Kong tourism, the territory’s government almost doubled the budget for the industry allocating $470 million.

In order to boost tourism to the region Hong Kong is doing joint marketing and promotion with other popular Asian destinations such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, Welch said.

“In many ways Hong and Singapore are the same. Singapore has more transit business with Australia. So the stay in Singapore is slightly shorter.”

Hong Kong, being closer to China, has several advantages that Singapore does not have.

Welch says that Disneyland is one of the four major new products that will be available to visitors over the next six months. One is the Wetland Park that opens in January/February next year.

“Many people do not realise that Hong Kong is not just tall concrete buildings. It has a green side that has not been appreciated.”

As Welch, a veteran in the tourism industry, points out 40% of Hong Kong’s land area has been given over to national parks.

There is the new cable car that will be running from Tung Chung to the world’s biggest bronze seated Buddha statue on Lantau Island that will also open around next February.

The Asia World Expo new exhibition and congress centre by Hong Kong’s international airport, doubtless one of the best in the world, will open this December.

Welch says that Hong Kong tourism is built on four pillars.

1. Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise with all international designer labels available.

2. It is easily one of the world’s culinary capitals.

3. It has its own culture and heritage that are different from mainland China. That includes Feng Shui, Chinese medicines and local festivals.

4. The city harbour green sights and skyline is unique.

With such variety to offer and new tourist interests being created, the forecast is that arrivals from Europe will be over the 1.1 million that came last year.

The Disneyland theme park that was ceremonially opened yesterday is a joint venture of the Walt Disney Company and the Hong Kong SAR Government.

The government estimates that the first phase of this project will generate a present economic value of HK$148 billion (US$19 billion in benefits to Hong Kong over a 40-year period.

The project was first announced in 1999 and construction began in 2003.

- Asian Tribune -