Hong Kong’s iconic Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurants will close their doors from this week “until further notice” as the coronavirus outbreak continues to slam a food and beverage industry that has been reeling since social unrest since last year.
“As of March 3 and until further notice, Jumbo Kingdom will suspend its day-to-day operation,” said Hong Kong-listed owner and conglomerate Melco International Development, in a statement on Monday.
“This decision has been taken in light of the severe impact Covid-19 has had on the restaurants’ business. We will continue to monitor the commercial outlook for Jumbo and will provide any relevant updates in due course.”
The Jumbo Floating Restaurant was first opened in 1976 by Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and is run under Melco’s subsidiary Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises. It later acquired the Tai-Pak Floating Restaurant in 1987.
Both restaurants, located in Aberdeen Harbour on the south side of Hong Kong Island, are collectively known as Jumbo Kingdom.
Built in the style of a Ming dynasty palace, the red, gold and green building floats in the middle of the harbour, adorned in dragons and pagodas, as a snippet of ancient Chinese architecture in Hong Kong.
Guests are ferried by wooden sampan boats over to the restaurants that are lit up at night, making them one of the city’s iconic tourist attractions.
The impending closure comes as Hong Kong continues to count the cost of the coronavirus outbreak that prompted the government to unveil a record HK$139 billion (US$17.8 billion) budget deficit for the coming year to help stabilise the economy.
The disease has compounded the pain in the tourism, retail and hospitality industries that had already been suffering from months of anti-government protests since last year. Other restaurant operators are planning to leave the scene, including Jamie’s Italian, adding to the casualty list from 2019.
Tourists, especially the big spenders from mainland China, also stayed away from Hong Kong, with daily visitor arrivals plunging to 3,000 in February, compared with 100,000 in January and 200,000 last year, according to government data.
As a result consumption nosedived at restaurants, cafes, shopping centres and retail stores in the city.
About half of Jumbo Kingdom’s staff, or around 60 to 70 people, were dismissed in January while its business hours had altered, according to some local media reports.
The latest setback may reflect the struggle in the Jumbo Kingdom business as tax-free profit slipped to HK$23.4 million in calendar 2018 from HK$72.2 million in 2017, according to a company circular in September last year.
Melco had offered to buy out other investors holding 13.3 per cent of Aberdeen Restaurant for HK$49.7 million in a privatisation bid that valued the entire business at HK$373.5 million. The offer failed to gain 75 per cent of the votes needed from the said investors.
In its heyday as a tourist landmark Jumbo has served millions, including royalty and film stars from Queen Elizabeth, to Gwyneth Paltrow and Tom Cruise. It has even featured in films like James Bond’s The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), played by Roger Moore, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) and Jackie Chan’s The Protector (1985)
Despite 44 years of history and status, Jumbo had realised its need for a business revamp.
Melco announced in October 2017 plans for “a total revitalisation”, chairman Lawrence Ho Yau-lung said at the time. In March that year, it sold a 509-space car park that was used for guests, for more than HK$500 million to pay for the facelift, triggering speculation it was planning to shut down the restaurants.
An earlier renovation in 2003, which cost HK$35 million, helped transform the restaurants into a complex with shops, bars, speciality food stalls and a fishing village museum, the Post reported in 2017.
There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.