In debating whether it is justifiable to bail out Ocean Park, it is necessary to address the core question whether the park should remain as a commercial enterprise responsible for its own finance or to be restructured as a subsidized recreation facility for the public.
The government was right in pointing that the majority of Hong Kong people do not want to see the closure of the park. The proposed capital would be enough to keep the park going for one year during which its management is supposed to work out of new model to ensure its longer-term survival.
It really doesn’t have to look too far for a solution. The park was originally built as a novel recreation facility for local people. It worked.
Many early visitors can remember the good time they spent there with their families, marveling at the breathtaking vista afforded in the cable car ride up the hill. Many of them would have been deeply impressed, as I did, by the tour of the aquarium, walking down the spiral walkway around the giant tank watching the large variety of fish swimming in different layers of water.
The performances of the dolphins and killer whales were star attractions in the park enjoyed by adults and children alike. At one time, there were a large swimming pool and other sporting facilities.
In recent years, the park has deviated from its root by investing heavily in thrill rides that are costly to operate and even more costly to maintain to attract a different clientele, tourists, mainly those from the Chinese mainland. The added cost has greatly pushed up the admission fees to levels that not many Hong Kong families are willing to pay.
The strategy backfired against a backdrop of escalating competition from the proliferation of theme parks in Shenzhen and other mainland cities and also in Macao. The situation has become so bad that without an injection of fresh working capital, Ocean Park would go belly up.
To survive, Ocean Park would have to consider dismantling and selling at least part of its rides to save cost so that it can lower its admission price low enough to attract local visitors. On the brighter side, its job has been made much easier by the opening of the new subway line with connects it directly to the main exchange station at Admiralty.
But the government may have to consider subsidizing the park in the long-term as a benefit to the public.
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