Ocean Park in cash plea for survival

Bosses seek at least US$12.8m to tie loss-making facility over as it undergoes overhaul to become destination with more retail and dining while losing theme-park image

HONG KONG’S beleaguered Ocean Park has asked the regional government for another hefty cash lifeline to ensure the attraction survives as it undergoes a change in business model in the coming years, according to reports.

Ocean Park has been closed since December after a fourth wave of coronavirus infections hit the city. It has also suffered losses as a result of mainland China tourists staying away from Hong Kong due to the social unrest of 2019.

The South China Morning Post reported that the park in the Southern district of Hong Kong Island needed at least HK$100 million (about US$12.8 million) a month to cover operating expenses.

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It is understood that park bosses want to make the venue less of a theme park and more of a destination. Fairground rides and other attractions would occupy the mountaintop area of the park while ground-level sections would become a retail and dining zone with free entry for visitors.

In recent years Ocean Park has also marketed its meetings and events facilities which feature a theatre and cocktails area with meet and greets with a selection of the park’s animals.

The government has agreed to support conservation and education work at the park with HK280 million annual subsidy and a deferment of loan interest till September 2028. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the park should reduce facilities that were not cost effective and steer developments towards an overall tourism strategy for the city’s Southern district.

Local tourism leaders have welcomed the proposals, saying it reduced the risk of the park’s losses continuing for years to come.

Tourism-sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said management were tackling major issues by proposing a private developer for the lower section of the park and scrapping entry fees for that section.

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Businessman Alan Zeman, a former chairman of Ocean Park who now sits on an advisory board for one of the park’s forthcoming attractions – Water World – told radio station RTHK that 2,000 people had been employed by the park and it would play a vital role in Hong Kong’s tourism development.

A Fullerton Hotel is also due to open at the entrance to Water World while a Marriott is located near the entrance of Ocean Park.

Brian King, professor of tourism at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the overhaul was necessary to encourage local people to start reusing the park followed by tourists.

“There were losses for several years before the government was injecting funds,” King told RTHK, but added: “This is a very different business model and that kind of change is not easy to bring about.

“For the Ocean Park Corporation that changed management transition will be a big challenge, but I think it’s an important, necessary one.”

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