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






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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