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Tourism

While Hong Kong Ferris wheel faces possible closure, counterparts in London and Singapore are on the up

Singapore’s 165-metre Flyer nearly went bankrupt after five years while the London Eye took several years to become profitable

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 2:32pm

From London to Singapore, Ferris wheels have had their ups and downs and now Hong Kong’s harbourfront attraction is mired in a tug of war that could see it dismantled after just three years of operation.

Singapore’s S$240 million (HK$1.4 billion) wheel, the Flyer, first opened in 2008 and after struggling to lure repeat visitors, the 165-metre attraction nearly went bankrupt five years later. It was rescued by a new buyer in 2014 and has since become profitable.

The London Eye cost £70 million to build in 2000 and quickly became one of the city’s most visited attractions. Still, it failed to turn a profit for several years because of crippling interest charges on loans underwritten by its then-owners. In 2005, the attraction was sold and later came under the control of the theme parks and attractions group, Merlin Entertainments.

In Hong Kong, The Entertainment Corporation Ltd (TECL) successfully beat incumbent Swiss AEX when the 60-metre Observation Wheel site was put back out to tender.

According to business magnate Allan Zeman, who mediated the fate of the Observation Wheel, Swiss AEX had limited financial success selling HK$100 a ride tickets.

“[Swiss AEX said] it was only breaking even, yet [the ride] was very popular,” said Zeman, the man behind Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district.

By May 2016, the wheel had received more than 1 million visitors, according to government documents.

As part of the winning bid, the Post understands the government will receive HK$1.5 million a month in rent, compared with Swiss AEX’s failed HK$1 million monthly bid offer. This figure was up on the HK$850,000 payment a month in the original three-year deal.

As the wheel saga has rolled on, questions have been raised about the financial sustainability of the ride, with the new owners preparing to slash the ticket price to HK$20.

The Development Bureau said the new operator’s pricing “had a clear competitive edge,” but Zeman questioned the viability of the new owner’s plan.

“At HK$20, I don’t know how [TECL] is going to make money,” he said.

Before the ride closed, Hong Kong’s wheel offered some of the most affordable lofty views, charging passengers HK$100 for a 20-minute ride. The London Eye costs £23.45 (HK$240) a ticket and the Singapore Flyer charge S$33 (HK$190.50) both for a 30-minute ride.