Ocean Park must rise to new challenges

After 40 years in business, the theme park that most Hongkongers have visited needs to adapt to changing trends in tourism and the concerns of animal-rights groups

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 2:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 2:37am

For many Hongkongers, Ocean Park is the stuff of childhood memories. With annual attendance figures in the past reaching seven million, there is only a minority of us who have never set foot there. Indeed, the marine theme park is like a collective memory for generations of people who have visited over the past 40 years. Chances are that your parents first took you there years ago and that you have returned with your children.

How Hong Kong’s Ocean Park got off the ground 40 years ago

It is also a Hong Kong success story. From humble beginnings as a venue for family outings, the park on the southern tip of Hong Kong Island now features more than 80 attractions on a 915,000 square metre site. More than 100 million visitors have passed through its doors since it opened in 1977. In 2006, Forbes.com named it one of the top 10 most popular amusement parks in the world. Many tourism websites and guidebooks also say it is one of the must-see attractions in the city.

Unfortunately, reputation and accolades are not everything in the world of entertainment. As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, the oceanarium is also facing new challenges. It recorded a deficit of HK$241 million last year, the first shortfall since 2003, when the city’s economy was badly hit by the outbreak of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome.

As it is one of the pillar attractions in the tourism industry, Ocean Park has significantly contributed to our economy. But it has also been forced to restructure its business because of the changing tourism environment. In line with the decline in number of tourists arriving from the mainland in recent years, the park’s attendance plunged by nearly 19 per cent to six million last year.

Hammerhead shark dies at Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, cause of death still being investigated

While the newly opened MTR station there has made the park more accessible, it remains to be seen whether it will bring more visitors.

Increasing the numbers is only part of the challenge. As animal-rights awareness grows, zoos and aquariums are facing more criticism for keeping animals in captivity for enjoyment and research. Whether Ocean Park remains successful depends on how it rises to the challenges.