Hong Kong’s government is to provide a $361 million bailout to makeover the troubled theme park into a new travel destination and marine conservation hub.
The 44-year old theme park has been operating at a loss for the last four years. The new injection of cash will enable Ocean Park to switch course, moving from a traditional theme park to a self-sufficient marine conservation centre and travel destination. The funds will come in two tranches. A one-off payment of $251 million will act as working capital while $144 million will be ring-fenced as running costs for four years of conservation and education programmes.
“Ocean Park is more than a theme park, more than roller-coasters,” said Edward Yau Tang-wah, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development in a statement. “We agreed that the Park should steer away from the conventional development model of theme parks, cut down on facilities and related expenses which are not cost-effective and re-orient its development focus back to education and conservation.”
Ocean Park is more than a theme park, more than roller coasters
He added that, going forward, the park would focus on its “unique natural setting” and its “synergy with other attractions and developments in the vicinity of Southern District.”
The fresh aim is to turn the park into an open-air classroom as well as an adventure-themed resort. Visitors would explore seven themed zones – Ocean Square, Azure Bay, Discovery Grove, Pacific Point, Adventure Valley, Explorers Wharf and Ocean’s Edge. Each will feature a range of immersive edutainment experiences.
Rides will still be included in the offering but as part of themed experiences. A new indoor education centre is part of the plans.
It’s not for the first bailout for the troubled park. Last year Ocean Park received a $0.7 billion relief fund to allow the park to keep operating for a year. The government has also said it will waive interest payments on loans, easing the park’s debt burden.
Ocean Park has already taken steps to soothe its financial issues. Interim plans show the lower areas of the park restructured as a retailtainment zone with F&B outlets. This area would not incur entry fees and would be rented and run by third party operators, lowering operating costs for Ocean Park at the same time as providing rental income.
A new building will become a venue for concerts and other cultural performances, building on a new initiative intended to transform the southern district of Hong Kong into an arts and culture hub.
The park’s new Water World with 27 indoor and outdoor attractions is already planned for a late summer opening. This will charge visitors a separate entrance fee.
End of annual passes
Some of the park’s rides will be retired while new temporary rides may be installed. Annual passes will end and the park will move to a pay-as-you-go model for rides in the upper area of the park. The aim is to attract visitors with more flexible and affordable options.
We want to make Ocean Park a regular place for locals to hang out
“We want to make Ocean Park a regular place for locals to hang out and change it from the previous pattern of once-a-year visits,” says Edward Yau.
Refocusing on conservation and education
Ocean Park was first created in 1977 with a donation from the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The original aim was to provide entertainment, recreation and education activities for the area.
In 1993 the park started its conservation foundation with the aim of raising public awareness of the problems facing Asian cetaceans. It also launched the Ocean Park Academy that supplements the local curriculum. Over a million school children have attended programmes over the last 20 years.
Ocean Park will now extend its conservation and education programmes beyond the park, extending them “both within and outside of Hong Kong,” according to a statement. It’s a new era for the park which also hints at how theme parks can adapt under challenging and changing situations.