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Disney fever


HONG KONG: Tan Fang is saving up again.

She did so several months ago when she bought a home in Nanjing in East China's Jiangsu Province, but this time she is counting her "kuai" for a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland, which opened on September 12.

"I need several thousand yuan for air tickets, accommodation and tickets to the park," the 25-year-old trading firm employee says, who earns about 3,000 yuan (US$370) a month.

"I'll need a few more thousand than that, actually, because I'll want to shop in Hong Kong."

Tan is not the only mainlander who is planning an expensive trip to the Magic Kingdom.

Located on tranquil Lantau Island, west of Hong Kong Island, Asia's second Disneyland theme park after Tokyo, Japan, is drawing tourists and their cash from across the world to this city of six million.

"It's like putting a gigantic automatic teller machine in Hong Kong," says Kwan Cheuk-chiu, associate professor of economics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"The benefits are huge."

The park will likely bolster tourism, improve consumer confidence, and raise economic morale, Kwan adds. Estimates show the park could boost Hong Kong's economy by HK$148 billion over the next 40 years.

The city's tourism sector is already feeling the effects. A total of 12,000 online tickets sold out on opening day, according to Disneyland Communication Specialist Maggie Lee.

"The park has received a strong response from travellers," she says, adding that the theme park's hotel rooms have also been heavily booked by Disney fans from across the world.

It is estimated that 15,000 tourists visited on the first day, which only opened after 1 pm.

Tickets are even becoming hard to come by.

"You must be kidding," says a receptionist at a China Travel Agency outlet in Wan Chai, when asked if tickets were available.

"They all sold out. Tourists are crazy about Disney. You might get lucky after the Mooncake Festival."

The traditional Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 18 this year.

The park offers 36,000 tickets a day. An adult ticket on peak days (weekend and holidays) is HK$350.

The costs quickly add up, though. Food and special programmes are extra, of course.

Disney's Lee says souvenirs, clothing, food, key chains and pins are among the best-selling items. These extras bring in a lot of money, but Lee will not comment on how much.

Disneyland is not the only winner. Other tourist attractions in Hong Kong are either already benefiting or are anticipating increased business in the near future.

Hong Kong Ocean Park, one of the few sites in the city that requires advance tickets, expects to do well with the Disneyland opening.

"We actually expect it will take away some of our visitors in the early days," says Glendy Chu, Ocean Park's Public Affairs Manager.

"But in the near future, we think, as a lot of people have expected and hoped, the entire local tourism industry will benefit."

The aquarium has a HK$5.5 billion redevelopment plan in progress and more expansion plans over the next two to three years in anticipation of more tourists.

There are also more sightseers on The Peak, which offers fantastic views over the harbour and Kowloon. A nearby shoe salesman says he has definitely noticed a higher number of travellers.

"We're not counting, but it's quite unusual that there are so many people in the off-season."

The city's retailers have long been prepared for the huge influx of visitors, as they are every May and October when large numbers of mainland Chinese spend their holidays in "shopping paradise," as the city is dubbed.

Renowned jewellery dealers Chow Sang Sang and Chow Tai Fook are capitalizing on the Disney craze. Chow Sang Sang offers Mickey Mouse-shaped finger rings and gold figurines of Mickey and his girlfriend Minnie, at prices ranging from HK$600 to HK$14,000.

"A lot more customers are coming to our shop these days. They come for Mickey and Minnie products," says Cheng Ching-hung, a salesgirl at Chow Sang Sang's Causeway Bay outlet.

Chow Tai Fook launched a series of products based on Disney's princesses.

"They are very popular," says shop assistant Sandra Ho.

Both businesses refuse to release sales figures from the past week.

Big shopping malls are also cashing in on the hoopla.

"We had 90,000 customers on each of the first two days," says Teresa Zhang, public relations representative with SOGO Hong KONG Co, which is located in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong's busiest shopping district.

"I am confident the numbers will increase."

Disney fever is cleaning out the stock at stores that sell Magic Kingdom products.

"Mickey is so popular," says Wa Wa, a salesclerk at Disney chain store Trendyland.

"We're getting more and more customers, and most of them are from the mainland."

The store has increased their orders to meet the growing demand.

Disneyland has also created a lot of new jobs for Hong Kong residents. The theme park has hired waitresses, drivers for tour buses, and actors and actresses to play characters such as Snow White and Goofy. Lee says the park has employed 5,000 people, 95 per cent of whom were locals.

Source: China Daily 09/19/2005

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