No agreement yet on Disneyland in H’tota or Disney visiting SL

Safrah Fazal

In the backdrop of a press release claiming to be issued by State Minister of Tourism Diana Gamage’s media unit and a letter by the US-based Walt Disney Company making the rounds on social media, Gamage confirmed to The Morning that no such communiqué had been sent to the media by her team pertaining to the confirmation of Disney officials visiting the country and Disneyland being set up in Hambantota as reported by a local English daily newspaper.

Citing a press release issued by Gamage’s media unit, the English daily newspaper had reported that South Asia’s first Disneyland was to be set up in Hambantota and that Gamage was invited by Disney’s Senior Vice President of Investor Relations Alexia S. Quadrani for discussions into a $ 18 billion investment.

However, speaking to The Morning yesterday (24), Gamage said that while discussions are still ongoing, fake information about this has been spreading on media and social media channels.

“There was no such press release sent by me. Discussions into this (Disneyland being set up in the country) are underway, but details of this are being fabricated, and fake news is being circulated.”

She added that while discussions will be carried out during the first week of November, it is still undecided if she will visit the US for the discussions or if the Disney officials will arrive in the country.

“By 4 or 5 November, we will be discussing this with the officials of the Walt Disney Company on this. I am not certain if I can go. It is unlikely that I will be able to go due to the Budget. Whether they will visit us or I will go is still uncertain. I will reveal further details in the coming days.”

When The Morning queried as to whether the location for Disneyland has been decided as Hambantota, Gamage stated that a location is yet to be confirmed, although Hambantota seems a favourable option due to the beach and the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.

“Nothing has been confirmed thus far on the location. Such reports have been fabricated. However, Hambantota is being considered due to the beach and it will also allow us to make use of the Mattala Airport. People have been criticising the Mattala Airport because it was used to store paddy. We have to pay off the debt to the Chinese for these projects. So how can we pay off the debts without making use of it? Let people do their mudslinging. I’m not concerned about that. What we need are money and tourists.”

When The Morning also queried as to whether the selection of Hambantota as the location to set up Disneyland would be perceived as an image building project for the former President and incumbent MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family, Gamage said: “Hambantota is not the Rajapaksas. It is a part of Sri Lanka. Hambantota does not belong to them.”

Citing a press release allegedly issued by Gamage’s media unit, a local, national English daily newspaper had reported yesterday that South Asia’s first Disneyland is to be set up in Hambantota and that Gamage was invited by the Walt Disney Company for discussions into a $ 18 billion investment. The press release had stated that Gamage had received an invitation by Quadrani and will be visiting “Burbank in the US next month to discuss initial plans for a $ 18 billion investment in Sri Lanka”.

It had further stated: “Quadrani said that while we are unable to provide further details, an investment would be in the range of $ 16-18 billion” as it “would provide a much needed financial injection to Sri Lanka in order to mitigate the US dollar crisis.

At present, there are three Disneyland parks in Asia in China, Hong Kong, and Japan, and the initial announced investment for the Disneyland theme park in Shanghai, China, was $ 3.5 billion in 2001.

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