- Bigger and better attractions across the border and the park’s lack of branding power mean there is no guarantee it can get the tourists back
Ocean Park is a significant part of Hong Kong's collective memory. As the city's only home-grown theme park, it has brought joy to generations over 43 years. But with bigger and better attractions in the Greater Bay Area, visitor numbers are in decline and it is in severe financial trouble, prompting management to turn to the government for HK$10.64 billion to cover loans and a revitalisation plan. Given the size of the sum requested, a crucial question has to be asked: should the park be allowed to sink or swim?
The government has already bought the idea, believing that Ocean Park remains an important facet of Hong Kong's tourism industry and job market. But competition from mainland attractions, particularly the similarly themed but substantially bigger Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in Zhuhai, has dented its appeal. Three years of financial losses, and an inevitable fourth as a result of the civil unrest that has scared off tourists, have nullified the impact of a HK$5 billion hotel opened a year ago and a HK$310 million cash injection by the government in 2018. An overhaul is seen as the best way to resuscitate the theme park.
Ocean Park in pay freeze as visitor numbers slump amid Hong Kong protests
A mix of an amusement park, aquarium and zoo, Ocean Park has relied on government help to survive. The 91.5-hectare site at Aberdeen was provided free by authorities, who have oversight of its operations. Pandas and a Chinese giant salamander, the world's largest amphibian, along with sharks, exotic fish and performing dolphins and seals, are among the attractions. A cable car, rides and restaurants draw out the experience. In an era of high entertainment expectations, it can easily be perceived as old-fashioned and stale.
Circumstances are markedly different from when Disneyland opened in Hong Kong in 2005; the American theme park has an image and appeal quite apart from Ocean Park's. But while both are suffering from the downturn in visitor numbers and struggling financially, the home-grown hero does not have powerful branding and corporate backing. The envisaged expansion plan involves the creation of seven specific zones and 20 attractions over the coming seven years. It intends to steer away from animal shows and focus on exhibits and displays on environmental and marine conservation and education. But HK$10.6 billion is a huge amount, even at a time of government largesse. There is no guarantee Ocean Park can turn around its fortunes, particularly with so much uncertainty about the return of tourists. Some critics contend a solution lies in a management overhaul. Citizens and lawmakers alike have to scrutinise the plans and consider their worth. As emotional as we may feel about the theme park, we do not want another "white elephant" infrastructure project, nor a drain on our finances.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.查看原始文章