Ocean Park: HK commerce chief vows to review how resort is operated, in eleventh-hour plea to lawmakers to support bailout

23-May-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s commerce minister on Thursday promised to look at relaxing land restrictions at Ocean Park and to review how the cash-strapped resort is run, the day before a fateful vote in the city’s legislature on a HK$5.4 billion rescue package.

In a last-ditch effort to convince sceptical lawmakers to back the government’s deal, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said the attraction a statutory not-for-profit body owned by the Hong Kong government would no longer operate as a traditional theme park.

He said the government would downscale the park and minimise investment in amusement rides to cut costs, while focusing on education and environmental themes, including the preservation of the natural world.

Yau said: “We will explore ways to break through the limits of the park and help it be financially sustainable. I hope the park will receive the funding within a month, otherwise, jobs and animals at the park are at risk.”

He said the government would review five aspects of the park: its future funding sources, mode of operation, the legal regime governing it, use of the land and the wider development of the Southern district.

To allow the 43-year-old park to obtain the funding it needs in the future, the government would reassess the legal framework underpinning the operation of the park, and consider the viability of assigning a franchisee or a commercial entity to run it, Yau said.

He added the seafront park could be rebranded as a resort for Hongkongers, packaged together with the existing Marriott hotel, the water world attraction and a Fullerton hotel, which are both under construction.

Over the past week, lawmakers across the political spectrum have expressed reservations about the deal, and the future of the iconic but outdated resort in the Southern district.

Concerns have been raised about its position in the market and its financial viability even if it is thrown a lifeline.

Yau warned that the park would go bust without the funding, leaving the future of 4,000 employees and 7,500 animals in jeopardy.

Legco’s Finance Committee is due to vote on the rescue plan on Friday morning.

Of the HK$5.4 billion set aside, HK$3 billion would be used to repay commercial loans and the rest to keep the park operating for the next 12 months.

The government has dropped its request for HK$13.23 million in funding to set up a working group to work out the park’s future.

The park also owes the government HK$5 billion in interest-bearing loans and will run out of cash in June.

The package has been substantially watered down from the HK$10.6 billion deal floated in early January before the coronavirus outbreak.

The economic impact of the pandemic is seen as the last straw for the cash-strapped resort. It has been closed since January 26, shortly after the city confirmed its first Covid-19 cases.

Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai has vowed to vote against the rescue plan despite Yau’s promise.

“The government is still insisting on turning the park into an attraction instead of a Hongkongers’ park,” he said. “I doubt if it can avoid repeating the history of having heavy debts in future.”

Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said he would support the funding request, but added he was concerned how the park could balance the need to operate commercially with meeting its education and preservation objectives.

Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, vice-chair of pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, welcomed Yau’s promise, but demanded the government revealed more on how the park would be positioned in the market and how much it would have to save annually in costs.

The party would come to a decision internally over whether to support the plan, he said.

A simple voting majority by members present is needed for the funding request to pass the Finance Committee.



Category: Hong Kong

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