I for one will miss Allan Zeman. My kids used to visit Disneyland. But long after they grew tired of Mickey and Minnie, they still demand, even today, to visit Ocean Park. The billionaire father of Lan Kwai Fong has done wonders for the theme park. For that, he deserves our thanks. But now maybe it's time for him to move on.
While still recovering from the nadir reached during the Sars outbreak in 2003, Ocean Park was lucky to have him as chairman at the invitation of the government. He not only helped revive its fortunes, but in the process gave Disneyland a good run for its money. He proved a homegrown theme park could be just as valuable, if not more so, than an imported one created at great costs to taxpayers.
It's unfortunate he now leaves his post with some bitterness, as he told the media that he was basically forced out by the government after 11 years.
"I felt kind of angry for a while because I hadn't discussed it with the government beforehand," he said. Referring to his success, he added: "You know, when you have a winning combination in business, you don't break the combination."
Well, this cuts both ways. During his tenure, the number of visitors rose to 7.73 million last year from the low of 2.95 million visitors and a HK$4 million deficit in 2003. Last year, the park achieved a HK$127.2 million surplus. Eleven years is a long time. Why not quit on a winning streak? Of course, Zeman was helped mightily by the influx of mainland visitors who now flood the park and don't necessarily mix well with the locals.
Still, you've got to love the guy who was willing to dress up as a pumpkin, a witch, a Viking or cross-dressed in fishnet stockings, and who swam with sea lions and dolphins and basically did anything to promote the park.
In his Wikipedia biography, it's said he made his first C$1 million [HK$7.2 million] by the age of 19 while working for a lingerie company in Canada. The first million is always the most difficult to make for a self-made entrepreneur. So perhaps he was paying tribute with his sexy stockings to his own early business acumen, which he brilliantly reapplied to Ocean Park.
Hong Kong has treated Zeman well. He has given us plenty in return.