The government has proposed that the troubled Ocean Park step up its animal conservation and education work, in a bid to win greater support from lawmakers for a HK$5.4 billion lifeline.
The Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau said the park could reposition itself by cutting back on rides, and the law could also be changed to give park managers more flexibility, for example, on land use.
“It is almost unanimously agreed that the strength and core competency of the park is on conservation and education,” said Yau. “Therefore, we should redouble our efforts to re-emphasise this is the thing that can take the park to the future in a more sustainable manner.”
He said rides could be scaled back, given the high financial investment and maintenance costs, as well as the reduced number of visitors.
Yau was speaking as lawmakers continued to cast doubt on a HK$5.4 billion rescue package, without which bosses say the park faces bankruptcy as soon as next month.
The theme park has said it needs the money urgently to repay loans. But legislators across the political divide still have reservations about the bailout plan.
DAB lawmaker Horace Cheung said he welcomed the government’s decision to re-launch Ocean Park as a conservation-centric park.
“We have always mentioned to the secretary that the theme park model actually is not viable under the present social circumstances,” he said, adding that the park may not have been able to balance its books without mainland tourists through the individual visit scheme.
But Cheung said he would need more information before deciding whether to back the rescue plan, including how much the administration will need to pay if the park were to eventually shut down.
The chairman of the Democratic Party, Wu Chi-wai, said he still wouldn't support the funding request for Ocean Park.
The lawmaker said Yau was not genuinely trying to re-launch the park as a conversation hub, and the half-hearted attempt at a rebirth won't help the park get back to a healthy financial position.