Hong Kong’s Ocean Park will receive a total of over HK$2 billion of government financial assistance over the next four years, Commissioner for Tourism Joe Wong announced on Monday. The bailout comes as management at the troubled Aberdeen attraction plan to revamp the theme park into a leisure destination in a bid to recover from serious cash flow difficulties.
HK$1.12 billion will be doled out in HK$280 million yearly payments over four years from 2022. The government will also provide a non-recurrent handout of HK$1.67 billion pending approval from the Legislative Council.
Wong said the government will also be seeking to waive interest payments for the park’s existing loans and defer repayment until September 2028, with a repayment timeline extended to 2059. The goal was to “create room for financial flexibility” as the park carries out a complete operational overhaul.
“Before the park repositions itself, we expect the park to experience [a] cash shortage… that’s why the government deems it appropriate to provide short-term assistance,” Wong said.
The park’s existing financial difficulties were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced it to close for more than two thirds of last year, according to Chairman of the Board of the Ocean Park Corporation Lau Ming-wai.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said the new relief measures were necessary to ensure the park continues its education and conservation efforts, saying the existing loan interest rate of 5 per cent was too heavy a burden on the embattled theme park. He added that government assistance provided to the park last year had almost been exhausted amid the pandemic-related difficulties.
Yau referred to the positive economic benefits the park had brought to Hong Kong’s economy and its education and conservation work as justification for government assistance: “Ocean Park is more than a theme park, more than roller-coasters… We need certain support to allow it to continue and flourish,” he said, saying the new proposed overhaul will “unleash its potential.”
The ultimate goal is for the park to eventually become “financially sustainable” and “self-financing in the coming years,” said the secretary.
The new relief measures coincide with the unveiling of new plans by Ocean Park management and the government to revitalise the park, with the lower grounds to be rebuilt into retail, dining and entertainment zones with performance facilities. The new area will be open free-of-charge to the public and run in conjunction with third party operators.
“We feel the park should be innovative rather than [be a] traditional theme park,” said Lau, adding that it will continue to operate its animal conservation work.
The revamp proposal includes a pay-as-you-go means of payment for new rides in the upper park. The board chairman said he hoped the new arrangements will present a more affordable option to enjoy the park’s facilities and attract more members of the public: “Pay as you go and new operators can allow flexibility for the public.”
A portion of the park’s existing rides will be retired as part of the restructure, with a possibility of temporary ride installations akin to the yearly AIA carnival in Central.
Responding to whether the proposal was too diversified, Lau said the complex will not be “mutually exclusive” from the park’s education and conservation efforts, adding that park management will select third party operators and endeavour to incorporate the park’s educational and conservation ethos into the new resort.
The park’s new Water World attraction is set to open in late summer. Other proposed initiatives include bungee-jumping and yoga facilities. The new attractions will be in operation as early as autumn 2022.
“[Ocean Park] is an important landmark and we don’t want this to be a long-term liability,” Lau said, adding that the restructure will create a “net job creation effect”in the long run.
He added the park will refocus on education and conservation efforts beyond the park itself: “The key to continue education and conservation both within and outside of Hong Kong.”
The new plans will play a “key role” in Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s new initiative to revitalise Hong Kong island’s southern district into a new arts and cultural hub, Secretary Yau said.