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Editorial:Ocean Park's financial crisis

【明報專訊】THE government has suggested setting aside over 10 billion dollars for Ocean Park in support of the park's ''new positioning strategy development plan''. Looking in detail at the park's finances in recent years and government documents, one can see that Ocean Park is already facing a crisis, with capital drying up and the park unable to repay its debts. If no capital is injected to prop up the park, it will exhaust its cash balance within this year. Its future is hanging by a thread.

Ocean Park was opened on 10 January 1977. Though just past its ''birthday'', the park is in a predicament that hardly inspires excitement or smiles. Because of heavy losses, the park earlier announced that none of its workers will have a salary raise for the coming year. It also called on its workers to retire early. The figures and information newly disclosed by the government can even be said to be harrowing.

The government has proposed one-off financial aid of $10.6 billion for the park's rescue and in support of its ''new positioning strategy development plan''. It has also delayed two government loan repayment periods and exempted interest payments. The government hopes that the park can surmount the current financial difficulties and enhance its competitiveness in the medium-to-long term so as to handle intense competition from other theme parks in the region.

Looking back at the past, the fortunes of Ocean Park have been a reflection of the development of Hong Kong to a certain extent. The birth of Ocean Park marked Hong Kong's gradual rise to prosperity, with people pursuing family-friendly leisure facilities of higher quality. However, thanks to the ageing of its facilities, Ocean Park began to lose its shine in the late last century. Hong Kong's economy embarked on a new journey after the Asian financial crisis and the 2003 SARS epidemic. Mainland China expanded the Individual Visit scheme, and Ocean Park began a vast expansion scheme in 2005. The number of visitors began to grow steadily, reaching a height of 7.7 million in the financial year of 2012/13. But the park also attracted criticism for over-reliance on mainland visitors.

Now the park has sustained losses for four years in a row, losing more than $200 million every year. This shows that the park's management has long been problematic. In recent years, the number of visitors to Hong Kong has reached one high after another. The number of entries into the park, however, has fallen instead of risen. Ocean Park has been with Hong Kong people for decades and carries many people's fond childhood memories. At the same time, it is also an important brand of Hong Kong tourism. Though it is absolutely not ''too big to fail'', one cannot talk easily about giving up on a brand of so many years' standing before attempting reform and rescue. Ten billion dollars is not a small number. In-depth discussion is necessary to decide whether to inject that amount of money into the park. The government must make sure that public money is properly spent and will bring about a desirable economic effect. Ocean Park must take stock of the pain and introduce radical reform to the park's management. The government has a responsibility to closely monitor the development of the park and come up with some benchmarks for the medium term as the yardstick by which to measure the park's operation. Furthermore, the government should also think about a long-term developmental strategy for tourism in a comprehensive manner and think about how to make its attractions and sources of tourists more diversified. Over-reliance on mainland visitors and one or two theme parks is not healthy for the sustainable development of Hong Kong tourism.

明報社評 2020.01.14:海洋公園陷財政危機 救亡改革須痛定思痛

政府建議向海洋公園撥出過百億元,支持海洋公園全新定位策略發展計劃。細看近年園方財政狀况以及政府文件,海洋公園實際已面臨資金枯竭、無力還債的危機,若沒有及時注資救亡,今年內將耗盡現金結餘,前景堪虞。

海洋公園1977年1月10日開幕,剛剛過了「生日」,然而當前海洋公園的處境,實在難以叫人心感興奮笑嘻嘻。由於虧損嚴重,早前園方宣布全體職員下年度凍薪,又呼籲員工提早退休。政府最新披露的數據和資料,更是觸目驚心。

政府建議一次過撥出106億元資助救亡,支持海洋公園的全新定位策略發展計劃,同時推遲兩筆政府貸款的還款期、豁免相關利息。政府希望協助海洋公園克服眼前財政困難,以及在中長期提升競爭力,應付區內一眾主題公園的激烈競爭。

回顧歷史,海洋公園盛衰變化,某程度也是香港發展的寫照。海洋公園的出現,標誌香港逐步走向富裕,市民追求更優質的合家歡休閒娛樂設施,然而隨着設施老化,上世紀末海洋公園漸漸褪色。亞洲金融風暴以及2003年SARS疫潮後,香港經濟再上路,內地開放自由行,海洋公園亦於2005年展開大型重建擴張計劃,入場人次穩步上升,2012/13財政年度達到770萬的高峰,惟亦惹來過度依賴內地遊客的批評。

公園連續4年虧蝕,年年蝕過2億元,反映園方經營管理早有問題。近年訪港旅客數字屢創新高,可是入園人次不升反跌。海洋公園陪伴港人數十個年頭,盛載了不少人的美好童年回憶,與此同時,它亦是香港旅遊業的重要品牌,雖然絕非「大到不能倒」,可是在未作改革救亡之前,亦不宜輕言放棄一個建立多年的品牌。撥款百億元不是小數目,撥款與否須從長計議,當局必須確保公帑用得其所,帶來理想經濟效應。海洋公園方面必須痛定思痛,在經營管理等方面大刀闊斧改革,政府有責任密切監察公園發展狀况,定出一些中期指標,作為檢視公園營運狀况的標準。此外,政府亦應全盤思考長遠旅遊發展策略,如何令景點多元化、客源多元化;過度依賴內地旅客和一兩個主題公園,對於本港旅遊業可持續發展,並不是健康現象。

■Glossary

set aside:you set something aside for a special use or purpose, you keep it available for that use or purpose

fortunes:the good and bad things that happen to a person, family, country, etc.

sustain:to experience sth bad

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