Historically, Hong Kong was a bridge between the Oriental, Chinese civilization and Western civilization. The 20th century was marked by the establishment of the British control over Hong Kong and it is only by the late 20th century, in 1997, Hong Kong became a part of the mainland China. At the same time, in spite of the century of the domination of Great Britain over Hong Kong, the region still preserved its traditions and culture. Moreover, even under the British control Hong Kong managed to develop its traditional culture and religion. On the other hand, Hong Kong has acquired entrepreneurial spirit of the British and incorporated it into the local culture. In this respect, one of the most popular attractions of Hong Kong, the Big Buddha, may be viewed as a bland of the traditional Chinese culture and the British influence because this attraction combines the element of tradition Chinese culture, religion and philosophy, Buddhism, and elements of the western culture, entrepreneurship. In fact, the Big Buddha, being originally destined for Buddhist monks, became a commercially profitable attraction very soon and, today, it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Hong Kong.
On analyzing the history of the Big Buddha attraction, it should be said that the attraction is relatively new, though ideologically and spiritually it is grounded on the traditional oriental philosophy which has persisted for centuries. In this respect, it is important to underline the fact that the construction of the Big Buddha was started at the beginning of 1990 and it was accomplished by 1993. In fact, the Big Buddha represents a large, even huge, statue of Buddha executed in bronze. The statute is located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island in Hong Kong (Florida, 2002). The statue was constructed near the Po Lin Monastery and was originally supposed to constitute an integral part of the monastery and become a cult object for monks of the Po Lin Monastery. In accordance with Buddhist traditions, the state of Buddha symbolizes the harmonious relationship between men and nature, people and religion. Apparently, the Big Buddha has a profound religious meaning for the local population and monks, but, along with its traditional, religious significance, the Big Buddha has acquired an important commercial significance because in the course of time it became a popular tourists’ attraction. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the Big Buddha is the largest and the tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue in the entire world. In such a way, the uniqueness of the Big Buddha in Hong Kong increases the interests of tourists and attracts visitors not only from China and countries, where Buddhist is traditionally popular, but also from other countries, including western countries. In fact, it is due to its uniqueness the Big Buddha soon evolved from the object of religious cult into a popular attraction, which attracts tourists from different parts of the world.
At this point, it should be said the history and the construction of this statue contributed to the growing interests of tourists to the Big Buddha. In this respect, it should be said that the construction costs of the Big Buddha were estimated to be up to $68 million. At the early 1990s, it was a very substantial investment into the statute which was originally destined to Buddhist monks and their worshiping. The statue was formed out of 202 separate pieces of bronze. In addition to the exterior components, there is a strong steel carcass inside the statue to support the heavy load and wind pressure. In such a way, it was not only the costs of construction that disrobed the minds of tourist but also the exterior and magnitude of the statue, which made it extremely popular among tourists as well as local population. It should be said that the construction of such a giant statue with the use of bronze, which is quite an expensive material, was very unusual for representatives of western countries who get used to the rational use of funds and who were not accustomed to such posh constructions, which had little practical value, but was only an object of art and cult.
On the other hand, the uniqueness of the statue became its main advantage which keeps attracting tourists from different parts of the world. However, it is worth mentioning that the Big Buddha has proved its tourists attractiveness since the opening of the statue. When the statue was completed, monks from around the world were invited to the opening ceremony. Distinguished visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the United States all took part in the proceedings (Edgell, 2006). In actuality, it is possible to view the opening ceremony as a part of the promotional campaign of the Big Buddha which contributed to the growing popularity of the attraction worldwide. No wonder, soon after its opening the Big Buddha became a popular tourists’ attraction. In the course of time, the Big Buddha and its image became a popular brand which grew more and more commercialized. For instance, in 1999, the Hong Kong Post Office issued a stamp depicting the Tian Tan Buddha, while the MTR Corporation has also issued a tourist souvenir ticket featuring a photograph of the statue (Novelli, et al., 2005).
As a result, today, the brand of the Big Buddha, as a tourists’ attraction, is renowned worldwide and attracts many tourists annually. At the same time, it is important to analyze the actual potential of this attraction and evaluate possible threats to its commercial development because it is obvious that, today, the Big Buddha faces more and more challenges from the part of other tourists’ attractions which are constructed in Asia as well as in other parts of the world offering tourists larger opportunities to visit unique and original places. In this respect, the SWOT analysis can help to reveal strengths and weaknesses of the Big Buddha attraction as well as its opportunities and threats.
First of all, it should be said that one of the major strengths of the Big Buddha is the permanent attention to the statue from the part of the local population and monks that allows the maintenance of the attraction in a perfect state. In other words, the worshipping of the Big Buddha contributes to the attention of the local attention to the positive look of the statue, cleanness, and attractiveness of the statue. In addition, monks regularly organize ceremonies which are an essential part of their religious life, but these ceremonies are additional factors which contribute to the growing popularity of the Big Buddha among tourists from other countries of the world as well as from China (Florida, 2002). At the same time, the religious implications of the statue attracts Buddhists from all over the world.
Furthermore, it is necessary to remember about physical peculiarities of the statue which also attract a large number of tourists. For instance, the Big Buddha is the tallest outdoor seating statue in the world. This is why tourists are always willing to attend the site to view this unique statue, which, along with its huge size, is covered with bronze that produces a profound and positive impression on tourists as well as Buddhists because the use of bronze underlines the magnitude of the statue for tourists and the power of Buddha for Buddhists (Knapp and Sherwin, 2005). At the same time, it should be said that the Big Buddha has a double destination: on the one hand, it can be used as a tourists’ attraction, while, on the other hand, it still remains an object of the religious cult, Buddhism.
On the other hand, the religious background of the Big Buddha can be viewed as the weakness of this attraction because, being an object of worshipping among Buddhist, the statue is likely to evoke negative feelings and emotions in representatives of other religious movements.
In such a way, the religious background of the Big Buddha deprives the attraction of a significant number of tourists which are unwilling to attend the site because it is offensive for their religious views and beliefs. However, in the modern, cosmopolitan and atheistic world, this weakness is outweighed by strengths of the attraction.
Also, the huge size of the statue and the location of the statue can be viewed as another weakness because the statue is located at the island which makes it less accessible to tourists compared to attractions which are located in the large cities or on the mainland. In addition, the location of the Big Buddha at the island raises the problem of the transfer of tourists that means that to deliver tourists to the attraction it is necessary to organize stable transportation that increases costs of the maintenance of the attraction.
Nevertheless, the Big Buddha still has ample opportunities to attract a large number of tourists annually. In this respect, it should be said that all problems related to the transportation can be easily solved due to the use of modern technologies and promotion of the attraction. In fact, if the number of tourists attending the Bug Buddha is constantly growing, it will decrease costs of transportation and maintenance of the attraction due to the high capital turnover due to the large number of tourists attending the site. In addition, it should be said that there are few modern attractions which have a religious background and which have a significant spiritual value. What is meant here is the fact that, as a rule, modern attractions are constructed for the sake of maximization of profits of companies that are using the attractions.
The main goal of these attractions is to entertain tourists, while the Big Buddha, along with purely entertaining functions, performs an important cultural function and, what is more, it is still the object of cult and worshipping for Buddhists. Hence, it is a significant site not only for ordinary tourists but also for religious pilgrims and worshipers. In this regard, the Big Buddha is really unique and different from many other modern attractions. In addition, it is necessary to remember that Hong Kong is a part of China, which was historically close to foreigners, while the statue of Buddha is a part of Chinese culture and philosophy (Murdaugh, 2005). Therefore, the Big Buddha will also attract tourists due to its cultural value since it reveals a part of Chinese culture which has been hidden from tourists arriving from western countries, for instance.
However, it is necessary to remember about the existence of significant threats to the Big Buddha as the attraction facility. For instance, many Buddhist are very critical in relation to the use of the Big Buddha as an attraction for tourists. Instead, they insist on the limitation of the access of tourists to the statue and worshipping the Big Buddha as the object of Buddhist religious cult. Therefore, in the future, conflicts between Buddhists and local authorities can emerge because of the use of the statue as an attraction.
Furthermore, there is a threat of the decreasing popularity of the Big Buddha because of the decreasing role of religion in the modern world.
Obviously, when people become more and more atheist, they prefer to attend religion-free attractions and sites. In addition, the modern consumerist society tends to the entertainment, which the Big Buddha cannot offer. At any rate, in this regard, the Big Buddha cannot compete with leading recreational sites of the Gulf region, for instance, or the Caribbean, or Europe, or other renowned touristic centers.
In addition, there is a threat of the perception of the Bug Buddha as a kitch statue. In fact, this is a modern statue, which though executed in the traditional style, resembling statues which were constructed hundreds of years ago, but, unlike these statues, the Big Buddha does not have such a historical value as ancient statues do. Consequently, tourists may prefer to attend ancient sites, instead of the Big Buddha.
Nevertheless, at the moment the Big Buddha produces a positive impact on the local economy. In fact, it is hardly possible to estimate that the Big Buddha, being a popular attraction facility, is boosting the local economy, but it definitely stimulates the economic growth in the area due to the large number of tourists attending the site. In addition, the Big Buddha has already become a popular brand and companies, such as MTR Corporation, attempt to profit from the use of this brand as they issue tourist souvenir tickets featuring a photograph of the statue. In such a way, the brand or image of the Big Buddha stimulate the development of the local souvenir industry, while the development of tourism stimulates the growth of not only tourist industry in the area, but also hotel and resort industry, transportation, and it encourages the development of the local infrastructure that also produces a positive impact on the local economy.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the Big Buddha has become a very popular tourists’ attraction, which combines characteristics of a noteworthy landmark and a remarkable religious object. The statue has a significant cultural and religious value, while the magnitude of the statue attracts a large number of tourists which have never heard about Buddhism and which are not acquainted with local culture and traditions.