Ocean Park’s rebirth: Is another round of HK$1.66 billion financial package enough to revitalize the business?

With only one legislator voting against it, the Hong Kong Legislative Council almost unanimously approved a rebirth plan for the Ocean Park on March 19, which includes a HK$1.66 billion non-recurrent funding to help to cover its operating costs and capital expenditure. The plan also includes a four-year recurrent subvention capped at $280 million per year, starting from 2022-23 to 2025-26. In addition, the government has decided to waive the interest of the previous $5.4 billion loans to the Ocean Park, leading to a $4.03 billion revenue foregone. The commencement date of such $5.4 billion is deferred by seven years to September 2028, and the final date of maturity is deferred to March 2059.

Ocean Park in operation on June 11, 2016. (Photo: Shirley Wang)

The rebirth plan focuses on four aspects:

  • Strengthening its effort in local wildlife conservation and education.
  • Reshaping the lower park area to a free Retail, Dining, and Entertainment Zone.
  • Linking the upcoming Ocean Park Water World (plan to open in August) to a set of new southern shoreline activities.
  • Constructing a Wellness-themed Zone and an Adventure Zone.

“Saving the park and embarking on a new area (south island) could certainly save jobs and open up new job opportunities,” said Edward Yau, the Secretary for Commerce & Economic Development, “this is the rationale behind the financial package.”

In January 2020, Ocean Park initially proposed a $10.6 billion funding to revitalize its business. Opponents stressed that it might be better to demolish the Ocean Park for residential use, as it can increase both the value of the land and the housing supply. As the pandemic gradually took place, the financial situation of Ocean Park worsened even more. Forced to close for over 100 days under the impact of the pandemic last spring, Ocean Park received no ticket revenue yet had to pay a monthly $140 million on essential expenditures, such as taking care of the over 7500 animals living in the park. Without government funding, Ocean Park might only last until June 2020. Thus on May 29, the Legislative Council Finance Committee approved a $5.4 billion funding for the Ocean Park to keep it afloat for another year.

A keeper is feeding the penguins at the Ocean Park on June 11, 2016. (Photo: Shirley Wang)

Yet the pandemic was not the only factor to blame. In fact, Ocean Park began to undergo an increasingly larger deficit ever since the year 2014-15. As with attendance, after a peak of 7.7 million in 2012-13, the attendance gradually falls to 2.2 million in 2019-20. Even with the opening of the South Island Line and the completion of the Ocean Park MTR station in 2017, the situation was not significantly improved.

Ocean Park was officially open to the public in 1977. During its 44 years’ business, it is positioned as a public recreational and educational park, operating on a self-financing basis. The Legislative Council describes Ocean Park as “a Hong Kong brand cherished by the Hong Kong people”, and that it also gains significance in terms of contributing to environmental education and scientific research.

This year, the Ocean Park reopened on February 18, and requires an online reservation within 14 days prior to the visit. The park-wide visitor capacity is reduced to not more than 18,000 people, 50% of the usual level. Timothy Ng, the Executive Director, Operations and Entertainment at Ocean Park Corporation, said on its reopening day that the reservation for upcoming weekends “is optimistic”, in terms of “several days are already fully-reserved.”

Visitors wait in line to get into Ocean Park on March 23, 2021. (Photo: Shirley Wang)

But what attracts the visitors is not solely the facilities in the Park. Ms. Lam, who visited the park together with her mother this Tuesday, said that the reason for her visit was that she had two free tickets offered by her company.

Mr. Yau, who was on vacation and took his family to the park this Tuesday, also mentioned a special ticket offer as his reason to visit. “The Ocean Park has a well-priced package with a nearby hotel,” said Mr. Yau, “so I thought it would be nice to take my family to enjoy.”

As for a younger couple, Ms. Chen and Mr. Sok, their visits were meant to make their Unlimited Entry Pass worthwhile, before the entry pass expires on May 31.

“But we both like animals very much,” said Ms. Chen, “so we also visited the Ocean Park quite a lot before we bought the entry pass.”

There are many species of fish, including Manta rays, at the Ocean Park. (Photo: Shirley Wang)

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