So sees big pic in Disney plan

The government is investing "real money" in Hong Kong Disneyland's HK$10.9 billion expansion project to draw more tourists to the SAR, not so much to generate revenue, said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung.

Flora Chung

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The government is investing "real money" in Hong Kong Disneyland's HK$10.9 billion expansion project to draw more tourists to the SAR, not so much to generate revenue, said Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung.

His remarks came after the 11-year- old theme park bared on Tuesday a six- year development plan involving the construction of two new theme zones based on the hit movie Frozen and Marvel superheroes, a revamped castle and a new performance venue.

So told a radio program yesterday that during the first 10 years since its opening in 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland generated more than 58 million visitors who made additional spending of HK$136 billion in Hong Kong. Such spending, he said, brought an additional HK$74.9 billion to the SAR, accounting for 0.38 percent of gross domestic product.

While taxpayers will be forking out HK$5.8 billion and Walt Disney Co the rest for the expansion, questions had been raised as to whether it is worthwhile for the government to inject capital into the theme park, which suffered a HK$148 million loss last year. Questions also stem from the fall in attendance to 6.8 million in the last fiscal year, down significantly from 7.5 million in the earlier period.

"We aren't doing it for the purpose of adding money to the government's treasury," So said. "Instead, we are improving our infrastructure to attract more visitors [to Hong Kong] so the city's economic efficiency can be boosted."

He said some of the park's new attractions - including the one based on Star Wars which opened in June and the "Iron Man Experience" ride to be launched in January - did not involve government capital injection.

"They were built with capital from Disney and the profit that we kept in the joint venture," he said. "But this time, we are both putting real money into it, which shows the park's confidence in Hong Kong."

So admitted the government would need "superpower" to get Legislative Council approval for funding, adding that he saw no reason for any change in the park's shareholding ratio at this point. The government holds 53 percent of shares and Disney the rest.

He played down worries that Frozen and Marvel might lose their appeal by the time the two themed zones are completed by 2020 and 2023.

Terrence Chong Tai-leung, associate economics professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the government should not inject capital into the expansion plan and suggested it should instead develop a new theme park to attract long-haul travelers.

Tourism-sector lawmaker Yiu Si- wing said the government should take back the site in the second phase of Disney if it does not have plans to develop it.