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Ocean Park bailout plan by Hong Kong government will help fund attraction's revival, not just 'stop the bleeding', tourism commissioner says

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 14/1/2020 Sum Lok-kei
a group of people jumping in the air: The theme park in Aberdeen is hoping to secure a massive rescue package from the government. Photo: Sam Tsang © Sam Tsang The theme park in Aberdeen is hoping to secure a massive rescue package from the government. Photo: Sam Tsang
  • The HK$10.6 billion plan will shore up theme park’s finances and drive its resurgence, Joe Wong says
  • CEO of the attraction aims to double visitor numbers by 2027

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.

The park’s attendance this year is expected to drop to about 3.3 million due to the ongoing Hong Kong protests, which were triggered in June by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

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.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia. 

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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