Hong Kong government must stop giving Ocean Park and Disneyland a free ride
Albert Cheng says the 2018 Hong Kong budget has failed to deliver, and it’s time the government reassessed the city’s two loss-making theme parks that do not live up to their promises to the public
The 2018 budget has made Paul Chan Mo-po the worst financial secretary in the history of Hong Kong. With a surplus of HK$138 billion, the government trumpeted the new budget as a giveaway; however, it has received a record low rating in the latest public opinion survey. People are taking a dig at Chan for his allocation of a huge sum of money – 40 per cent of the surplus – but expending a disproportionate effort on trivial matters. Recent annual budgets have been drifting further and further away from fostering Hong Kong’s economic development.
The most controversial “relief measure” is the 10,000 free Ocean Park tickets for students, clearly a cover for bailing out the loss-making park ,which is managed by the bigwigs who supported Carrie Lam in the chief executive election. Although sources claimed the measure was suggested by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Chan, who was foolish enough to adopt the suggestion, has only himself to blame. No one is against benefiting students; however, Ocean Park is a statutory non-profit-making public entity. The park’s construction was funded by the Jockey Club with the land provided at zero cost.
Ocean Park bears the duty of educating the public about marine life. However, it seems to be targeting more visitors by expanding its entertainment rides, which defeats its initial purpose. Hence, the park should separate its entrance fee into two tiers – education and entertainment – to benefit students with an affordable entrance fee while sustaining the theme park by charging visitors a regular price.
In the past decade, the non-profit park has turned into a profit-oriented enterprise. Since it raised the entrance fee in July 2009, management has deviated from the initial agreement with the government. A spokesperson has said the theme park would not need any government funding.
Loss-making Disneyland is worth pinpointing as well. Disneyland has already lost over HK$900 million in the past eight years. Shamelessly, the Walt Disney Company has been charging an annual franchise and management fee – HK$59 million this year.
Regardless of the charges and losses, the ultra-small-scale park has contributed very little to Hong Kong’s tourism. Disneyland in Hong Kong was expected to follow the successful footprints of Los Angeles and Florida. However, it has turned out to be a small and dull theme park which lacks distinctiveness. It fails to stand out and attract visitors, especially after the one in Shanghai opened.
If Hong Kong Disneyland refuses to develop new ideas, its losses are doomed to continue. The park should consider fine-tuning its position from only featuring classic cartoon characters to offering exciting amusement rides as well. This would expand its market from children and families to young adults and grown-ups. However, as Hong Kong Disneyland has only focused on its hotel business, this is unlikely to be adopted. Some critics suggest the government should demolish Disneyland and use the land for housing.
This is a sensible suggestion. The unprofitable theme park has become negative equity for Hong Kong. It occupies 0.1 per cent of the 1,100 square kilometres of the city’s total area, equal to 36 Taikoo Shings. The area is easily accessible by public transport, which makes it an ideal site to ease the intense housing demands.
This proposal is more economical and would be easier to accomplish than reclaiming land at Plover Cove and the Fanling golf course. If the government is dedicated to solving the housing problem in Hong Kong, Disneyland should be demolished and its land reclaimed for houses, which would benefit the city as a whole.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]