Universal Studios has outlined plans to build a huge new theme park in Beijing. Some observers took the news as another sign that international firms are choosing to bypass Hong Kong when it comes to setting up new tourist attractions.
The Universal Studios park in Osaka is much bigger than that in Singapore, and the one to be built in Beijing is even bigger. Now, this reminds me of Disneyland Park in Hong Kong, which is a mini version compared with the new one in Shanghai.
Hong Kong has very limited space and a high density of population. Given this situation, we should not compete with others in size.
We have theme parks like Disneyland and Ocean Park. What we need to do is to offer more considerate arrangements like Singapore, such as installing water dispensers at proper locations. Tourists will feel the thoughtfulness from these small extra efforts.
The existing theme parks in Hong Kong have very convenient transport facilities. Ocean Park is at the exit of the Aberdeen Tunnel, and only takes 20 minutes drive from downtown. The park is also close to other tourist spots like Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay, Jumbo Kingdom, and Aberdeen Bay. Visitors can arrange a one-day trip to this district at ease.
As for Disneyland Park, it won’t take too much time to visit the park on weekdays. Tourists can arrive at the nearby Inspiration Lake before sunset, and go for shopping and dinner at the Citygate outlets later. That can be a well-planned one-day trip. Tourists will need only 30 minutes to return to downtown.
The proximity and convenient transport between downtown and tourist attractions is a key advantage of Hong Kong.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised that Universal Studios chose to give Hong Kong a miss. The city, we should bear in mind, has severe land constraints.
Hong Kong does not have room for more big theme parks at the moment. Besides, the city should focus on quality rather than quantity.
Rather than fret about new attractions going elsewhere, local authorities should focus on improving the existing facilities and developing the available resources.
They should, for instance, step up efforts to improve transport and promote the country parks in Sai Kung in New Territories East and Hong Kong Geopark in the central part of New Territories.
As for shopping, deep-pocketed shoppers enjoy the good service and environment in first-class shopping malls in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. While we need to cater to market demand, we should also try to keep the characteristics of Hong Kong rather than just offer luxury stores.
Border shopping malls have much lower rental costs than those in downtown, and thus they should focus on low-cost consumable goods for tourists.
These shopping malls would also be attractive for tourists in terms of both transport and costs. As for those who are willing to spend more, they can come to the downtown.
Tourism may not account for substantial percentage of the city’s GDP. But it can help create many jobs, and boost growth of various sectors. In this case, it’s more meaningful to develop tourism than focus on a specific industry that only benefits a small group of people.
Though Hong Kong government is keen to develop tourism, the actual results have not been up to the mark. Authorities should try to address the issues, rather than put the blame on “gouwu” shopping protests by locals for the decline in visitor numbers and a weak retail environment.
Thailand and Taiwan both have encountered various political issues, but managed to recover swiftly. Hong Kong can achieve the same if the government listen to and works together with local citizens.
WY Jimmy wrote this article, which appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 18.
Translation by Julie Zhu
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