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Tourism

Bidder for Hong Kong Observation Wheel pledges to lower ticket prices

Architect Ivan Ho from the Harbourfront Commission says ‘commercial wrestling’ over attraction has dragged in officials and public

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 September, 2017, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 September, 2017, 11:43am

The next potential operator of Hong Kong’s Observation Wheel has pledged to offer lower ticket prices for customers, despite admitting it is still in talks on acquiring the wheel.

The Entertainment Corporation issued a statement on Monday night saying it is discussing the acquisition directly with the owner of the wheel, Dutch Wheels, and stressed it will “offer a substantially lower ticket price per ride”.

“The Entertainment Corporation remains committed to delivering on our proposals contained in our winning bid, once we have a confirmed way forward ... (we) will be in a better position to share with the public our exciting plans for enhancing the waterfront throughout our tenancy,” said a spokesman.

The pledge came as architect Ivan Ho Man-yiu from the Harbourfront Commission said it could save the new operator up to a year’s work in installing a new ride if the current grounds of the site were maintained.

Ho said that even if the structure was dismantled, foundation works at the site should be kept.

Ho added that the deadlock between operators of the tourist attraction was turning into an “international joke”, and harmed the city’s global image.

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Last week the wheel at Central Harbourfront was closed with no warning or explanation from the Tourism Board.

Former tenant Swiss AEX had earlier lost the retender for the site to The Entertainment Corp Ltd (TECL), which is obliged to operate a wheel, but not necessarily the existing one. The two were locked in a dispute over payment issues, which had contributed to the sudden shutdown.

This incident is a case of commercial wrestling between two companies
Ivan Ho, Harbourfront Commission

“This incident is a case of commercial wrestling between two companies. Unfortunately, the government and the public have been dragged into it as well,” Ho said on an RTHK programme.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government could only respect the tender and act as a mediator between the firms as work had been under way.

Lam described the tender process as “fair, just and without bias”. She added some might argue the tender requirement be written more strictly but others could be deterred if it were too strict.

Swiss AEX earlier said it was still seeking payment for the wheel from TECL, which it described as a newly formed company “with no experience of operating observation wheels whatsoever”.

According to the Land Registry, TECL was set up in November by Michael Edward Sean Denmark, who is also a director of MDME Limited, which had worked on large scale projects such as Art Central, Clockenflap and AIA Great European Carnival in Central Harbourfront.

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The former operator said it had told Hong Kong officials that replacing the ride could take up to 24 months, meaning that if the two companies failed to reach an agreement on keeping the existing wheel, the attraction could be closed for two years.

TECL said earlier it was looking forward “to the day we are able to commence operations” and that it would not have taken on the job “without the means to deliver on our winning proposal”.

Swiss AEX is obliged to dismantle the wheel by October 31, but Ho said that was “impossible”.

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He said if Swiss AEX also destroyed the foundation works at the site while taking down the wheel, it would not be environmentally friendly, and it would take TECL up to a year just to re-establish the ground structure.

Ho added that authorities were not at fault in the matter and had followed relevant procedures to retender the site.

But tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing criticised the administration on the same radio programme, for not pressing Swiss AEX for proper follow-ups after it lost the tender.

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Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah, speaking on the sidelines of a Trade Development Council event on Monday morning, sidestepped questions on his bureau’s role in the saga.

“We urge the operators to come together and find a solution on how to ensure a smoother transition of the existing facility. [We] are working very closely with them to resolve this. I believe both operators should look at the bigger picture and interest of the public at large,” Yau said.