Ocean park

Hong Kong trade pours cold water on planned debt-ridden Ocean Park makeover

Hong Kong tourist agents have cast a shadow of doubt over the financial viability of the government’s multimillion-dollar plan to turn cash-strapped Ocean Park into an adventure-themed resort destination without entry in the next two to three years. .

The fate of the city’s iconic theme park has been decided after the government and Ocean Park Corporation completed a brainstorming exercise to chart a way forward for the park.

The government has committed US$36.1 million to transform Ocean Park into a resort destination focused on education and conservation

As part of this plan, a new ticketless retail, dining and entertainment (RDE) area is to be created in the lower area of ​​the park, which will be managed by a private developer under a development agreement. long-term concession. The RDE area will house public spaces to host outdoor markets and events, a children’s play area and a water playground. Conservation and education related facilities and attractions, including the Grand Aquarium and the soon to be completed Steam Hub, will also be integrated into the RDE area.

In order to become financially viable in the long term, the park will outsource part of its park or facilities to different operators. With this in mind, an a la carte ticketing model is also being considered, in place of the existing one-time payment model, to help increase park attendance.

Other key elements of the revamp include a new adventure-themed area that could feature outdoor attractions, such as Xraycer and Zipline; as well as new wellness-themed areas for activities such as glamping, trekking, meditation and yoga retreats. Some 12 old rides, including Mine Train and Raging Rivers, will be phased out to make way for new facilities, including a range of 26 new rides.

The iconic cable car and Ocean Express will be retained to connect the lower area of ​​the park to the upper area of ​​the park, at the same time it has been proposed to develop a jetty in the lower area of ​​the park at Deep Water Bay so that the public will be able to access the new RDE area by sea in the future. A plan is also being drawn up for the construction of another pier next to Water World in Tai Shue Wan to strengthen connectivity between the two areas.

Slated for a summer opening, the highly anticipated Water World will be the city’s first year-round water park, featuring 27 indoor and outdoor water attractions such as a man-made beach, surfer and eight-lane treadmill. A resort-style cabana will also provide space for meals and relaxation. The operation of this facility will be supervised by the park, at least in the short and medium term, to ensure its rapid opening.

Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Edward Yau said the park will reduce facilities and related expenses that are unprofitable and shift its development focus towards education and conservation.

He added that the transformation of the park “will take time and resources”, thus requiring government assistance in the following areas: covering the costs of conservation and education work in the park for four years, deferring the repaying government loans, extending the repayment period and waiving interest, and providing one-time funding to help the park meet its current financial needs.

Ocean Park Corporation Chairman of the Board, Lau Ming-wai, said, “The new operating model allows us to improve, innovate and reinvigorate the park in the exciting years ahead. Our renewed leadership embodies our vision to make Ocean Park Hong Kong’s leading educational hub, with a strong mission to promote conservation and environmental protection. Leveraging our exceptional location and with the launch of Water World, we are confident that Ocean Park will play a pivotal role in the Invigorating Island South initiative.

However, industry players have questioned the viability of this new business model to support park operations.

While noting that the new operating and pricing models are aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the business, Gray Line Tours President Michael Wu expressed uncertainty about its effectiveness. He said: “I’ve had phone calls from agent friends asking how we can promote the park in the future when the one-time payment model is phased out, and customers have to pay extra onsite for some rides and facilities. .”

Instead, he proposed that the park retain its basic admission fee model, with optional paid rides, citing the example of Chimelong Paradise in Shenzhen, where visitors must pay an entry fee that includes access to the carousel, but must pay a supplement for the shows.

Wu added, “To me, the proposal looks like a big landlord subletting space and living off rental fees. Transformation is just for survival, without any proactive initiative. With a dolphin show off the list, what else can it excite visitors with? »

He also raised doubts about whether a simple focus on conservation, education and natural beauty is able to break even. Although he claims that “the lower hill ticketless area will be a mecca for domestic helpers” and that “the water world should attract more young visitors who rarely see such scale and design in the area “, he also stressed that “in the long term, the park must reinvent itself to remain competitive and attract regular visitors”.

W Travel Service’s general manager, Wing Wong, felt that free admission would not be enough to attract visitors. “As far as I know, mainland Chinese are not keen on ocean conservation and nature protection. Under this new model, I doubt it can generate more revenue if there aren’t some exciting new ideas – these wellness ideas like yoga and glamping are just gimmicks.

“Additionally, although Water World is a year-round attraction, it may face a seasonal demand issue. It can be interesting to earn money in real estate, by developing prime locations in order to generate regular income.

Last year, the park won funding approval from the Legislative Council to sustain its operation for a year. Under the new decision, the government will inject up to HK$280 million (US$36.1 million) in annual financial assistance into Ocean Park for four fiscal years beginning in 2022-23 to support education initiatives. and conservation in its future strategy.