Hong Kong’s tourism commissioner has defended the government’s plan to pump HK$10.6 billion into struggling Ocean Park, saying it was not simply a short-term move to “stop the bleeding”.
Joe Wong Chi-cho said on Tuesday the proposal would allow the theme park to make money and reinvent itself as a top attraction.
In a paper to the Legislative Council on Monday, the government outlined a HK$10.6 billion (US$1.4 billion) plan for the “strategic repositioning” of the city’s home-grown resort.
The park said on Monday it would not be able to repay HK$2.3 billion in commercial loans within the next two years.
It also borrowed HK$3.67 billion from the government to build two hotels and a water park, with the money due to be repaid in 2021.
The government also considered it necessary to release further funding to help the park transform into an adventure-themed resort by 2027, the document reads.
During a radio programme on Tuesday, Wong twice dodged questions on whether the Hong Kong Island attraction would need more cash injections in the future.
Wong said the plan aimed to enable the park in Southern district to build up funds and continue upgrading facilities to maintain its competitiveness.
“It is not a short-term [measure] like applying a bandage to stop the bleeding,” Wong said.
Wong noted the park offered free entrance to people aged 65 and above, and to Hong Kong ID card holders on their birthdays.
“Let’s not strike off Ocean Park’s contribution to Hong Kong, especially for specific communities,” Wong said.
“It is hard to find theme parks in the world that lets the elderly in for free.”
The park’s entrance fees are HK$498 for those over 12 and HK$249 for people aged three to 11.
Asked if he was confident the plan would have enough support from lawmakers, Wong said: “We will try our best, if people care for Ocean Park they should support [the plan].”
The plan requires approval from Legco’s Finance Committee, which is dominated by pro-government legislators.
Wong also hinted the park’s finances would dry up soon.
“Our documents [to lawmakers] have made it clear. By the end of the year the park won’t have enough funds to repay the debts,” Wong said.
On the same radio programme, park CEO Matthias Li Sing-chung said he hoped to increase annual visitor numbers to about 7.5 million by 2027.
“At an average [annual] patronage of 7 million, the park’s finances will become relatively stable,” Li said.
He said the redevelopment plan would help differentiate Ocean Park from other theme parks in the region.
Lawmakers will discuss the plan during an economic development panel meeting next Monday.
Meanwhile, the park also said it would scrap its dolphin show, an attraction animal rights activists had long criticised.
A park spokeswoman said the marine mammals, including dolphins, would be moved to an exhibit at a new attraction called Explorer‘s Wharf scheduled to be ready in 2023-24. It would provide a multi-species environment tailor-made for marine mammals, and underwater viewing opportunities.
The dolphin show would cease by the time the mammals moved to their new home.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said it was ready to help relocate the dolphins to an accredited coastal sanctuary.
“Ocean Park’s decision to end its dolphin shows but to keep the animals as a tourist gimmick is a missed ethical and financial opportunity,” Peta vice-president Jason Baker said on Tuesday.
“As long as dolphins at Ocean Park are still trapped in cramped tanks, they will continue to suffer.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong government unveils HK$10.6 billion plan to bail out ailing Ocean Park, in expansion that will create new themed zones and attractions
- Ocean Park to seek Hong Kong government help for HK$10 billion bid to revive ailing resort