In the doldrums

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2006, 12:00am

At its soft opening six months ago, the Macau Fisherman's Wharf had everything going for it - razzle-dazzle, innovative attractions, perfect location and some of the deepest pockets in town. But today, the island's first themed attraction seems but a shadow of its early self.

The brainchild of tycoon David Chow Kam-fai, the entertainment complex features replicas of historic seaport architecture, an artificial volcano and a number of rides. Perhaps encouraged by the 100,000 people who swamped the New Year's Eve soft opening, Mr Chow projected an annual visitor volume of 25 million - a target that, if met, would put Hong Kong Disneyland to shame.

That would work out at 68,000 visitors a day, compared to Disneyland's - according to tourism insiders' estimates - 6,800. But visitor numbers have dwindled, despite free admission, so the target figures seem unrealistic.

The already slow business was disrupted recently when hundreds of black-clad mourners congregated in the middle of the park. They offered ghost money to the soul of a young man fatally injured there in May, and accused park management of a cover-up. That followed an accident in which a mainland woman was seriously injured on the water ride in January - a mishap that park management has yet to explain. But it is hard to imagine these incidents alone keeping people away from what should be a popular attraction. Poor transport and promotion have been advanced as contributing factors.

There's no taxi stop outside the park, and the nearest bus stop is well away from its main entrance. Taxi drivers, fully aware that there is no easy access to and from Fisherman's Wharf, insist on dropping visitors off at the Sands casino - across a busy highway.

Passengers used to have to take a 15-minute triangular hike from the Sands to reach the park, before a pedestrian crossing was marked on the highway in April. But, without traffic lights, the crossing appears vulnerable and insecure. 'Links are conspicuously missing between the park and the outside world. It seems they need better co-operation with the government,' said property consultant Jim Ng.

When it comes to marketing, advertising for Fisherman's Wharf is almost invisible in Hong Kong and on inter-island ferries. The park's various commercial outlets have been left to their own devices. 'We need to make a noise to show we are surviving,' said Wendy Ng, marketing director of Celebrate Macau, which owns 14 outlets at the park. 'At least the park management should set up signs at the ferry terminal so tourists know how to get here.'

Fisherman's Wharf still seems loaded with promise. It just has to extricate itself from the doldrums.