The coronavirus outbreak has now forced the territory’s government to change tack, halting a previous plan to help the park revamp and expand. That is to be replaced with an outright rescue mission.
“This is the plan to save Ocean Park from going bust, from being liquidated, so that it can continue to serve the Hong Kong community,” said Edward Yau Tak-wah, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development.
“Soon after we submitted the plan to the Finance Committee to the Economic Development Panel in late January, within a week, Hong Kong was hard hit by COVID-19. The park has since closed for more than three and a half months during which there was zero income and zero visitors. We also see great difficulties even the park is to be re-opened in the not-too-distant future. I think the whole tourism landscape, both locally, across the boundary and globally will undergo major changes.”
The theme park is now seeking approval from legislators for an urgent bailout of $696 million (HK$5.4 billion). Some $387 million (HK$3 billion) of that is required to pay off a commercial loan. Leo Kung Lin-cheng, chairman of the park’s board of directors, said Ocean Park would run out of cash by June.
In January, Yau outlined a plan that would have required $1.37 billion (HK$10.6 billion), over seven years, that would have transformed the old-fashioned amusement park into a resort. Ocean Park would have added seven new zones and 20 attractions, enabling it to better compete with other regional facilities such as government-owned Hong Kong Disneyland, and those in neighboring Macau, Zhuhai and Shenzhen.
The new plan also calls for the deferment of money that Ocean park owes to the Hong Kong government, ahead of a deeper strategic plan “We need to help (the park) to repay the commercial loans and to delay the repayment of the government loans,” said Yau. “On the other hand, we need to give them the contingency money so that they can keep the park running while we are sorting out the future (of the park). So there will be, at a later stage, another plan to take the park forward, but I think circumstances have required (us) to have a major rethink (first).”
News of Ocean park’s plight came on the same day that the Shanghai Disneyland theme park, two hours to the North of Hong Kong, reopened for business after also being closed since late January. The Shanghai park is expected to operate at only 20% capacity for several weeks, while social distancing measures remain in effect.