The southern part of Hong Kong Island will be transformed into a tourism and leisure hub including a revitalised Jumbo Floating Restaurant, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced in her policy address on Wednesday.
The 44-year-old Aberdeen landmark, which closed for good in March, will be handed over to Ocean Park to turn into a heritage and tourism attraction.
A new water taxi service is expected to go through the revitalised district, creating a new day trip experience for visitors, according to a source.
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To help the tourism industry which has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, Lam also rolled out relief measures worth about HK$600 million (US$77 million) for the sector’s stricken businesses, tour guides and coach drivers. Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing welcomed the measures, saying it would help small travel agencies stay afloat and discourage others from putting their workers on unpaid leave.
Unveiling the government’s “Invigorating Island South” initiative, Lam said it aimed to “develop the Southern district into a place full of vibrancy, vigour and velocity” where people could “work, live, enjoy creativity, leisure and have fun”.
The plan includes revitalising Ocean Park by emphasising its strengths in education and conservation. The loss-making attraction has a water park that will open next summer.
The well-known Jumbo restaurant, which folded for good in March in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, has been donated to the theme park. Lam said government officials will help to get the park and NGOs to collaborate on developing the floating restaurant’s new role.
A source said the restaurant would be self-financing to avoid being an extra burden to Ocean Park and for that to happen, the government must amend the Ocean Park Corporation Ordinance.
The park secured a HK$5.4 billion (US$700 million) government lifeline in May to stay afloat for another year, although questions remain about its longer-term survival as four years of consecutive losses have been made worse by the pandemic which brought tourism to a halt.
The Island South plan will also see improvements to various cultural and leisure facilities including the typhoon shelter and promenade in Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau Main Street, to boost its appeal as an eco-tourism destination.
The source said that while the authorities explore expanding the shelter, a new water taxi route that is being planned could include stops at the revamped shelter, Wong Chuk Hang, Ocean Park, Repulse Bay and Tai O to create a day trip experience.
A waterfront path would also be built to connect Aberdeen and Wong Chuk Hang, the source added.
In her speech, Lam said the government would explore developing a water sports centre at the rehabilitated Shek O Quarry site, which the sports industry expects will provide athletes a formal sailing centre for training and a place enthusiasts will also enjoy.
Lam proposed converting or redeveloping old industrial buildings in Wong Chuk Hang as spaces for the arts and culture sector, as well as other emerging industries.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing described the ideas as a medium term plan and welcomed developing the whole area instead of focusing only on Ocean Park.
“This will make it easier to secure support from the legislature,” he said. “In the past, the government only stressed one specific point when formulating tourism plans, but now, its vision is broader.”
But Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the opposition-dominated Southern district Council, said some residents had already expressed concerns that their neighbourhood might see an influx of visitors.
He hoped government officials would keep the district council informed of developments.
Another district councillor, Tsui Yuen-wa, was worried that transport facilities would be overloaded after the transformation, and urged the authorities to study the issue carefully.
The new relief measures for the tourism sector will see each licensed travel agent with 10 employees or fewer receiving an allowance of HK$100,000. Those with 11 or more workers will get HK$10,000 per employee. This is expected to benefit about 1,700 travel agents.
Every travel agency worker, freelance tour guide and tour escort who relies mainly on the sector to earn a living will receive a one-off allowance of HK$15,000. They are estimated to number about 19,000.
About 3,400 coach drivers who mainly serve tourists will receive a one-off cash handout of HK$6,700.
Lawmaker Yiu welcomed these measures as earlier government wage subsidies are due to end this month. He said they will enable small travel businesses to survive for several months and larger firms might hold back in putting their staff on furlough.
“That will depend on the application procedures,” he said, hoping officials will keep procedures simple for the sector to receive help.
Additional Reporting by Lilian Cheng and Cannix Yau
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