Government to bail out Hong Kong’s Ocean Park with HK$310 million cash injection
City to fund special projects at loss-making park, as well as giving away free tickets to 10,000 students, among other tourism boosts unveiled in annual budget
The government will bail out loss-making Ocean Park to the tune of HK$310 million, including paying for 10,000 free tickets for students, it was announced on Wednesday.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s unprecedented initiative – unveiled during his annual budget – is part of a HK$706 million package to freshen up Hong Kong’s waning image as a tourism hub and lure big-spending visitors from places other than mainland China.
Other measures which might indirectly boost the local tourism market include a proposed e-sports hub, museum expansions and extra cash to preserve cultural heritage.
Tourism is seen as one of the four pillars of Hong Kong’s economy. It contributed HK$116 billion, or 5 per cent, to the city’s GDP in 2015, employing 267,000 people.
But many are concerned that an unbalanced mix of tourists could hurt the industry’s stability and long-term growth. Out of 58.5 million visitors to Hong Kong in 2017, 76 per cent were from mainland China, underlining the city’s heavy reliance on guests from north of the border.
The imbalance has been made particularly clear for Ocean Park in recent years, during which a drop in the number of mainland visitors led to a drop in attendance and a financial deficit for the attraction.
The Wong Chuk Hang park lost HK$234 million in the financial year ending June 30, 2017, following a HK$241 million deficit the year before.
For the first time, the government will intervene to lift the park out of the red by dishing out a one-off sum of HK$310 million for it to “develop education and tourism projects”.
“It is vital for large-scale theme parks to make sure their attractions can continuously lure visitors,” Chan said. “We see that there is room for Ocean Park to improve in this regard.”
A total of 10,000 free tickets will also be distributed to local primary and secondary students in the coming year.
Asked why the city’s other theme park, Hong Kong Disneyland, was left out, Chan pointed out the government had already agreed to fund half of a HK$10.9 billion expansion plan there, set to finish by 2023.
An Ocean Park statement said it was still planning the projects funded by the government cash, and details would be announced in due course.
Legislator Holden Chow Ho-ding, of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the government should also give resources to develop tourism at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
“I want to remind the government it can’t focus on just one project in boosting Hong Kong’s tourism industry,” he said.
Another HK$396 million has been set aside for the tourism industry, Chan announced, most of it going to the Tourism Board. The board earlier revealed its intention to lure wealthy overnight visitors, and position Hong Kong as a gateway for foreign tourists visiting the mainland.
In another surprise, the budding local e-sports industry will get a HK$100 million boost. The promotion of e-sports – computer games played competitively in front of a large audience – is seen as a two-pronged strategy to diversify the economy and pull in tourist dollars from a niche group of enthusiasts around the world.
Last August the city’s first ever e-sports and music festival, which the board organised using a HK$35 million government grant, drew 5,000 overseas visitors.
A government source revealed HK$50 million would be handed to Cyberport to help the Hong Kong Island technology park build a permanent e-sports hub, while the rest would be reserved for nurturing talented gamers.
And to make sure traditional cultural facilities were not neglected, Chan also earmarked HK$20 billion to build or renovate venues. That includes building the city’s second cultural centre, in Fanling. The idea was first floated in 2009 but has made little progress since.
Some HK$300 million will also go to preserving and promoting Hong Kong’s intangible cultural heritage. The government published a list of 20 items under that umbrella – covering performing arts, festivals, knowledge and craftsmanship – last year. Many of them are highly valued by tourists, such as the annual bun festival on Cheung Chau and the dragon boat parade in Tai O.