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







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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