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Tourism

Sudden closure of Hong Kong Observation Wheel and ride’s uncertain future upset tourists

New tenant and former operator still in discussions over fate of the attraction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 9:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2017, 9:54pm

The Hong Kong Observation Wheel, a major tourist attraction in Central Harbourfront, closed without warning on Wednesday as plans for its future remained uncertain.

Disappointed visitors were turned away after services did not resume on Wednesday. Earlier, a notice was put up at the site stating that operations were suspended for only two days until Tuesday.

The fate of the ride next to the Central piers is currently up in the air after the contract of operator and parent company Swiss AEX expired on August 28, and a new tenant has yet to decide if it will continue operations, according to the Development Bureau.

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Swiss AEX could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, its website stated that the ride “is closed today” but no reasons were given for the move. The only other information provided was an email address for refund requests.

Sponsor and telecommunications provider PCCW also did not respond to inquiries.

The Tourism Board said it was not informed of the closure, and only heard about the shutdown from industry partners. It had also received inquiries from tourists.

A spokeswoman for the board said: “We have not received an official notice from the operator about its suspension,” adding that it was working with other government departments to establish more details.

On May 23 this year, new tenant The Entertainment Corporation was awarded the contract to rent the site for three years at a cost of HK$1.5 million a month, but it had yet to decide if the ride would continue, the Development Bureau said.

“The land lease allows the new operator to continue to use the wheel, but it is a commercial decision between the new and the former operators,” it said, adding that both parties involved were “in discussions over the transition of the business”.

The bureau said it had urged The Entertainment Corporation to submit a new operating plan for review.

Previously, a ride on the wheel lasted about 20 minutes, costing HK$100 per person for adults and HK$70 for children.

A photographer working next to the wheel for the past two years, who gave his name as Chan, said staff had told him the unexpected closure of the popular tourist spot was due to conflict between Swiss AEX and the future tenant over the continuation of the ride.

“A few days ago, they told me that it will be closed for two days only. I feel disappointed because it is still closed,” Chan said.

A visit by the Post to the site at 5pm on Wednesday found only one security guard stationed at the entrance booth.

“The business here has grown bigger and better over the years and there were many staff serving customers who queued up for tickets at night,” Chan said. “But the number of staff members has shrunk greatly.”

Zhu Laiting, a visitor from Dongguan, said she was very upset with how the situation was handled. “We were here yesterday and we were told to return tomorrow. But it seems like they have misinformed us,” she said. She was in town with her husband and three children, and the family was scheduled to return home on Wednesday night.

Thomas Man, who lives in Hong Kong with his wife and daughter, said he felt frustrated because the tickets he bought for his family over a week ago would expire on Thursday.

“Today is my wife’s birthday and my daughter will be starting school soon, so I was hoping we could enjoy a special evening together on the ride,” he said.