英文

Editorial : Ocean Park on the brink of bankruptcy

【明報專訊】FACING bankruptcy if its cash dries up next month, Ocean Park is asking the authorities for a funding of more than $5.4 billion to keep it afloat. To a certain extent, the company's plight is a reflection of the entire tourist industry of Hong Kong. As one of the pillar industries of the city's economy, tourism has borne the brunt of the dramatic political and social changes in Hong Kong last year. The business environment that relied on tourists from the mainland has ceased to exist. The pandemic of Covid-19 has made things even worse, as if it were a nail in the theme park's coffin. Ocean Park's shutdown will affect thousands of jobs, a social cost that needs to be seriously considered. However, if the tourist industry cannot recover, it is doubtful whether Hong Kong can support a major tourist construction like a theme park in the long run. Apart from the question of saving Ocean Park or not, the city must also think about the positioning of the tourist industry as a whole. Whatever changes to the industry's direction and their consequences must be clearly thought over. It should not be supposed that one can have the best of both worlds.

It takes more than a cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep. Although Ocean Park has seen rising revenues in recent years, its operating costs have also been increasing rather than decreasing. The company has reported deficits in its financial results for four years in a row. When the anti-extradition storm dealt a serious blow to the city's tourist industry, Ocean Park also suffered a disastrous decline in its business. At the beginning of this year, the government proposed allocating $10.64 billion to subsidise a redevelopment of the park. But various political parties expressed reservations, pointing to the excessive amount of money involved. At that time no one expected that there would be even harder blows ahead. Ocean Park has been closed for more than three months since the outbreak of the pandemic at the end of January. Despite the company's announcement of salary cuts for its top management and unpaid leave arrangements, basic expenditures on the feeding and taking care of animals cannot be reduced. Ocean Park has been receiving zero visitors and zero revenue amid the pandemic, but the expenditure remains at $140 million every month. It even has to pay off a commercial debt of billions of dollars by the end of this year. According to the authorities' latest comments, the company will soon run out of its cash flow. It will go bankrupt as early as next month unless the government bails out the theme park.

The shutdown of Ocean Park in the short term will cost thousands of jobs. As the 2,000 full time workers employed in the theme park as well as employees of related industries will be affected, the cost will be huge as far as people's livelihood is concerned. Moreover, how the large number of the park's animals should be handled to avoid an "animal disaster" must also be considered. Letting Ocean Park close down hastily may not be appropriate, but it is indeed necessary to rethink the theme park's market position and future. If Hong Kong's tourist industry is unable to recover henceforth, the operation model of a major theme park will be unsustainable. In that case, all sides of society must face the reality and think about whether it is better for the pain to last shorter.

Although the number of mainland tour groups visiting Ocean Park has dropped over the past few years, travellers from the mainland are still the main source of the park's income. The outbreak of the anti-extradition storm has brought about a fundamental change to the business environment for Ocean Park as well as the city's tourist industry. Xenophobic feelings harboured by some people towards mainlanders are now expressed more openly, intensively and violently. Mainlanders' desire for travelling to Hong Kong is a far cry from before. Even if the pandemic is over, Ocean Park still has to think about the question of its visitor source. Sole reliance on the domestic market is simply not enough to support Ocean Park on its current scale.

明報社評2020.05.12:海洋公園存亡臨眉睫 兼顧理想現實定前路

海洋公園現金下月用盡面臨倒閉,需要當局撥款逾54億元「吊命」。海洋公園的困境,某程度是本港整個旅遊業的寫照。去年香港政治社會環境遽變,作為經濟支柱之一的旅遊業首當其衝,以往依賴內地客的經營環境不復存在,疫情更令業界雪上加霜,對海洋公園等儼如催命符。海洋公園倒閉影響以千計就業職位,社會代價需要考慮,可是如果旅遊業無法回復舊觀,香港長遠是否「撐得起」主題公園這類大型旅遊基建,亦是一個疑問。除了處理海洋公園存亡,香港亦要思考整個旅遊業的定位,無論改變方向還是後果都要想清楚,不能假設魚與熊掌必可兼得。

冰封三尺非一日之寒,近年海洋公園收入雖見增長,惟營運成本亦有增無減,連續4年業績「見紅」;反修例風暴重挫香港旅遊業,海洋公園生意更是一落千丈。政府今年初建議撥款106.4億元,資助海洋公園全新發展,多個政黨均表保留,認為金額太高,未料更嚴重的打擊尚在前頭。隨疫情爆發,海洋公園1月底起關閉,至今超過3個月。雖然園方宣布高層減薪,又推出無薪假安排,可是餵飼照料動物等基本開支不可減少。疫下海洋公園零入場零收入,每月開支卻要1.4億元,年底更要歸還一筆數以十億元計的商業貸款。據當局最新說法,園方現金流即將用盡,若政府不撥款拯救,最快下月倒閉清盤。

海洋公園短期倒閉,數以千計市民的飯碗亦會打爛,受影響的除了園內2000個全職職位,連帶相關行業員工亦可能被波及,民生代價巨大;如何善後園內大量動物,避免出現一場「動物災難」,亦是必須考慮的問題。任由海洋公園倉卒結業,未必是合適做法,然而公園的定位和前途,確需重新考慮。如果香港旅遊業一蹶不振,大型主題公園模式變得不可持續,社會上下也得面對現實,思考「長痛不如短痛」的問題。

過去數年內地團遊海洋公園有下降趨勢,可是內地客仍是園方重要收入來源。然而隨着反修例風暴爆發,海洋公園乃至香港旅遊業的經營環境,亦出現根本變化,部分人對內地人的排拒情緒公開化、白熱化甚至暴力化,內地人來港意欲亦遠不如前。即使疫情過去,海洋公園也要思考客源問題。單靠本地人市場,根本無法撐得起現在海洋公園的規模。

■Glossary生字

run out (of sth) : to use up or finish a supply of sth

bail out sb : to rescue sb from a difficult situation

a far cry from sth : a very different experience from sth

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