Hong Kong’s Ocean Park seeks $1.4 billion renovation

The Hong Kong government has unveiled a plan to renovate Ocean Park, the territory’s water theme park. The plan would cost $1.4 billion (HK$10.6 billion).

The park has lost money over the past four years, with losses reaching $77.5 million (HK$557 million) in the year to June. He attributed the losses in various ways to the cost of investments and repairs necessitated by a typhoon.

Since June, when Hong Kongers began taking to the streets to protest government actions, the park has reportedly suffered a further 30% drop in visitor numbers.

On Monday, park operators and the Hong Kong Tourism Board said the park would run out of money this year if it did not receive financial aid. In addition to the new injection of cash, the park is requesting the postponement of the repayment of two government loans for up to eight years and the elimination of interest on the loans. One of those loans was used to build an income-generating hotel, which opened in February last year.

The park said new funds would be spent to turn it into an action-adventure resort. Over a period of seven years, he wants to build seven new themed areas and add 20 new attractions. Some existing attractions would be demolished.

Ocean Park Chairman Leo Kung Lin-cheng said the revamp would help it attract more visitors and improve Hong Kong’s overall attractiveness. Kung expects 5 million visitors in the 2022/23 financial year and 7.5 million in 2027/28.

“We want to help the park weather this financial storm, we also need to invest in the future,” Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said. He argued that the plan shows government support for the tourism industry which has been hit hard by the street protests.

The proposal must be submitted to the Legislative Council (Legco), the equivalent of a parliament in Hong Kong. The pro-democracy Civic Party said it would oppose the funding proposal. He argues that the park has been losing money even in peak years. Lawmaker Jeremy Tam said the renovation plans are purely conceptual with no guarantee they would improve visitor numbers and debts remain unpaid.

Even the park’s proposal to reduce its marine exhibits did not sit well with animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “As long as Ocean Park’s dolphins are still trapped in cramped tanks, they will continue to suffer…Ocean Park’s decision to end its dolphin shows but keep the animals as a tourist gimmick is an ethical opportunity “Leaving animals alone is best for the future, best for business, and best for the animals,” said PETA Vice President Jason Baker.

The debate over Ocean Park’s finances will be of major interest to Hong Kong Disneyland, the territory’s newest and most-visited theme park. HKDL, 53% government-owned but run by Disney, has posted profits and losses in the 14 years since it opened on land near the airport. It has also been criticized by lawmakers, some of whom argue that Disney shouldn’t be paid management fees in the event of a loss.

operate ashore Provided free of charge by the Hong Kong government, Ocean Park straddles a headland, two sides of a mountain, and prime real estate on the south side of Hong Kong Island.

The two parks in Hong Kong are challenged by the growing number of large-scale attractions being built in mainland China. A dozen Chinese companies operate some of the world’s most visited theme parks, while international operators Merlin Entertainments, Disney and Universal are also targeting the continent’s growing middle class on their own turf, rather than persuading them to cross the borders. Disney opened its showcase park in Shanghai in June 2016, while Universal is set to open its first in China in 2021.

Ocean Park’s 43-year financial history has itself been a roller coaster. For the first ten years of its existence, it was owned and operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a charity. In 1987 it became a statutory body and later a non-profit Ocean Park Corporation.

In the early 200s it was expected to close under competitive pressure from HKDL, but a master development plan in 2005 saw Ocean Park expand, survive, and in 2014 become the 13th most visited theme park in the world. The 2005 plan also made a local hero out of former Canadian fashion entrepreneur turned property developer and occasional film producer Allan Zeman.

Harold B. McConnell