Many want Zeman to stay at Ocean Park; does C.Y.?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2012, 12:00am


Allan Zeman's future as Ocean Park's chairman hangs on the decision of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, since the city's outgoing leader is said to be fine with the businessman serving another term.

Zeman has presided over the theme park's board for nine years, three years beyond the usual six-year limit for heads of statutory bodies.

But Zeman says he is keen to stay on after his term ends on June 30 - the day before Leung takes over - and there are calls for him to do so.

Supporters point to Zeman's success in beating back the challenge from the city's other government-owned theme park, Hong Kong Disneyland, which was expected to take customers from Ocean Park. Instead, the American theme park on Lantau has struggled while Ocean Park has prospered.

Michael Wu Siu-ieng, head of the Travel Industry Council, said as Ocean Park, a key tourist attraction, was undergoing expansion, 'it would be good to have [Zeman] steer the park during this period'.

Paul Leung Yiu-lam, chairman of the Association of Travel Agents, said he agreed Zeman should stay on.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will consult Leung on appointments, said a spokesman for his office, and Ocean Park falls into that category.

The current administration has no problems with Zeman staying on, according to a person familiar with Ocean Park's operations.

For his part, Zeman said if he was not reappointed, his successor should be innovative and business-minded. 'You have to be crazy and creative, with a sense of humour,' he said. 'There is a certain culture the park has built up throughout the years, but it is also a business.'

Since Zeman became the park's chairman in 2003 it has set eight entry records and achieved record profits. Indeed, Zeman himself is a centre of attention in the park's publicity events, always appearing in kaleidoscopic outfits.

The naturalised Chinese citizen, who renounced his Canadian citizenship and has been in Hong Kong for more than four decades, said he had kept in contact with the park every day in the past nine years. 'I call my CEO [Tom Mehrmann] every day even when I am overseas,' Zeman said.

Ocean Park has faced controversies under Zeman's leadership. For instance, its proposal to import six near-threatened beluga whales from Russia last year was dropped only after mounting pressure from environmental groups.

It has also yet to deal with tenders for the construction and management of two planned hotels as part of an expansion launched under Zeman. The last tender exercise failed because of a lack of interest.

Nevertheless, park board member Greg Wong Chak-yan has praised Zeman for his role in helping the park withstand Disneyland's challenge.

Wong said whoever became chairman would need to have a capable business mind and show political tact. 'The park must be financially sustainable and it will be not be acceptable to ask the government to subsidise its operation because half of the clients they serve are non-residents,' he said.