AIA Great European Carnival - Paris and London comes to Hong Kong

A total of 27 rides along with recreations of the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben complete the continental theme of event on Central Harbourfront

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 6:31am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 1:50pm

The AIA Great European Carnival is back, promising to be bigger, more fun and better organised.

Last year’s edition was a good lesson for the two-month-long event – which returned after an eight-year hiatus on the Central Harbourfront – when many of the 25 rides were still getting government approval and licences after it already opened.

As a result, recalls carnival founder and chief executive Michael Denmark, the fair “kept morphing”, with new rides being added right up to the last week of its run. That made it hard for the organisers to market the event, and for the public to understand exactly what the carnival was about.

“In hindsight [it was] a fun challenge but at the time, there wasn’t a lot of smiling going on ... apart from the people who were coming to the carnival.”

And many did go. By the time it closed, the funfair received more than 830,000 visitors and became one of the most popular public events last year. Denmark was pleasantly surprised.

“We had to share the message that ‘we are open but we are not quite what we want to be yet because we had rides sitting around’,” he says. “And while we were doing that, we were working with the government to get the rides open. The public, because there hasn’t been a carnival in Hong Kong for [eight] years, came along anyway.

“We ended up with 25 rides, some of them only opened in the last week but we were happy with that because we were building relationship with ... not only the government but also the general public, and with schools and charities.

“Remember it was straight after the umbrella movement, the timing was quite good for people to be smiling. Now we are two weeks away [from opening] and we are in a very, very different situation. We have permission for all the rides to be built and then they will get tested.”

SEE ALSO: Behind the scenes at last year's carnival

This year’s challenge is to figure out how to fit in all 27 rides, says the carnival’s chief operation officer Robyn Joseph.

“In addition, we’ve spent a lot of time all year thinking about how we are going to demonstrate and play up our European theme,” she explains.

“So this year we have a 12-metre high Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. Everyone loves doing their selfies on the shanty last year, the volume of photographs was huge. So this year we’ve gone 3D, so we have the London area, the Paris area and so on.”

And because the carnival will straddle over several festive periods – Christmas, New Year, Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day – Joseph says they are building a rolling programme “so we will start to differentiate the different periods through the entertainment”.

Other than the rides, which will remain its main attractions, the AIA Great European Carnival will introduce the Luminarie, a light show from Italy that will come on in the evenings. The outdoor ice-skating rink will also return. There will be other educational programmes, including behind-the-scenes “physics” tours of the rides for school students.

“What we try to do over the year is to give main ingredients of the carnival – such as the games, the cuddly toys, and the rides such as the dodgem cars and the carousel; we want to mix that up with new attractions,” says Denmark.

This year they also have a new neighbour, the Udderbelly Festival Hong Kong, which comes in the form of an upside down purple cow. Denmark says instead of vying for visitors, the theatre festival will complement the carnival: “It’s just another one of many attractions that make the whole [event] really good experience.”

One of the carnival’s biggest assets is its prime location and Denmark’s company can use the space for one more edition next year.

“I am not sure what the land is going be afterwards ... whether the government will build on the land or extend the tender,” says Denmark.

“I think the government has become very excited about what’s been happening on the site. The carnival is a big show, but there have been so many other community-related events, I think the government has seen the positive side of it.”

He hopes the carnival will be invited back: “We want to be here for the long term. We want to establish a tradition.”

The most rewarding part for Denmark last year was seeing the look on the children’s faces, which made him realise how important the event is to this generation.

“For many children it was the first time they had seen anything like that. We were met with all of the operational challenges, but we were also rewarded by seeing the happiness and the wonder of the kids,” he says.

The Great European Carnival, December 17 to February 21, 2016, HK$125 for adults (including HK$100 worth of tokens), and HK$90 for children (including HK$70 worth of tokens). Inquiries: 2524 6433